Kaspersky has uncovered a sophisticated evolution of phishing techniques used by cybercriminals to bypass two-factor authentication (2FA), a crucial security measure designed to protect online accounts.

Despite the widespread adoption of 2FA by many websites and its mandatory implementation by numerous organisations, attackers have developed advanced methods, combining phishing with automated OTP bots to deceive users and gain unauthorised access to their accounts.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security feature that has become a standard practice in online security. It requires users to verify their identity using a second form of authentication, usually a one-time password (OTP) sent via text message, email, or an authentication app.

This extra layer of security is intended to protect users’ accounts even if their passwords are compromised. However, scammers have developed ways to trick users into revealing these OTPs, allowing them to bypass 2FA protections.

An OTP bot is a tool used by scammers to intercept OTPs through social engineering techniques. Attackers usually attempt to obtain the victim’s login credentials through phishing or data leaks, then log in to the victim’s account, triggering an OTP to be sent to the victim’s phone.

After that, the OTP bot calls the victim, pretending to be a representative from a trusted organisation, and uses a pre-scripted dialogue to persuade the victim to share the OTP. Finally, the attacker receives the OTP through the bot and uses it to gain access to the victim’s account.

Scammers prefer phone calls over messages because calls increase the chances of the victim responding quickly. The bot can mimic the tone and urgency of a legitimate call, making it more convincing.

Scammers manage OTP bots through special online panels or messaging platforms such as Telegram. These bots come with various features and subscription plans. They can be customised to impersonate different organisations, use multiple languages, and even choose between male and female voices.

Advanced options include phone number spoofing, which makes the caller ID appear as if it’s coming from a legitimate organisation.

Before using an OTP bot, scammers need to steal the victim’s credentials. They often use phishing websites that look like legitimate login pages for banks, email services, or other online accounts. When the victim enters their username and password, the scammers capture this information in real-time.

Kaspersky’s research shows the significant impact of these phishing and OTP bot attacks. From March, 1 May to 31 May 2024, the company’s products prevented 653 088 attempts at visiting sites generated by the phishing kits targeting the banking sector, the data from which is often used in attacks with OTP bots. During the same period, Kaspersky’s technology detected 4 721 phishing pages generated by the kits that are aimed at bypassing two-factor authentication in real time.

“Social engineering can be incredibly tricky, especially with the use of OTP bots that can mimic real calls from representatives of legitimate services,” comments Olga Svistunova, a security expert at Kaspersky. “To stay on guard, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and follow best security practices. Through continuous research and innovation, Kaspersky provides cutting-edge security solutions to safeguard digital lives.”

While 2FA is an important security measure, it’s not foolproof. To protect yourself from these sophisticated scams, Kaspersky recommends:

* Avoid opening links you receive in suspicious email messages. If you need to sign into your account with the organisation, type in the address manually or use a bookmark.

* Make sure the website address is correct and contains no typos before you enter your credentials there. Use Whois to check on the website: if it was registered recently, chances are this is a scam site.

* Do not pronounce or punch in the one-time code while you’re on the phone, no matter how convincing the caller sounds. Real banks and other companies never use this method to verify the identity of their clients.

* To protect the company against a wide range of threats, use solutions that provide real-time protection, threat visibility, investigation and response capabilities of EDR and XDR for organisations of any size and industry.

* Invest in additional cybersecurity trainings for your employees.