Phishing is a highly targetted and deceitful practice of impersonation and email fraud. It’s one of the most common cybercrimes that hackers use to access private information such as credit cards and social security numbers.
Pharming is a similar practice often used to redirect traffic from a legitimate website to another where the user is fooled into believing they’re on a site they trust.
This article will explain Phishing vs Pharming and how to avoid both to ensure smooth email deliverability.
Phishing vs Pharming: An Overview
Phishing and pharming are two similar but different types of cybercrime.
Phishing sends fraudulent emails to steal personal information or install malware on a victim’s computer. Pharming, conversely, is a type of DNS hijacking that redirects users from legitimate to fake websites.
Phishing occurs when hackers send emails that appear to be from reputable companies but are scams designed to steal information from unsuspecting victims.
The scammer may pose as an employee of the company and ask people to wire money or provide credit card information, or they may send an email with a link to a fake website where the victim is asked for their bank account number, PIN code, or other sensitive information.
In 2022, the U.S. saw 300,497 phishing victims with $52,089,159 in losses. Forbes Advisor used FBI data to analyze state-based phishing rates for 2023.
Pharming involves redirecting users from legitimate websites to fake websites through DNS hijacking.
Hackers use this technique because it can be difficult for victims to distinguish between legitimate sites and phished sites until it’s too late — by then, they’ve already given up their personal information and possibly even lost money in fraudulent transactions.
Over 50 financial companies in the US, Europe, and APAC region were victims of sophisticated pharming attacks by sharing personal information in past years.
Pharming VS Phishing: Key Differences
While pharming and phishing share some similarities, there are also key differences between these malicious web attacks.
|Attack Method||Phishing involves sending deceptive communication, like emails or messages, to trick individuals into revealing sensitive data.||Pharming is a more advanced method that manipulates DNS records, redirecting users to fake websites without their knowledge.|
|Objective||Phishing seeks to gather personal information by exploiting trust, often leading users to fraudulent websites through deceptive links.||Pharming aims to divert user traffic to malicious sites, leveraging manipulated DNS settings to facilitate data theft.|
|Attack Category||Phishing is categorized as a social engineering attack, exploiting human psychology and trust to achieve its malicious goals.||Pharming is classified as a DNS spoofing attack, manipulating domain name resolution to redirect users to malicious websites.|
|Execution Process||In phishing attacks, cybercriminals use deceptive emails or messages to convince recipients to disclose sensitive information willingly.||Pharming involves tampering with DNS records or host files, altering the route of user traffic toward fake websites without their awareness.|
|Level of Complexity||Phishing attacks can be relatively simple to initiate and identify, often relying on users’ interaction with malicious content.||Pharming is more complex, requiring the manipulation of DNS infrastructure, making it harder to execute and detect by ordinary users.|
|Attack Technique||Phishing tactics involve crafting convincing emails with fraudulent links and convincing recipients to input confidential data on fake sites.||Pharming employs DNS cache poisoning or DNS server manipulation to reroute user requests, leading them to imposter websites.|
|Attack Medium||Phishing exploits email and messaging platforms, leveraging communication to deceive users and entice them to act.||Pharming manipulates local hosts, DNS servers, or websites to direct users to fraudulent destinations.|
Spoofing VS Phishing VS Pharming
Here’s a detailed difference between spoofing, phishing, and pharming:
|Definition||Faking sender identity to deceive recipients||Luring victims to disclose sensitive info||Redirecting users to fake websites|
|Attack Type||Deceptive manipulation of sender information||Social engineering to steal data||DNS manipulation to redirect traffic|
|Objective||Mislead recipient about message source||Acquire confidential data||Divert users to malicious websites|
|Attack Vector||Email headers, IP, or website spoofing||Emails, messages, or deceptive websites||Manipulated DNS or host file entries|
|Countermeasures||SPF, DKIM, DMARC, email validation||User education, spam filters, security||DNS monitoring, website security measures|
|User Awareness||Users may believe in the sender’s identity||Users may unknowingly disclose info||Users may be redirected to a malicious site|
|Examples||An email claiming to be from a bank but not||An email with a fake login link to steal info||The user redirected to a counterfeit website|
Shielding Against Phishing and Pharming Threats: Prevention and Mitigation Strategies
Email is still an important communication tool for business, so protecting against these attacks is essential. However, it’s challenging because phishing and pharming are constantly evolving tactics.
