Pharming is a type of cyberattack that’s difficult to trace as it’s hard to set up. As per pharming’s definition, it’s an attack where threat actors breach data by redirecting users to malicious websites that look like original ones. 

In September 2021, over 50 financial companies were victims of a sophisticated pharming attack that targeted online customers in the US, Europe, and APAC region. Nearly 1,000 devices per day were infected for three days before the pharming malware was recognized and shut down. 

Incidents like this make it even more important to know what is a pharming attack and how to prevent it. So, read the blog till the end to know everything about this modern cybercrime. 

What is a Pharming Attack?

A Pharming attack is a practice of manipulating your DNS so that you visit a fake website where bad actors can steal or intercept your sensitive information. This includes your financial details, social security numbers, medical details, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. 

You can get tricked easily as the illegitimate clone of a website is nearly indistinguishable, making you perceive it as a genuine one. Once bad actors steal your details, they can make purchases, transfer money, conduct cybercrimes using your identity, etc. 

Pharming is a combination of two words, phishing and farming. This is because a hacker phishes for a victim and farms for their data to steal or intercept information submitted by them. 

Are Pharming and Phishing the Same?

Now let’s discuss pharming vs phishing, as people often use these terms interchangeably. Although they’ve a few similarities, pharming and phishing are two distinct types of cybercrimes. However, both aim to acquire users’ personal information for misuse. 

Phishing is attempted using emails or malware that take you to fake websites with different URLs. You can prevent being a victim by carefully checking the URLs, which usually include spelling alterations or similar wicked tricks. For example- using 0 (zero) instead of O (the 15th letter of the English alphabet). 

Whereas a pharming attack is executed at the DNS level where you’re redirected to a clone of a website with the exact address. This means you can’t detect a fake website even if you check the URL carefully. A malicious actor has to put more effort for pharming.

Pharming Techniques and Methods

So, what is pharming’s technique? It works by changing the web address you enter in the search bar, sending you to the wrong IP so you land on a replicated website. Let’s see what techniques and methods pharming attackers use.

Pharming Malware

Threat actors send you illegitimate emails with links or attachments containing malware. They can even direct you to another website from which a malware can be installed on your device. They attempt various witty ways to make it harder for you to avoid clicking on such corrupted links.

Once your computer is infected, the malware starts overwriting host files. This misdirects your browser to take you to another malicious website whenever you type a specific web address. Pharming attacks are so prevalent and successful because it’s tough to get rid of them once malware starts rewriting host files. Running an anti-malware program won’t be enough; you’ve to get your device cleaned deeply.

DNS Poisoning

A DNS pharming attack is more complex than a malware-based pharming attack. In this, cybercriminals attack your DNS server to reroute you without your consent and knowledge. This process doesn’t include malware. 

Most hackers choose this technique despite it being more effort-taking because it can steal information from thousands of users at once. 

Signs of a Pharming Attack

If you notice any of the following activities, you must put your guard on.

  • Financial activities that you don’t recognize. For example; credit card transactions or bank transfers.
  • Receiving replies to emails not initiated by you.
  • Unusual or unrecognized activities on your social media accounts.
  • Deactivated antivirus, anti-malware, and other security software.
  • Noticing new software on your device that aren’t installed by you.
  • Frequent pop-ups redirecting you to a fake website.
  • Changes in your browser’s homepage settings.
  • System crashing or hanging frequently as pharming malware consumes a lot of space.
  • Device showing unusual messages or programs upon starting up; it’s a sign of a malware. 

Why is Pharming More Dangerous?

Between pharming vs phishing, the former is more dangerous as these attacks can quickly become viral. Moreover, it’s challenging to detect and contain them. So, you must follow the below-shared tips on mitigating pharming attacks to protect your business image.  

How to Mitigate Pharming Attacks?

Now that you know enough about what is a pharming attack, it’s time to learn some practical techniques to prevent it. Here’s what you can do:

Use a Secure Web Connection

Don’t use default passwords and settings that come with your router. The general usernames and passwords are public records, making your router easy to be compromised. 

Choose a Trusted Internet Service Provider

Pick a reputed internet service provider as your confidential information can get leaked. Hackers can access most of your files if your ISP isn’t reliable.

Be Cautious While Browsing

Be careful while browsing the internet. Follow links from known and trusted sources only otherwise you might land on illegitinmate fake clones of websites and become a pharming attack victim.. 

Refrain Visiting HTTP URLs

Pay attention to the ‘S’ in HTTPS. URLs starting with HTTPS are safe as it denotes a certified and secured site. An HTTP website can be potentially malicious or infectious.

Pay Attention to Typos in URLs

Hackers trick you by offering links to URLs with small, unnoticeable alterations. At first, you might fail to notice it, but you can glare at errors if seen carefully.

Use Two-factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is an electronic authentication method that works by adding an additional layer of security other than passwords. So, if your password is stolen, the second layer will avert unauthorized access. It can be an OTP or one time password or biometrics using your fingerprint, facial recognition, and retina recognition. In some cases, it can be a QR code too. 

Be Wary of Too-Good-To-Be-True Deals and Offers

You may often see ads or receive emails luring you with deals like heavy discounts, lotteries, sponsored vacations, etc. You must ignore them as they’re baits to bring you on a fake website where attackers will capture your sensitive information.

Final Thoughts

Pharming attacks can be hard to detect, however safe browsing practices can defend you against them. Hackers can use domains of reputed companies to send fraudulent emails so that victims trust them and proceed with the next steps. In case of a successful pharming attack, your brand image can get tarnished. You must implement SPF, DKIM, and DMARC protocols so that only genuine emails can land into recipient’s mailboxes. Remember, cyberattacks can be prevented with cautiousness.

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