What is Pharming and How to Prevent an Attack | LRQA Nettitude

Posted by LRQA Nettitude on Feb 27, 2024

Pharming is a form of cyberattack intended to misdirect website traffic from a legitimate website to a fraudulent one. The objective is to obtain private information that can then be used for fraudulent purposes.

What is pharming no CTA

Pharming works by exploiting vulnerabilities in DNS servers, which translate website domain names into IP addresses. Attackers use various techniques like DNS cache poisoning to change the IP address associated with a website domain. Consequently, when users attempt to visit the legitimate website, they are redirected without their knowledge to a nearly identical fabricated website constructed by the attacker.

On these simulated websites, users may unknowingly submit login credentials, financial information, or other sensitive data, under the false presumption they are on the authentic site. The attacker captures this information which can then be leveraged for identity theft, access to bank accounts, or other modes of fraud.

Pharming is highly deceptive since the simulated website appears identical to the original. Users may not discern any difference in the URL or HTTPS indicators. This makes it extremely difficult for an average internet user to detect they have been redirected to a malicious pharming site. Maintaining diligent software updates and remaining vigilant to any suspicious requests for information can assist in defending against pharming attacks.

Examples and types of Pharming

Pharming attacks come in various forms, each leveraging technical vulnerabilities to redirect users from legitimate sites. While the end goal is always malicious financial gain, the methods they use can differ greatly.

DNS Cache Poisoning: This involves tampering with the DNS resolver cache on compromised computers to redirect users to fake IP addresses. Attackers can inject false DNS records by exploiting vulnerabilities in the DNS software.

Hosts file manipulation: The hosts file on an operating system maps hostnames to IP addresses. By altering this file on a user's computer, attackers can overwrite legitimate IP mappings to hijack traffic.

Domain hijacking: This involves changing the registration details of a domain to point it to a malicious DNS server under the attacker's control. This enables redirecting all traffic for that domain to the fake IP address.

Man-in-the-middle pharming: Here attackers insert themselves between the user and the legitimate website, often through a rogue wireless hotspot. The user's traffic is intercepted and can be redirected to a fake site.

Global DNS cache poisoning: The most dangerous type, this poisons the DNS records on DNS servers responsible for resolving that domain worldwide. All users trying to access the site are then redirected.

These pharming techniques allow attackers to mimic legitimate websites and deceive users into giving up sensitive information. Being aware of the different attack vectors can help organisations strengthen defences and mitigate pharming risks. 

Pharming vs Phishing

Understanding the distinctions between pharming and phishing is crucial for safeguarding sensitive information. While both involve cybercriminals attempting to steal private data, the techniques used in each attack differ.

Pharming involves the manipulation of DNS (Domain Name System) to redirect users to fraudulent websites without their knowledge. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in the system, leading unsuspecting users to malicious websites that often mimic legitimate ones. This form of attack aims to harvest sensitive data, such as login credentials or financial information, by deceiving users into providing it on fake websites.

Phishing on the other hand…
Relies on deceptive tactics through emails, messages, or fake websites to trick individuals into divulging confidential information. Unlike pharming, phishing doesn't involve manipulating the DNS directly; instead, it relies on social engineering to create a false sense of trust. Phishing attempts often imitate reputable entities, urging recipients to click on malicious links or provide sensitive information.

Signs of a Pharming attack

One of the best ways to protect yourself against a pharming attack is to know what signs to look out for. Pharming can be difficult to detect, as users are seamlessly redirected without obvious prompts. However, there are some subtle clues that your traffic has been rerouted. 

1.    Unusual website behaviour
Be vigilant for unexpected changes in website behaviour, such as unexplained login issues, redirections to unfamiliar pages, decreases in security such as HTTPS to HTTP, or sudden alterations in the site's appearance.

2.    SSL Certificate anomalies
Check for SSL certificate irregularities when visiting secure websites. A missing or expired SSL certificate may indicate a pharming attempt, as attackers often operate fake sites without proper security measures.

3.    Unexplained account activities
Monitor your organisational accounts for any unusual or unauthorised activities. Frequent password changes, unfamiliar transactions, or unrecognised account modifications may signal a pharming attack.

4.    Slow internet or network connectivity
Persistent delays in internet or network connectivity could suggest a pharming attack. Attackers may reroute organisational traffic through malicious servers, resulting in delays when accessing websites.

5.    Verify DNS settings
Regularly review and verify organisational DNS settings. Unauthorised changes to DNS configurations may signal a pharming attempt.

6.    Utilise security tools
Deploy robust security tools and antivirus software capable of detecting and alerting organisations to potential pharming threats. Keep these tools updated to ensure optimal protection.

How to prevent a Pharming attack

Businesses and organisations must implement proactive measures to prevent pharming attacks, safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring operational continuity. Defending against pharming requires a multilayered approach to secure networks, devices, and user traffic.

1.    Secure DNS Configurations
Regularly audit and fortify your organisation's DNS configurations. Implement secure DNS practices and ensure that only authorised personnel have access to make changes. Employ DNS security solutions to detect and mitigate potential threats.

2.    SSL Certificate Management
Maintain a rigorous SSL certificate management protocol. Regularly renew and update certificates, and leverage extended validation (EV) certificates for enhanced security. Monitor for any unexpected changes or irregularities in SSL certificates.

3.    Employee Training and Awareness
Conduct regular cybersecurity awareness training for employees. Educate them about the risks of pharming attacks, the importance of verifying website URLs, and the need to exercise caution when clicking on links or providing sensitive information.

4.    Use of Secure Websites (HTTPS)
Encourage the use of secure websites (HTTPS) within your organisation. Ensure that all internal and external communication, especially those involving sensitive data, occurs over secure connections. Implement HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to enforce secure communication.

5.    Network Security Measures
Deploy robust network security measures, including firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, and secure Wi-Fi protocols. Regularly update and patch these systems to protect against vulnerabilities that could be exploited in pharming attacks.

6.    Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Enforce multi-factor authentication across organisational systems. This additional layer of security can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised access, even if login credentials are compromised.

7.    Continuous Monitoring and Threat Intelligence
Invest in continuous monitoring solutions and threat intelligence services. Stay informed about emerging threats and vulnerabilities to adapt your cybersecurity strategy accordingly. Proactive monitoring allows for early detection and response to potential pharming threats.

No single solution is enough, but by building a solid anti-pharming strategy, you can keep customer and business data safe, maintain compliance, and ensure trust in your systems even in the face of attacks. Implementing advanced security solutions and seeking expert guidance can provide a tailored defence against evolving cyber threats, including pharming attacks.

How can LRQA Nettitude help?

Beyond powerful monitoring software, our team of cybersecurity specialists bring deep expertise in implementing holistic anti-pharming programs. Our consultants can conduct risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities in DNS infrastructure, web gateways, and other systems prone to pharming exploitation. They develop customised incident response plans to ensure rapid detection and mitigation of any attacks. We also provide employee education to recognise phishing lures, report suspicious activity, and avoid compromising credentials.

To learn more contact LRQA Nettitude today.

Topics: pharming

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About LRQA Nettitude

Through our connected portfolio of advanced cybersecurity solutions, LRQA Nettitude helps organisations to identify and manage the vulnerabilities and threats that pose a risk to their business, building cybersecurity resilience and underpinning your business strategy with proactive measures.

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