Form-Based Attacks: How They Work and Why They’re So Dangerous

Digital security sometimes feels like a game of catch-up. The moment you’ve tackled one hazard, an even more damaging problem appears. Such is the case with a new threat: Form-based attacks, in which previously trusted URLs now present a real source of danger. Unfortunately, these attacks are poorly understood and difficult to defend against.

Keep reading to get a better sense of the threat – and to discover how form-based attacks can be prevented at the organizational level.

How Do Form-Based Attacks Work?

In many respects, form-based attacks resemble impersonation efforts like traditional phishing or man-in-the-middle attacks. At their core, form-based attacks involve strategies designed to catch users off-guard and convince them to hand over their credentials. The ultimate goal is to make it easy to access sensitive data and cause irreparable damage.

While form-based events can look different based on the attacker and the type of service used to elude the victim, they share a few basic features. Typically, the process of attacking begins with the victim receiving a phishing email that appears to be an automated message from a reputable provider. This message may contain a link to a form that the targeted individual sees no problem with completing.

In a common variation on the standard form-based attack, victims receive an initial, well-disguised phishing email and are then taken to what appears to be an authentic application. From there, these unsuspecting users are directed to complete login credentials. During this process, they may accept app permissions. Unfortunately, in doing so, victims are actually granting access tokens.

Preliminary research suggests that over half of form-based attacks currently involve Google file-sharing and storage websites, such as Google Docs and Google Drive. Microsoft users aren’t targeted quite as often, but sites like OneDrive remain vulnerable.

In general, form-based attacks echo the current predominance of URL scams – the natural successor to the attachment-based incidents that used to damage businesses and dominate headlines. While attacks involving attachments remain unfortunately common, many users are aware enough of this issue to avoid downloading anything they don’t recognize. They may not be quite as discerning, however, when it comes to URLs.

Why Are Form-Based Attacks So Dangerous?

Much of the damage surrounding form-based attacks relates to their ability to go undetected for a shockingly long amount of time – even when these incidents target otherwise savvy users. Since victims provide their credentials for legitimate websites, they essentially grant full permission to malicious parties.

Form-based attacks are uniquely insidious in that they are able to bypass standard defenses, such as spam filters or email gateways. Users who think they’re capable of spotting scammers may be surprised to discover that they’ve been fooled by the seemingly legitimate IP addresses and URLs involved in these attacks. Hence, the need for a layered, sophisticated approach that calls for more than brute force defense or user discretion. This, combined with due diligence, will make it far more difficult to access sensitive data.

Top Options for Protecting Your Organization Against Form-Based Attacks

Despite the insidious nature of form-based attacks, it’s possible to reduce the risk of succumbing to these all-too-common incidents. Success in this ambitious endeavor begins with education.

Often, the same people who manage to resist typical email phishing or social media scammers fall prey to anything that appears to involve file-sharing sites or document storage applications. For this reason, users need to be well aware of the potential for these services to be involved in some of the most malicious attacks. At the company level, this can begin with security training for all employees.

Unfortunately, even the most cautious users may ultimately fall victim to form-based attacks. Awareness alone will not sufficiently reduce the risk. Rather, this problem calls for an advanced solution – ideally, one that involves artificial intelligence. Security systems involving machine learning can determine typical communication patterns, rather than simply seeking evidence of malicious links or attachments. In doing so, artificial intelligence (AI) tools can spot potential threats long before they become evident to individual users.

Multi-factor authentication is also essential. While it won’t automatically prevent form-based attacks, advanced authentication techniques, such as retinal scanning, may make it more difficult for hackers to gain access via voluntarily shared credentials.

Finally, email accounts should be monitored for signs of malicious rules. These are a common occurrence during account takeovers, with hackers often creating new forwarding rules and getting rid of emails they send in hopes of obscuring their efforts.

How NerdsToGo Can Assist in the Fight Against Form-Based Attackers

Whether you’ve already suffered a form-based attack or are determined to avoid this unfortunately common problem, it’s best to seek support from the team at NerdsToGo. Our certified Nerds are well aware of the many hazards that target small businesses in the Grapevine area. We can help you implement a layered security strategy that takes today’s myriad of threats into account. Contact us today to learn more about our top business IT services.