Blank image: The fraudulent cyber threat

Blank image attacks are a deceptive method hackers use when phishing. They hide the malware in blank images. Read more about it here.

07-06-2023 - 5 minute read. Posted in: phishing.

Blank image: The fraudulent cyber threat

The Deceptive Cybersecurity Threat

A blank image attack is a type of a cyber attack that exploits the human tendency to trust attached images in emails. It involves hiding malicious code within an image file that appears to be blank or harmless. When the user opens the image file, the hidden code is activated, infecting the system with malware or other malicious activities.

The beginning of new phishing

A blank image attack involves embedding malicious code within an image file that appears to be blank or harmless. The image file can be in any format, including JPEG, PNG, or GIF. When the user opens the image file, the hidden code is “activated”, and will thus infect the system with malware or other malicious activities. Blank image attacks are typically spread via email by phishing or social media, and users may unknowingly download and open the infected image files.

It was originally discovered by techs at Avanan that found that hackers used blank images in emails to link malware onto them. Initially the hackers had connected the malware with DocuSign, a legitimate website for digital signatures.

People are asked to sign a document, and as soon as they go to sign the document, malware is installed onto their device. By being directed to a legitimate website, the users trust the link - and this is something that hackers use to their advantage.

The techs found that the attached files, or images, contained an SVG encoded using Base64 (which is a binary-to-text encoding scheme). So even when the image is blank and empty, it contains some active coding that thus redirects the user to the malicious URL.

Inside the hacker’s head

If we try to get inside the hacker’s head, there are several things to look at. And by knowing what and how the hacker thinks, we’ll have a better chance of not falling for their tricks.

Blank image attacks are influenced by various elements that affect their effectiveness and success rate. Some of the things that hackers consider when executing a blank image attack is:

  • Deceptiveness: The success of a blank image attack depends on the ability to deceive the user. The image file must appear harmless, making the user more likely to download and open it.

  • Malware Functionality: The effectiveness of a blank image attack depends on the functionality of the malware. Malware that can evade detection and spread quickly is more effective in causing damage.

  • Target Audience: The success of a blank image attack also depends on the target audience. For example, an attack aimed at a company's IT department may be more successful than one aimed at general employees, because they have access to the vulnerable systems and software. This is exactly what they want to get access to.

  • Place of phishing: The method of delivery is another crucial element that influences the success of a blank image attack. Email, social media, and other communication channels may be more or less effective depending on the target audience.

What to look for and what to do

There are several things to consider when it comes to blank image attacks:

  • The way that the email seems completely legitimate can deceive many. The user thus has to be more cautious when it comes to phishing and receiving emails in general.
  • Spam filters and email filters find it more difficult to detect blank image attacks because the files in essence are legitimate. It’s the coding and programming that is hidden by a blank image. And the moment you click on the image, the malware gets installed.
  • Having proper cybersecurity will help any organization in case of a blank image attack. But as always, it’s the employee that are most hackers' entry points. So having awareness training is a good investment in any company.

Awareness training is always something that organizations should consider - it can be a bit costly if you find an organization that offers awareness training to a high price, but the price you pay when you get hacked is even higher.

Another thing to implement in your organization is anti-virus software and other security tools that might be effective. They might, however, not catch all instances of blank image attacks. Therefore, it's crucial to use a combination of approaches to mitigate the risks of blank image attacks effectively.

What to remember

When deciding how to prevent or respond to blank image attacks, it's essential to consider the potential impact on the system and organization. Blank image attacks can cause significant damage, including data theft, system downtime, and financial losses. Therefore, it's crucial to take appropriate measures to prevent and respond to blank image attacks.

Blank image attacks are a deceptive cybersecurity threat that can cause significant damage to systems and organizations. So, each employee should think twice before clicking on attached images in emails. Often they are harmless, especially when you know the sender. But if the email comes from an unknown source it might be a good idea to refrain from clicking the image.

Everyone can become a target of blank image attacks, so it’s always great to keep an eye out for them. This type of phishing is, however, not the most popular phishing method for hackers. It is after all easier for them to make a link that sends the victim directly to a website or install malware on their devices.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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