Why Love is the Best Phishing Weapon

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
With this e-card,
I’m scamming you.

Who doesn’t love love? And who doesn’t want to know that they are loved? And, especially, who doesn’t want to have a secret admirer declaring their undying love for us? 

Human Beings are a marvel of evolution – we are by far the most successful species on the planet, top of the tree of natural selection. Just ask Elon Musk how great we are as a species – it’s no wonder that he is planning on preserving the human race by ensuring that we become a multi-planet species (negating the dangers of being wiped out in a single hit, which is much more likely if we remain a single-planet species).

But despite the greatness of the Human Being, we’re by no means flawless.

The founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker, admitted back in November 2017 that Facebook was built to exploit a, “vulnerability in human psychology.”

Facebook was designed so that all the interactions and features on the site would give users a little hit of dopamine to keep them online and keep on interacting with the site to consume as much of their time and attention as possible.

And there’s another recent example of human psychology being exploited – perhaps we’re really not so great after all. Just ask Elon Musk how stupid we are as a species – if you now own a (not a) flamethrower, then shame on you for falling for such a ridiculous stunt.

The hype went through the roof, and the flamethrowers flew off the shelves.

The hype went through the roof, and the flamethrowers flew off the shelves. As did the accompanying fire extinguisher. As the boring company’s website says, “Buy an overpriced Boring Company fire extinguisher! You can definitely buy one for less elsewhere, but this one comes with a cool sticker and the button is conveniently riiiight above.”

How many people hit the buy button and completed their purchase of flamethrower (and exorbitantly priced fire extinguisher — with a cool sticker!!! Like, OMG!!!) just so they didn’t miss out on ‘the’ cool thing of the moment? Perhaps even the coolest thing of all time? After all, there’s only 20,000 ever going to be available! I am sure that FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – was behind a huge number of the purchases.

But let’s get back to romance.

Scammers also know how much we want to hear from our secret admirers and they want to exploit flaws in human psychology. As highlighted in a report by PhishMe, “Enterprise Phishing Resiliency and Defence Report”, “e-cards are one of the strongest vehicles to deliver email threats, having risen to the top of our susceptibility charts, with average response rates nearing the 25% mark. Valentine e-cards simulations have pulled even higher rates, at times reaching above 50% response.”

Strong emotional responses like love (and, let’s be realistic about it, lust) can keep us from our rational thought processes just long enough for us to react without thinking. How many new flamethrower owners suffered buyers’ remorse in the minutes, hours and days after clicking the ‘buy’ button? (I mean, sure, if you’re still really happy with your flamethrower, then none of this applies to you and you made a really good and sensible purchase and it was in no way flawed. Totally.)

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘our brain needs to be conditioned to fully become a security asset'” quote=”‘our brain needs to be conditioned to fully become a security asset'”]

John ‘Lex’ Robinson, anti-phishing and cybersecurity strategist at PhishMe offers the following comment on why our brain needs to be conditioned to fully become a security asset:

“The majority of security threats out there do not rely on sophisticated malware or technical vulnerabilities, but the psychology and behaviour of people. Valentine’s Day is the perfect set-up for malicious actors to craft simple but effective email messages that anyone without adequate conditioning at a cognitive level would deem harmless, genuine and acceptable.

Our brain hates change and the success in fighting these seasonal threats lies in our ability to condition those deeply ingrained behaviours to instil a sense of genuine alert in our day-to-day communications”.

With so many more people on the planet now I expect that Cupid has had to adjust his methods – he probably sends out eCards himself, and I expect he’s already replaced his bow and arrow with a flamethrower.

The advice to take care when opening emails on February 14th, of course, applies throughout the year. But PhishMe’s caution to be extra aware and vigilant on Valentine’s Day is certainly justified.

Roses are Red,
Flamethrowers are hot,
Cupid sends out eCards,
But I do not.

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