In recent years, phishing and social engineering attacks have become a significant threat to businesses
and individuals alike. These attacks are particularly dangerous because they target end-users directly,
bypassing many traditional cyber security defenses such as firewalls, endpoint detection and response
(EDR), and anti-virus software. To combat these threats, many companies have implemented phishing
awareness training programs to educate employees on how to spot suspicious email attempts and
protect themselves and the business from bad actors. However, even with user awareness, it can be
difficult to limit or prevent certain types of attacks, such as homograph attacks, where the attacker uses
seemingly legitimate websites or emails to trick the user.
What is phishing ?
Phishing is a type of social engineering attacks that uses deception to trick individuals into providing
sensitive information such as login credentials or personal data. This type of attack typically occurs
through email, telephone, or text message communication and is designed to appear legitimate in order
to gain the trust of the victim. The attackers may use various tactics such as creating fake websites or
emails that resemble legitimate sources, impersonating a trusted organization, or using urgent
language to create a sense of urgency and pressure the victim into providing the requested information.
The goal of these attacks is to steal sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or
other personal data for financial gain or to gain access to sensitive systems and information.
Types of Phishing
Email Phishing is a tactic used in penetration testing and red teaming engagements where an attacker
targets a specific company or individual by gathering information through Open-source intelligence
(OSINT). This type of attack involves researching the company, their interests, and the services they
offer in order to appear legitimate and trick the target into taking a desired action. An example of this
type of attack is Spear Phishing, where the attacker poses as someone searching for a job and targets
the human resources department of the company. The attacker then tricks the HR representative into
downloading a malicious file, such as a keylogger or spyware, which allows the attacker to gain access
to sensitive information. The goal of Email Phishing is to gather information or gain access to a
company’s systems through tricking the target into taking an action that they would not normally take.
Whaling phishing is a specific type of phishing that targets individuals with high levels of access and
permissions within an organization, such as the CEO. This tactic involves creating fake emails that
appear to be from other individuals within the company, in order to gain sensitive information or access
to important systems. The goal of whaling phishing is to take advantage of the trust and authority of
high-level individuals in order to compromise the entire organization. To carry out a successful whaling
phishing attack, an attacker may conduct extensive research on the targeted organization, known as
OSINT (Open Source Intelligence). This research may include studying the roles, positions, and groups
within the company, in order to identify potential targets and understand their access levels. Once the
attacker has a good understanding of the organization, they may create fake emails that appear to be
from other individuals within the company. These emails may contain malicious links or attachments,
which, when clicked, can infect the target’s computer with malware or steal sensitive information. For
example, imagine that the CEO of a company has local administrator access on the company’s system.
An attacker may create a fake email that appears to be from a lower-level employee, requesting the
CEO to click on a link or download a file. If the CEO falls for the trap and clicks on the link or download
the file, the attacker can potentially gain access to the CEO’s computer and potentially the entire
company’s system. In summary, whaling phishing is a tactic that targets high-level individuals within an
organization, such as the CEO, with the goal of compromising the entire organization. It involves
conducting extensive research on the targeted organization and creating fake emails that appear to be
from other individuals within the company, in order to steal sensitive information or gain access to
Smishing, also known as SMS phishing, is where the attacker sends text messages to the victim in
order to obtain sensitive information or trick them into taking a specific action. Unlike traditional phishing
attacks, which are delivered through email, smishing attacks are delivered through text messages on a
victim’s mobile device. The attacker may obtain the victim’s phone number through an old data breach
or other means, making it easy for them to target the victim. One of the advantages of smishing is that it
does not require an internet connection. This means that even if the victim is on vacation or in an area
with limited internet access, they can still be targeted by the attacker. Additionally, the victim may be
more likely to respond to a text message than an email, as text messages are typically considered
more urgent and personal. However, it is important to note that smishing can be just as dangerous as
traditional phishing attacks. The victim may be tricked into providing sensitive information, such as login
credentials or financial information, or they may be directed to a malicious website that can infect their
device with malware. Therefore, it is important for individuals and organizations to be aware of the risks
of smishing and to take appropriate measures to protect themselves.
Vishing, also known as voice call phishing, is where the threat actor contacts the victim or targeted
person via phone call. The attacker may use phone numbers over IP (Internet Protocol) if they have
already gained access to them. This method of phishing is considered harder compared to others, as
the attacker must have a well-planned and convincing story in order to obtain the desired information
from the victim without arousing suspicion. One benefit of vishing is that the outcome of the attack is
often faster than email phishing, as the attacker does not need to wait for a file or email to be opened or
clicked. It is important to note that there is often confusion between phishing and spear phishing. The
main difference between the two is that spear phishing targets specific groups or organizations, such as
individuals with specific positions that have access to sensitive systems.
What is IDN’s ?
