Watering Hole Attacks: How to recognize and respond to them

Posted by Manas Parthasarathy on Jul 10, 2019 10:30:00 AM

7-benefits-of-a-security-operations-center-1You probably have a list of websites you access on a daily basis, either personally or for work; these might include email domains, internal portals, or your accounts with vendors. Over the course of a day, you likely access these services numerous times, resulting in anywhere from hundreds to thousands of interactions per year. You probably trust these websites, but it’s important not to let your guard down. Cyberattackers commonly ‘stake out’ a network ecosystem before attacking, and through observation, they may notice a vulnerability in a location that is accessed by numerous people in an organization. This can be the beginning of a watering hole attack, even if your computer isn’t infected.

What is a watering hole attack?

To carry out a watering hole attack, a hacker identifies a vulnerability that attracts regular traffic (hence the analogy to a ‘watering hole’), infecting the vulnerable element of the system with malware. Using this malware, the hacker can attempt to gain further access to an organization after carrying out a successful breach, either infecting user machines or obtaining login or security information. Attackers often use ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities, which are vulnerabilities that have gone unaddressed by those responsible for their maintenance. Often times, this can be due to lack of resources or simply out of ignorance instead of just ignoring the problem; regardless of the reason, this makes smaller pages using outdated technology prime targets for watering hole-style attacks.

What can I do to protect myself?

The threat posed by a watering hole attack differs from those posed by other types of attacks, in the sense that a user can be attacked without having malware installed on their own device; this requires users to be extra vigilant. Not to sound like a broken record, but the most effective way by which you can protect yourself from a watering-hole attack is by keeping your software up to date. New vulnerabilities are always being discovered and addressed, resulting in patches to browsers and operating systems, which allow computers to recognize attacks. It’s also prudent to keep an eye out for signs of malware on websites, such as erratic behavior or layout compared to previous visits to the page, pop-ups, or frequent redirects to other sites. Reporting erratic activity can confirm the existence of a vulnerability or infection, helping to end an active watering hole attack.

Bottom Line

It’s easy to overlook the security of technologies that we use every day, but the consequences can be dire. Cybersecurity is a constantly evolving field, and new types of attacks are becoming possible every day. NewCloud Networks specializes in comprehensive cybersecurity services to protect your business from developing threats; if you’re looking for a partner with whom to develop your cybersecurity strategy, reach out to us today.

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Topics: phishing, cybersecurity

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