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Phishing Attacks Are Besting Two-Factor Authentication--Now What?

Phishing Attacks Are Besting Two-Factor Authentication--Now What?

What has proven to be one of the more effective ways of preventing phishing attacks may be under fire from more advanced threats designed specifically to penetrate the defenses of two-factor authentication. This means that users need to be more cognizant of avoiding these attacks, but how can you help them make educated decisions about this? Let’s start by discussing the phishing attacks that can beat 2FA.

How Has Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) Been Defeated?

There are several methods used by hackers to bypass the security benefits of 2FA. Some phishing attempts have managed to find success in convincing users to have over both their credentials and the 2FA code that is generated by a login attempt. As reported by Amnesty International, one group of hackers has been sending out phishing emails that link the recipient to a convincing fake page to reset their Google password. Sometimes fake emails can be quite convincing, making the trickery much more difficult to identify.

As Amnesty International looked into the attacks, they found that the attacks were using an automated solution to launch Chrome and submit information the user entered into their end. This meant that the 30-second time limit imposed by 2FA was of no concern.

In November 2018, an application on a third-party app store posed as an Android battery utility tool was found to be stealing funds from a user’s PayPal account. The application would change the device’s Accessibility settings to enable an accessibility overlay feature. Once it was in place, the user’s clicks would be mimicked, giving hackers the ability to send funds to their own PayPal account.

Yet another method of attack was shared publicly by Piotr Duszynski, a Polish security researcher. This method, named Modlishka, created a reverse proxy that intercepted and recorded credentials as the user attempted to plug them into an impersonated website. Modlishka would then send the credentials to the real website to hide the fact that the user’s credentials were in fact stolen. Even worse yet, if the person using Modlishka is nearby, they can steal the 2FA credentials and use them very quickly.

Protect Yourself Against 2FA Phishing Schemes

The first step toward preventing 2FA phishing attacks is to make sure you actually have 2FA implemented in the first place. While it might not seem like much of a help (after all, these attacks are designed to work around them), it is much preferable to not having 2FA at all. The most secure method of 2FA at the moment uses hardware tokens with U2F protocol. Most important of all, however, is that your team needs to be trained on the giveaway signs of phishing attacks. With these attempts that target 2FA solutions, it might not be immediately apparent, which is why it’s all the more important to remain vigilant.

At its heart, 2FA phishing is just like regular phishing, plus an additional step to bypass or replicate the secondary authentication method. Here are a few tips to ensure best practices are followed regarding phishing attempts:

  • First, check to make sure that the website you’re using is actually the one it claims to be. For example, if you’re logging in to your Google account, the login URL wouldn’t be something like You wouldn’t believe how often spoofers will fool users in this way.
  • To help you better understand other signs of phishing attacks, check out this phishing identification skills quiz by Alphabet, Inc. We encourage your staff also look into it.

To learn more about phishing attacks, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

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