What is a Cloning Attack and How To Protect Yourself

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By Kate
Estimated reading: 8mins
Cloning Attack

Cloning attacks in cybersecurity, also known as a clone phishing, is a type of targeted attack that implies copying an email sent from a legitimate organization.

Such emails usually contain malicious links or attachments. The key goal of such an attack is to make victims believe in the legitimacy of the sender and click on those links.

Unsurprisingly, cryptocurrency users often become targets of cloning attacks, too. Irreversibility of transactions combined with a number of privacy-oriented solutions enables hackers to easily get away with precious assets.

How can an individual or an organization withstand clone phishing attacks?

What kind of security measures can crypto users implement to avoid losing their funds?

Read on to find out.

Key Takeaways

  • A cloning attack is a subsection of phishing. Attackers rely on sophisticated methods to send targeted emails that look exactly like legit ones.
  • Some of the clone phishing examples include emails sent on behalf of well-known brands. Clone phishing emails usually prompt users to click on infected links or open files with malicious codes.
  • To make victims believe in the legitimacy of a cloned email attackers copy well-known brands and rely on social engineering tactics.
  • The urgency of the messages, promises of high rewards, and infection warnings are the signs of a cloning attack.
  • Cloning attacks in crypto usually imply sending emails on behalf of popular exchanges. Also, they may clone websites of popular crypto services such as Metamask.

What is Clone Phishing?

Remember the disastrous virus spread that took place some twenty years ago?

The so-called trojan was transmitting via floppy disks while not even all-mighty Kaspersky was able to protect poor users from ruining their PCs.

Guess why you don’t see this virus anymore these days?

That’s right, attacking individuals is a thing of the past now. Personal data and business secrets are much more profitable targets for attack.

With the advance of new technologies, the methods that attackers use to gain what they want become more sophisticated as well. At this, such attacks as email phishing, SMS phishing (smishing), and voice phishing (vishing) are now at the peak of their popularity.

Cloning attack comes in line with all these methods as it represents another type of phishing.

Clone phishing definition implies some form of an email or a website that copies a legit organization and prompts its victims to click on a link or download an infected file. The goals that this method pursues are the same as those of usual phishing.

What makes clone phishing different is a much higher level of complexity

In order for an attack to be successful, malicious actors have to perform quite a sophisticated maneuver that is not limited to a website or an email copy. Most importantly, it relies on social engineering approach to make the victim believe in the legitimacy of the email and perform the needed action.

How Does Cloning Attack Work?

Clone phishing attack examples

Despite its complexity, a cloning attack remains one of the most efficient methods and, therefore, very popular.

Even a trained user can easily miss the signs of a scam. And there’s nothing to surprise at. Here are some of the key techniques that scammers rely on:

  • First of all, attackers usually copy a well-known brand that most of us have heard of. The key goal is to mislead users into thinking that they are contacted by this brand.
  • Next, attackers send cloned email messages to large numbers of recipients. The message will look like an ongoing conversation with a legit company.
  • The email that attackers send prompts its victims to click on a malicious link or download a file.

Once the trap is closed, attackers are free to do whatever they please. 

If it’s an organization they target, they may infect a corporate network with a virus. If it’s an individual, he or she may be asked to expose some personal data that attackers use afterward for their own criminal purposes.

Cloning Attack Examples

The most common examples of a cloning attack look as follows.

Attackers send an urgent email that looks like an ongoing conversation with customer support of a well-known company such as PayPal or Microsoft. 

The subject line and the content of the email itself come with a sense of urgency. Attackers love using such words as “now”, “asap”, “immediately”, etc. This psychological trick should make the victim do the desired action without thinking too much about the consequences.

As for the content of the message, it may come in many different forms.

For example, a poofed email may promise a refund for some previous purchases. In order to get it, users have to visit the website by the provided link and submit their banking details or other sensitive data.

Another example of a cloning attack is a fake virus alert. At this, the email may look like the one from Facebook or Apple. It may notify the user that the device is infected and provide a malicious link for downloading an antivirus. 

Needless to say that what the user will eventually get is just the opposite.

Cloning Attacks in Crypto

If you are an active cryptocurrency user who spends a lot of time on crypto-related websites, falling prey to clone phishing is quite easy.

Attackers may send emails on behalf of popular cryptocurrency exchanges. These emails usually contain some security alerts prompting users to open a fake link and log into their accounts. 

After providing their credentials, users won’t be able to log in anywhere, of course. Yet, hackers will capture these details and try to steal the funds.

Another popular clone phishing example is a fake copy of Metamask. A malicious website may have a pop-up window in the top right corner mimicking the login interface of the most popular browser wallet.

There was a particular splash of such attacks in June 2022. A security company Confiant exposed a cluster of malicious activity SeaFlower that was cloning popular wallets such as Metamask and Coinbase. Being unable to log into fake apps via normal credentials, users tried restoring their accounts by giving away their seed phrases

Metamask phishing attack
A security firm Confiant reveals a cloned Metamask website that was stealing seed phrases

How To Recognize a Cloning Attack

As technologies evolve, clone phishing in cyber security gets more sophisticated by the year.

Still, if you stay on guard, you will be able to easily recognize a scam. Here are the warning signs of a cloning attack that must make you alert:

  • The message comes with a sense of urgency. It prompts recipients to act quickly inviting them to click on the links or download attachments.
  • The email invites recipients to obtain a reward, participate in some promotion or get a discount.
  • The message contains grammatical or spelling errors.
  • The sender’s address is practically a full replica of the one in a legitimate email. Yet, it comes with slight modifications.
  • Attackers usually rely on free email addresses that end with “@gmail.com” instead of “@companyname.com”.

How To Protect Yourself from Cloning Attacks

The good news is that the cloning security risk is easy to avoid.

For business owners, it’s sufficient to implement a set of basic security measures:

  • Conduct regular security awareness training to teach your employees the best security practices.
  • To prevent clonings of your website, strengthen your brand by creating recognizable visual elements.
  • Regularly check the incoming traffic via Google Analytics to spot signs of malicious bots and similar domain names.
  • Cross-link different pages of your website. The cloner may miss these links and leave them unchanged. Thus, users may seamlessly get back to your website while visiting its clone.

If you are an individual, online hygiene combined with a set of the following cyber security tips can help you protect your funds with ease:

  • Double-check the sender’s address. If you are not sure of its legitimacy, try to google its domain name to make sure that the website is legitimate.
  • Hover over the links in the message to make sure that the actual URL matches the hyperlinked text.
  • Do not trust unrealistic promises blindly. Remember, the only free cheese is in the mousetrap.
  • Scan attachments with specific apps. The majority of large email providers come with built-in scanners for such purposes. Don’t neglect using them.
  • If you still have missed all the warning signs and submitted your personal data on a fake website, go to a real platform and immediately change your password.

Bottom Line

Clone phishing emails may be really dangerous as it’s very easy to mistake them for those sent by legitimate companies.

Yet, no one has canceled basic security measures yet.

If you always stay on guard and don’t rush to blindly give up your sensitive data on random websites, you have nothing to fear of.

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Disclaimer:Please note that nothing on this website constitutes financial advice. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided on this website is accurate, individuals must not rely on this information to make a financial or investment decision. Before making any decision, we strongly recommend you consult a qualified professional who should take into account your specific investment objectives, financial situation and individual needs.

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Kate is a blockchain specialist, enthusiast, and adopter, who loves writing about complex technologies and explaining them in simple words. Kate features regularly for Liquid Loans, plus Cointelegraph, Nomics, Cryptopay, ByBit and more.

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