An Ingenious Phishing Technique

Craig Hays wrote a fascinating article describing a phishing campaign his company had to deal with that had an ingenious method of propagating itself.

As we dug deeper and compared sign-in timestamps with email timestamps, it became clear what was happening. The phishing emails were being sent as replies to genuine emails. Emails exchanged between our people and our suppliers, our customers, and even internally between colleagues.

A typical phishing email comes from an email address you’ve never seen before. Granted, it might be similar to a real address you’d expect to see such as instead of, but it’s rare for an address you trust to send you anything suspicious. When someone you know does send you something suspicious it’s usually rather obvious. When it happens we contact them directly to let them know there’s a problem. ‘Looks like you’ve been hacked, mate.’ We don’t fall for the scam.

In this attack, however, all of the phishing links were sent as replies to emails in the compromised account’s mailbox. This gave every email an inherited sense of trust. ‘You asked for this thing, here it is: link to phishing page’. When I realised what was happening, I was in awe. Whether done by deliberate design or not, the outcome was incredible. The conversion rates one these emails would make even the greatest of email marketers envious!

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