Pharming is when a bad actor (or “the pharmer”) re-directs you to a fake website instead of the legitimate one you intended to open. “Spoofed” sites capture your confidential information, including usernames, passwords, credit card data, or install malware on to your device. Pharmers usually focus on websites in the financial sector, including banks, online payment platforms, or other e-commerce destinations, often with identity theft as the ultimate goal.
Pharming attacks have become effective because they fool you and your devices into thinking the spoof sites are legitimate. The pharmer tricks your device into sending you to the pharmer’s spoof website rather than the legitimate one.
Here’s the general theme on how pharming works. When you navigate to a website, you will enter a website’s URL (e.g., www.abc123.com). This name is associated with an IP address – it is like your phone number or home address. The IP address tells your web browser where the website lives on the internet.
To convert your URL name to its IP address, your web browser looks up the address using something called a DNS (domain name server). This of DNS as the yellow pages or the phone book. Once the IP address is determined, the web browser then goes to that internet location and the website displays its information.
Pharming comes in when the bad actors edit the phone book entry and change the phone number (IP address) to one that points your web browser to their spoof site. Neither you nor your device knows the difference. You think you are logging into your online banking system, but it’s a fake site, and you are giving all your information to the cybercriminals.
Don’t confuse Pharming for Phishing?
Often users think pharming and phishing are the same things? They are similar, but not the same. Phishing, as the name implies, uses bait to lure victims. Bad actors use official-looking or inviting emails or SMS messages to lure victims to visit spoofed websites and enter their personal information.
Pharming skips the bait step and sends victims directly to the fake website without your knowledge or consent. Because victims are typing the URLs themselves, they may be less likely to recognize the fraud rather than clicking links in a sketchy email. It’s a sneaker type of scam compared to more direct phishing techniques.
How to protect yourself against being Pharmed?
There are strategies you can use to protect yourself against pharming attacks.
- Use a trustworthy internet service provider (ISP) – Quality ISPs automatically filter out a pharmer’s bogus redirects, preventing you from ever reaching the pharming website.
- Watch URLs for typos – When going to a website, let it load completely, then examine the SITE closely. Pharmers often disguise their sites with minor spelling tricks, including swapped letters or letter replacements: “gooogle.com” instead of “google.com,” for example.
- Avoid websites that don’t use HTTPS – Sites using HTTPS have their websites encrypted. HTTPS sites encrypt communications so third parties can not intercept them. Websites with this enhanced security level will automatically change their URL from HTTP to HTTPS, letting you know that your data is safe.
- Avoid questionable websites – Use common sense and good judgment when browsing the web. Stick to websites you know you can trust. Avoid anything that looks suspicious.
- Don’t click links or download files from unknown sources – Verify files and links before clinking. It hard for Pharmers to get you if they can’t install their malware onto your device.
- Avoid “to-good-to-be true” e-commerce deals – Many Pharmers will lure you in with significant price discounts compared to legitimate stores. Price-check on competing sites before making a purchase.
- Trust your antivirus software – Pay attention when your browser or antivirus software warns you against navigating to a particular website. A warning may be an indication that it’s been infected since your last visit.
- Get quality antivirus/antimalware software – quality tools can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. Investing in a quality antivirus/antimalware toolset will be one of the best digital investments you can make.
“Check twice, click once – advice to live by”
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