Google is revealing a near three-week-long battle against phishers coming out of Iran. The technology giant reports it has detected and disrupted multiple e-mail phishing campaigns aimed at compromising the accounts owned by tens of thousands of Iranian users.
"These campaigns, which originate from within Iran, represent a significant jump in the overall volume of phishing activity in the region," said Eric Grosse, vice president of Google's Security Engineering, writing in a blog post. "The timing and targeting of the campaigns suggest that the attacks are politically motivated in connection with the Iranian presidential election on Friday."
Google Warns Phishers
We caught up with Sean Bodmer, chief researcher at security firm CounterTack, to get his take on the phishing activity. He said it isn't new to Iran, and Google has been reporting on it since the third quarter of 2011.
"There are always observable traits and effects in every campaign, incident or attack that infer the possible aggressor, and it would appear that political implications and motives may indeed be one of them in this particular case," Bodmer said.
"However, in all likelihood, Google is simply disclosing news of the campaign's existence as a warning to those behind it, while withholding specifics due to privacy concerns for those that are being targeted."
Tapping Current Events
Ken Pickering, development manager for security intelligence at CORE Security reminded us that phishing is usually only successful if the users actually click on a link.
"Attackers often use current events to spread these links; in Iran -- and in virtually every other part of the world -- presidential elections are big news. Using this story as a pretense for sharing a malicious link improves the odds an attack will be successful," Pickering said.
"Many attackers also rely on hacked e-mails and Twitter accounts. If recipients think they're receiving a link from someone they know and trust, they're more likely to click."
Proceed with Caution
Google's Grosse said the Chrome browser previously helped detect what appears to be the same group using SSL certificates to conduct attacks that targeted users within Iran. In this case, he said, the phishing technique Google detected is more routine: users receive an e-mail containing a link to a Web page that purports to provide a way to perform account maintenance.
"If the user clicks the link, they see a fake Google sign-in page that will steal their username and password," Grosse said. "Protecting our users' accounts is one of our top priorities, so we notify targets of state-sponsored attacks and other suspicious activity, and we take other appropriate actions to limit the impact of these attacks on our users. Especially if you are in Iran, we encourage you to take extra steps to protect your account."
Grosse said watching out for phishing, using a modern browser like Chrome and enabling two-step verification can make Google users "significantly more secure" against these and many other types of attacks. The company also suggested consumers always verify that the URL in the address bar of your browser begins with "https://accounts.google.com/" before typing your Google password. If the Web site's address does not match this text, Grosse warned not to enter your Google password.