X-Platform Phishing: Abusing Trust for Targeted Attacks


The goal of anti-phishing techniques is to reduce the delivery rate of phishing emails, and anti-phishing training aims to decrease the phishing click-through rates. This paper presents the X-Platform Phishing Attack, a deceptive phishing attack with an alarmingly high delivery and click-through rates, and highlights a subclass of phishing attacks that existing anti-phishing methods do not seem to be able to address. The main characteristic of this attack is that an attacker is able to embed a malicious link within a legitimate message generated by service providers (e.g., Github, Google, Amazon) and sends it using their infrastructure to his targets. This technique results in the bypassing of existing anti-phishing filters because it utilizes reputable service providers to generate seemingly legitimate emails. This also makes it highly likely for the targets of the attack to click on the phishing link as the email id of a legitimate provider is being used. An X-Platform Phishing attack can use email-based messaging and notification mechanisms such as friend requests, membership in- vitations, status updates, and customizable gift cards to embed and deliver phishing links to their targets. We have tested the delivery and click-through rates of this attack experimentally, based on a customized phishing email tunneled through GitHub’s pull-request mechanism. We observed that 100% of X-Platform Phishing emails passed the anti-phishing systems and were delivered to the inbox of the target subjects. All of the participants clicked on phishing messages, and in some cases, forwarded the message to other project collaborators who also clicked on the phishing links.

In: Brenner M. et al. (eds) Financial Cryptography and Data Security. FC 2017. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10323. Springer, Cham, April 2017, pp 587-596