What is Pharming and How to Prevent It?
A pharming attack is a modern form of cyberattack that is as hard to detect as it is hard to set up. But what is the actual pharming attack definition?
It’s an attack that allows hackers to breach mass amounts of data by redirecting users to faulty clones of authentic websites.
If you read closely, “pharming” includes two words – “phishing” and “farming”. The attacker phishes for the victim then farms for their data. This gives them the ability to retrieve any information that visitors unknowingly enter. The world of cybersecurity has grown, and attacks that once ruled the internet have now become obsolete. In turn, however, methods of attack have evolved as well.
Pharming requires such a complex redirection of online traffic that it’s among the most difficult common attacks to pull off. However, it has a staggeringly high rate of success. This attack can relieve thousands of visitors of their personal information at a time.
What is a pharming attack, and what can you do to protect yourself from it? Read below to learn more.
What is a Pharming Attack?
Before you know how to combat this deadly attack, you need to understand what it actually is. So, what is a pharming attack?
Pharming is the practice of tricking a victim’s DNS into sending them to an illegitimate clone of a website. Hackers use this false website to collect visitor passwords, info, and payment credentials.
To the visitor, the fake website is nearly indistinguishable from the real one. Hackers take care to replicate every last detail in order to fool users into going about their business like they usually would on the website.
They’ll log into accounts, enter information, and even make purchases. Once all that has been done, the attacker has access to a massive wealth of user data—freely handed over by unwitting victims. They usually have no idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.
What are the Differences Between Phishing and Pharming Attacks?
Due to the similarity of the words, people often (forgivably) confuse the two. While they share some similarities, phishing and pharming attacks are extremely different. At their core, both attacks have the goal of attaining users’ personal information through malicious means, and for devious purposes.
However, phishing is far less complicated. It usually relies on an email or malware of some sort that leads the victim to a fake website with a different URL. This attack relies on carelessness or lack of attention from the user to go smoothly.
Pharming, on the other hand, is an attack that happens at the DNS level. A pharming attack takes you to a faulty website with the exact same address. This means that even if you’re careful and check the web address carefully, you still won’t be able to tell that you’re on a fake site. So, while a pharming attack requires more work on the part of the hacker, it tends to be far more dangerous.
Example of a Pharming Attack
It may be difficult to truly visualize how dangerous these cyberthreats can be without a real example of a pharming attack. Say, for instance, a hacker created a faulty duplicate of a bank website. Hundreds of people check their bank credentials on this bank’s site every minute of every day.
The hacker attacks the DNS of the genuine site’s visitors, ensuring that the address they enter actually sends them to the IP of the fake site instead of the real one.
These visitors are now on an identical website to the one they wanted to visit, so they have no idea of any foul-play going on. They click to check their account, and when they’re prompted for their account information, they don’t think twice before entering it. Why would they? To them, it’s clearly the authentic site.
Meanwhile, the hacker is slowly amassing a database of dozens of different account details every minute. Taken at extreme examples like this, it’s easy to see why pharming can be so brutally damaging.
Pharming Techniques and Methods
Pharming attacks work by altering the web address that a victim enters and sending them to the wrong IP. This can be done in one of two ways: A direct attack on the victim’s DNS or with malicious code.
This sort of malware can easily infect the device of a user who opens the wrong email, visits the wrong link, or even just clicks in the wrong spot. Like plenty of modern malware, hackers get crafty with ways to make it hard to avoid.
Once the malware has sunken its roots into the device, it begins overwriting host files. It essentially tells the device, “When the user types in this web address, take them to this IP instead of the one they’re usually sent to.”
The tricky part about pharming malware is that once it rewrites the host files, removing it won’t be enough to get your device to stop taking you to the false site.
A DNS pharming attack is the more complicated but more effective method. This involves hackers attacking your DNS server to reroute you without having any sort of malware on your device whatsoever. But why would attackers choose this over the easier option of pharming malware?
The answer lies in the scale of the attack. DNS poisoning allows hackers to steal thousands of users’ information at once. Every single device that uses the targeted DNS server is at risk. Rather than having to infect individual users with malware, DNS poisoning simultaneously affects mass amounts of devices—all without the victims’ knowledge.
Why is Pharming Efficient?
At this point, you may begin to realize just how dangerous pharming truly is. These attacks can quickly become viral and victims have very little knowledge, control, or protection from such attacks. However, this doesn’t mean victims are powerless to prevent pharming attacks and their far-reaching implications.
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about them, it’s time to get into how to prevent pharming attacks and minimize their effect.
How to Prevent Pharming Attacks
Here, we cover various ways to defend yourself from these cyberattacks. Despite what you might think, you’re not entirely at the mercy of pharming hackers.
Secure Your Web Connections and Change Default Settings on Your Router
Using the default password and settings that your router comes with puts you at massive risk of DNS poisoning. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend changing your router’s settings. It’s also a good idea to use antivirus software and other security measures that protect you from any sort of DNS and connection tampering. And, of course, be sure to update everything frequently.
Choose a Reputable Internet Service Provider (ISP)
This one’s as obvious as day. With the internet making up such a massive portion of our lives, it’s wise not to cut too many corners when it comes to the people running it. Choose your internet service provider carefully and ensure it’s a name of high reputation and trust.
Use a Reliable DNS Server
For most people, this tip goes hand-in-hand with the last one, as their ISP is also their DNS provider. However, if you like to have a separate DNS server, take the same care with choosing a trustworthy one.
Only Follow Links From Known Sources
This tip applies to avoiding any and all malware. Don’t just click any link you come across. You never know what’s waiting on the other end. If it’s not from a secure, trusted, or reputable source, there’s a good chance that link will bring you to a malicious website. Even if it looks familiar, take extra steps to check its legitimacy.
Pay Attention to the “S” in HTTPS
This is a big one. Any website address with “HTTP” at the beginning of its URL rather than “HTTPS” is a risk. That “S” denotes a certified and secured site, and a site lacking it poses a risk of malware and infection.
Take Note of Typos in the URLs
Relying on user error is so much easier for hackers than messing with your DNS. Oftentimes, hackers try to simply offer links to URLs that have small, hardly noticeable typos or letters changed to numbers. At first glance, it seems like an official, well-known website. But a second look will yield some glaring errors in the address.
Use a Good Password Manager and a 2FA
Many internet users have a password manager to keep track of various accounts and login details. Use a reputable one, and implement 2FA, or two-factor authentication, wherever it’s available.
Stay Away from “Sweet” e-Commerce Deals
Pharmers can offer appealing deals on their fake websites.. If a bargain seems far better than its legitimate competition, rather double check the website’s authenticity.
Use a Reliable VPN
A VPN is a proxy server that you activate before connecting to the internet. It acts as an extra layer of protection for your DNS and your internet connection itself. While it doesn’t make you outright immune to pharming,, many VPN providers actually offer specific forms of protection for these attacks.
While pharming attacks can be hard to detect and even harder to prevent, you’re not defenseless against them. With these methods of protection and prevention, you can feel a bit more secure. As always, remember to exercise care when online. Pharming, like any other hacking method, is least effective on cautious targets.