Here are some strategies for protecting your organization from phishing and pharming threats:
Use DMARC, SPF, and DKIM Fortification
DMARC adds an authentication header to emails that receivers can use to identify legitimate messages from the sender’s domain.
By deploying SPF across your entire organization’s operational and non-operational domains, you can prevent domain name spoofing if hackers impersonate one of your email address.
DKIM is an authentication protocol that allows you to verify whether an email message has been sent by someone authorized by the owner of an Internet domain name and has not been altered during transit.
BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification) Implementation
Another way to strengthen email security is through BIMI. BIMI uses a brand’s registered trademarks in the message header to authenticate such as the brand logo.
This helps recipients identify legitimate messages from fraudulent ones before they open them or click on links within them.
Ensuring Secure Transmission with HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security)
One way to help protect against phishing and pharming attacks is through HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security). HSTS helps prevent man-in-the-middle attacks by ensuring that web browsers only connect to websites using HTTPS encryption.
This ensures encrypted communication between a browser and server, preventing attackers from eavesdropping on sensitive data.
Certificate Transparency is a mechanism that aims to improve the security of TLS/SSL certificates. Certificate Authorities (CAs) must publicly log issued certificates, making them available in a public log that anyone can inspect.
This transparency helps detect unauthorized or malicious certificates issued for a domain, which can help prevent phishing attacks and other security vulnerabilities.
Secure Email Content with a Web Content Policy
To prevent pharming attacks, you must ensure that your email content does not contain malicious links or attachments that could download malware onto your devices.
A web content policy can help ensure this by blocking email attachments and URLs from external websites.
Analyze Email Headers for Enhanced Detection
When analyzing email headers, look for anomalies such as unusual IPs or domains sending messages on behalf of your organization.
These could indicate phishing or pharming attempts by attackers to impersonate legitimate users within your organization.
Related Read: How to read Email Headers?
Adopt Multi-layered Authentication for Protection
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a must for protecting sensitive information from hackers. MFA involves multiple methods to verify your identity before granting access to a resource.
For example, logging in to your bank account online may require entering a password and providing your fingerprint. This ensures that only authorized users can access the protected resource.
Implement Zero Trust for Strengthened Security
Zero trust security is an approach that treats all devices as untrusted until they prove themselves trustworthy through identity verification and authorization processes set up by IT admins.
Zero trust security forces users to authenticate themselves before they gain access to any network resources or applications — even if they are on internal networks or inside the firewall (i.e., trusted zones).
Use a Cloud Email Security Solution
One effective solution for enhancing phishing attack protection is implementing a cloud email security service. A reliable service should offer advanced filtering techniques and real-time threat intelligence to detect and block phishing emails before they reach users’ inboxes.
It should also use powerful algorithms and machine learning to identify suspicious email patterns, malicious attachments, and deceptive links commonly used in phishing attacks.
A lot of people need clarification on Phishing vs pharming due to similar modus operandi of both of these attack tactics. While phishing is designed to fool you into giving someone else personal information like your login name and password. Pharming, takes you to another site that looks real but was created to steal your credentials.
While both techniques aim to exploit unsuspecting users, their methods and consequences diverge significantly. An awareness-first approach is key to defend oneself. By staying informed and adopting proactive measures such as robust digital hygiene practices, up-to-date security software, and vigilant user behavior, individuals and organizations can fortify their defenses against these digital threats.