International Domain Names (IDNs) are a solution to the problem of the limited character set of the
early days of the World Wide Web’s Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS root originally only
supported Latin letters A-z and digits. However, with over 6000 languages spoken worldwide, it became
clear that support for non-Latin alphabets such as Cyrillic and Arabic was necessary. IDNs were
created to address this issue and make the DNS root more inclusive and accessible for speakers of
non-Latin languages. Additionally, IDNs also play a significant role in Homograph attacks, that uses
visually similar characters to trick users into visiting malicious websites.
IDN Homograph Attack
An IDN Homograph Attack is an attack that utilizes the Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) feature to
manipulate letters in different languages. The IDN feature allows for the use of non-Latin characters in
domain names, which can be used to create a spoofed version of a legitimate domain that looks very
similar to the original. This can be used to trick victims into providing sensitive information, such as
login credentials or personal information, through phishing emails or other means. In a demonstration
of an IDN Homograph Attack, an attacker may use a tool such as the Homoglyph Attack Generator
(https://www.irongeek.com/homoglyph-attack-generator.php) to create a spoofed version of a trusted
domain. For example, the attacker may create a domain that looks like “hackerone.com” but uses non-
Latin characters that are visually similar to the letters “h”, “a”, “c”, “k”, “e”, “r”, “o”, “n” and “e”. The
victim may not realize that the domain is different from the legitimate “hackerone.com” and may enter
their login credentials or personal information, allowing the attacker to steal their information.
As you can observe in the picture, we utilized characters from a different language, specifically “cyrillic”
letters, to create a domain name that appears similar to “hackerone.com”. However, it is important to
note that the domain name in question, һackеrone.com, is not the same as the legitimate domain
And here is the domain available as we can see:
By using the domain suppo[email protected] as the original domain, in order to steal their
HackerOne account. This is a simple simulation of this type of attack and it can be used in different
scenarios, depending on the target. This attack is specifically found in common browsers like Google
Chrome, specifically in version 58 and Chromium-based browsers, but it also exists in Firefox.
However, we will cover how to limit the risk of this attack in Firefox as well.
What is punycode ?
Punycode is a method of encoding Unicode characters in the ASCII character set. Unicode is a
standardized system of representing characters and symbols from different languages and scripts,
while ASCII is a standardized set of characters and symbols used in computer systems. Punycode
allows the use of Unicode characters in domain names and URLs, which are typically limited to the
ASCII character set. The process of converting Unicode characters to Punycode involves a series of
steps. First, the Unicode characters are divided into basic and non-basic characters. Basic characters
are those that are already included in the ASCII character set, while non-basic characters are those
that are not. Next, the non-basic characters are assigned a unique code point, which is a numerical
value that represents the character. The code point is then converted to a series of ASCII characters
using a specific algorithm. These ASCII characters are then prepended with the prefix xn-- , which
indicates that the characters following it are Punycode encoded. When a user enters a Punycode
encoded URL, the browser will convert the Punycode back to Unicode characters and display the
correct characters on the screen. An example of Punycode in action is the domain name xn--
d1acufc.xn--p1ai , which is the Punycode version of the Russian domain name рф.рф (rf.rf) . In
this example, the non-ASCII characters р and ф have been encoded in Punycode, allowing them to
be used in the domain name. In summary, Punycode is a method of encoding Unicode characters,
which are used in different languages and scripts, into the ASCII character set, which is widely used in
computer systems. This allows the use of Unicode characters in domain names and URLs, which would
otherwise not be possible.
Limit the attack
In order to limit the risk of attack in Firefox browser, there are a few steps you can take. First, open your
Firefox browser and type about:config in the address bar and enable it:
The attack fixed in some common used browsers, but it’s still exist in firefox. We will cover blow how to
limit the risk of this attack in firefox & Goolge.
Prevent and Detect homograph attack and HTTP spoofing
HTTP spoofing is an attack in which an attacker creates a fake website that looks identical to the
original website. This can be done by using SSL certificates to make the fake website appear secure
and trustworthy. However, it is important to pay attention to the certificate information to confirm the
owner of the domain and website. To prevent and mitigate this type of attack, it is recommended to
disable punycode in the address bar as most modern browsers have this feature. When punycode is
disabled, the user will see the punycode as unicode, making it easier to identify suspicious websites.
Additionally, using third-party tools such as virustotal can also help to check the authenticity of a
In conclusion, phishing and social engineering attacks are a significant threat to businesses and
individuals alike. These attacks target end-users directly and bypass traditional cyber security
defenses. To combat these threats, many companies have implemented phishing awareness training
programs to educate employees on how to spot suspicious email attempts and protect themselves and
the business from bad actors. However, even with user awareness, it can be difficult to limit or prevent
certain types of attacks, such as homograph attacks. Email Phishing, Spear Phishing, and Whaling
Phishing are some of the types of phishing that can be used by attackers to gain sensitive information
or access to important systems. It is important for organizations and individuals to be aware of these
tactics and to take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their data from phishing attacks.