Are You a Victim of Pharming? Here are the Warning Signals

3 min read

Pharming is a type of malicious social engineering attack in which criminals redirect Internet users, who are trying to reach a specific website, to a different, fictitious website. This is done by using social engineering techniques. They attempt to obtain personally identifiable information (PII) and log-in credentials from victims. This includes passwords, social security numbers, payment information, and so on. 

They may also attempt to install pharming malware on the victim’s computer through the use of ‘spoof’ websites. With the ultimate goal of stealing personal information, fraudsters frequently target websites in the financial sector, such as banks, online payment platforms, and e-commerce websites.

Pharming takes advantage of the way people use the Internet. To understand how pharming works, you need to know how Domain Name Systems (DNS) servers function.

DNS servers are responsible for converting domain names into IP addresses. An IP address identifies the destination of a web server, whereas a domain name serves as the website’s address. After that, your web browser establishes a connection with the IP address that the server identifies.

Once you have visited a particular website, a DNS cache is created, which eliminates the need for you to visit the server each time you return to the site. Pharming has the capability of corrupting both the DNS cache and the DNS server. Two types of pharming can result from this.

Pharming with Malware Injection

Types of Pharming

Pharming with Malware Injection

In this case, you may have received a Trojan horse or virus through a phishing email or malicious download. When you type in the address of the website you intended to visit, the malware secretly redirects you to a fraudulent site created and controlled by cybercriminals.

In this type of pharming, a malicious code is sent to your computer via email. This can modify your computer’s local host files. After that, these corrupted host files can direct your computer to fraudulent websites. This is regardless of the Internet address that you type into your web browser.

Poisoning the DNS Server

Internet computers, or DNS, are responsible for directing your website request to the appropriate IP address. In contrast, a malicious, corrupted DNS server can direct network traffic to an erroneous IP address that has been assigned to it.

This pharming scam does not rely on corrupting individual files. Rather, it depends on exploiting a vulnerability at the DNS server level to carry out its malicious activity. You reach fraudulent websites without realising it because there has been poisoning of the DNS table.

The corruption of a large DNS server opens the door for cybercriminals to target and scam an even larger number of victims.

Tips to Spot if You are Under a Pharming Attack

Tips to Spot if You are Under a Pharming Attack

The following are signs that you are a victim of pharming:

  • Unauthorised PayPal or credit or debit card charges are a red flag
  • Your social media accounts have posts or messages on them that you did not make
  • Friend requests from your social media accounts that you did not initiate
  • Seeing the modification of passwords for any of your online accounts
  • New programmes that you didn’t download or install show up on your device without your permission

The address bar gives another hint. Even if the difference between the domain you typed in and the one you clicked is subtle, the domain will be different. Fraudsters make minor tweaks to the name to make it more appealing. Some common methods of pharming are: removal of a letter, the substitution of letters (for example, an uppercase ‘I’ in place of a lowercase ‘l’), the use of the Cyrillic script or other non-Latin characters that look similar to the characters they’re attempting to duplicate.

Check to see if the web address has the lock symbol to the left of it, as well as any other security features. A lock appears to indicate that your connection is secure. If there isn’t a lock, the site is likely to be suspicious.

Protecting Yourself from being Pharmed

Protecting Yourself from being Pharmed

Here are some of the tips that might be useful to prevent yourself from being a victim of pharming.

  • Select an Internet service provider with a good reputation (ISP) – In most cases, your Internet service provider will automatically block suspicious redirects. This will, ensure that you never get to the pharming website in the first place.
  • Make use of a dependable DNS server – For the vast majority of us, our DNS server will be our Internet service provider. To mitigate the risk of DNS poisoning, it is possible to use a specialised DNS service. This may provide greater protection against the attack.
  • Only click on links that begin with HTTPS, rather than just HTTP, in the URL – The letter ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’. It indicates that the site is protected by a valid SSL certificate. If the site is secure, look for the padlock icon in the address bar. Thisindicates that the site is secure.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links from unknown senders unless you know who they are – While there is no way to completely protect yourself from DNS poisoning, you can take precautions to avoid malicious software that facilitates pharming. If you are unsure about an email or message, avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in the message.
  • Make sure that URLs are free of typos – To trick visitors, pharmers may alter or add letters to domain names. Examine the URL carefully, and if you notice a typo, do not click on it.
  • Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication – Many platforms provide two-factor authentication. It’s a good idea to use this feature if it’s available. This makes it more difficult for hackers to get into your accounts. This holds true even if they get your log-in information from pharming. 
  • A good rule of thumb is to stay away from websites that seem sketchy – Along with spelling and grammatical errors, unfamiliar fonts and colours, and missing content (for example, some pharmers don’t bother to populate the privacy policy or terms and conditions), there are other warning signs to look out for.

A combination of malware protection and adherence to the latest cybersecurity best practices is the most effective method of protecting yourself from cybercrimes such as pharming.

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