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What is A “Watering Hole” Attack: Module 5

This cybersecurity term is analogous to a predator and the method in which they target their prey. The predator has an easier target when their unsuspecting victim is in a well known and frequently visited spot, where the prey’s guard is down, aka the “watering hole”. 

Whether it’s targeting an existing website or a new one, a cybercriminal is looking for a larger audience of potential victims that share an interest in the website. While spear phishing targets one individual, this is a higher-impact method, as it traps more victims.

The main methods of carrying out a watering hole attack are the following:

  1. Acquire the victim’s username and password combinations in hopes they reuse them
  2. Gain access to the victim’s business computer and further infect the network

How Does It Work?

Watering hole attacks need planning, as the hacker needs to make a set of actions to achieve results. Here’s how it works:

  1. The cyberattackers define their targets by business type, company name, job title, etc.
  2. They find out what sites their targets visit the most
  3. The threat actor creates a look-alike website or tries to infect the existing one
  4. When the user visits the site, malicious code is loaded  on their system
  5. The cybercriminal uses the dropped malware to initiate the attack
  6. As the attacker has access to the victim’s network, they can now launch a pivot attack to achieve other goals.

How to Prevent a Watering Hole Attack?

While spear phishing is more targeted, watering holes can cause more damage. Therefore, protecting the company and individual employees should be a priority. Here are a few steps you can take to stay on top of cybersecurity threats.

  • Update your software. The older your software, the more vulnerable it is to attacks, as hackers had more time to study them better. Security and system updates will ensure strong defense against application and browser-based attacks.
  • Follow company policies on web navigation. Using business devices in personal communication could open the door to information loss. Also, don’t click on advertisements from a company computer.
  • Scan internet traffic and use weblogging. This step will ensure there’s no unusual activity in the system.
  • Follow password security best practices. Whether you’re using a password manager or another method to remember your login details, never repeat passwords on various platforms. It heightens the risk of a tailgating attack.
  • Pay attention to unusual behavior. If you notice any abnormal activity on the website, let the key personnel know.

Parting Thoughts

This is yet another attack type that can cause significant losses for you and your company. The targeted nature of a watering hole attack makes it especially dangerous for larger organizations.

If you’re interested in learning more about cybersecurity, email security, and domain protection, keep an eye out for our training blogs in the future.

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