Stop Your Website from Becoming Part of a Watering Hole Attack


Your website is your organization’s face on the Internet. You may use your website to enhance your market reach, engage with customers, convert leads into clients, and analyze visitor behavior to gain valuable insight. The last thing you want is your website to become an unwilling infection vector for malware or an attack vector for a sophisticated malicious campaign. But that’s what can happen during a watering hole attack. So, what is a watering hole attack, and how do you prevent your website from becoming a watering hole? 

Watering hole websites are complex traps

If you’ve watched a nature channel like National Geographic, you’ve seen how certain predators like big cats target buffalos, gazelles, and other game at watering holes in the jungle. It’s easier for them to wait for their prey at a place where they congregate rather than hunting them in the wild. It’s a similar story with watering hole attacks in computing, except the process can be more complex. 

Typically, an attacker starts by gathering intelligence. They may employ search engines, social media pages, website demographic data, social engineering tactics to learn what websites their targets frequent. They may also deploy spyware, stalkerware, and keyloggers. Afterward, they develop a website shortlist. Websites with weak security vulnerable to web-borne exploits, exploit kits are usually prepped to become watering holes. Finally, the hackers infect vulnerable websites to attack visitors. 

Hackers can double dip

The threat actors may not stop at infection strategies. They may double-dip with a data exfiltration attack to copy sensitive data from your servers, targeting you, your employees, your clients, and your website visitors. They also won’t hesitate to drop a ransomware strain to lock your systems after initial operations end. 

What are some examples of watering hole attacks?

Watering hole attacks are an APT (advanced persistent threat) against all types of companies. In particular, they hit retailers, real estate businesses, and medical companies. But hackers also use these attacks against high-profile targets. For example, hackers used the United States IT company SolarWinds as a watering hole to spy on government employees, cybersecurity companies, and more. A few years before that, a Canadian aviation agency, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), was infiltrated through a watering hole attack. Again, investigators blamed network security vulnerabilities. 

How do I prevent watering hole attacks?  

Hire experts for a forensic analysis of your website and vulnerability management of your network. Shifting to the cloud can also help protect your company and your data from malware attacking local systems. At the very least, you’ll have better disaster recovery options. Look for a top cloud consulting services team with expertise in cybersecurity to mitigate security events and gain real-time incident identification, escalation, and response solutions. A top consulting team can also help you test your security solution frequently and monitor your web traffic for suspicious activity. 

In addition, invest in cloud browsers rather than local browsers to secure your employees from web-borne attacks that infect local data. Training your staff on watering hole defense strategies will also help. Finally, ask your security consultants for endpoint detection tools to stop vulnerable endpoints from becoming attack vectors. 

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