Watering Hole Attack, what is it and how to protect against it?

1 November 2023 7 minutes Author: Cyber Witcher

How not to become a victim of cunning hackers?

An attack on a “reservoir” is one of the most cunning methods of cyberattacks. Imagine a situation where, instead of trying to break into a user’s device directly, attackers target websites that you visit frequently. So, what is an attack on the “reservoir” and how can you protect yourself from it? In this article, you’ll find detailed information about the nature of a sinkhole attack, how it’s executed, and practical security tips to help you protect your computer and data from potential threats. A watershed attack begins by compromising a website that a user frequently visits. After that, a malicious code is placed on the site, which is automatically downloaded to the visitor’s computer.

Thus, instead of attacking many users individually, attackers gain access to a large number of potential victims simply by infecting a popular web resource. But how not to become a victim of such an attack? Above all, always keep your software up to date. Most watershed attacks use known vulnerabilities that could be prevented with simple updates. The second step is to use antivirus software and other security tools that can detect and block suspicious websites and downloads. It is also recommended to use web browser extensions that block the execution of JavaScript on unknown sites. This can help prevent malicious scripts from automatically downloading. It’s important to understand that a sinkhole attack is just one of many ways attackers can try to take over your system. Cyber security education and training are key components of your protection against potential threats.

What is a watering hole attack?

Cybercriminals are becoming more creative and sophisticated in their illegal activities, which means that computer users have a responsibility to prevent cyberattacks. Cybersecurity is a major concern in all sectors where digital systems have become part of the work environment.

The widespread use of digital systems leaves organizations vulnerable to malicious threats that are used by cybercriminals to steal critical business data. They remain almost unnoticed and act discreetly. In a Watering Hole attack, the attacker places the attack in a centralized location, such as a website, where the victim themselves becomes the victim of the attack. In this article, let’s learn about tank attacks, how they work, and how to prevent them.

A Watering Hole attack is a technique used by hackers to compromise a specific group of end users by infecting existing websites or creating a new website to attract them. They are used to spread malware to targeted devices, similar to phishing. The malware used in this attack typically collects sensitive information from the target and sends it to the attacker’s server. In extreme cases, attackers actively take control of infected systems.

However, attacks on reservoirs are not common but pose a significant threat. Because they are difficult to detect and tend to target highly secure organizations, taking advantage of their least security-conscious employees or business partners. Because these attacks can break multiple layers of security, they can cause extremely severe failures. A Watering Hole attack is a type of social engineering attack used to hack compromised websites.

How does Watering Hole Attack work?

A watering hole attack involves a chain of events initiated by a hacker to gain access to a victim’s system. However, the hacker does not attack the victim directly. Most of us provide tracking information unknowingly when we search the Internet, whether for personal or professional purposes. This information allows hackers to build a picture of your online behavior and additional information about their organizations’ security policies, procedures, and protocols.

Here are the steps an attacker uses to launch a drinking water attack.

  1. First of all, the attacker creates a profile of their target by industry, job title, etc. This helps it identify the type of target programs and websites that partners or employees of their target organizations frequently use.

  2. The attacker then creates a new site or looks for vulnerabilities in existing sites and applications to inject malicious code that redirects victims to a website that hosts the malware.

  3. The attack drops malware onto the target system.

  4. The attacker then uses malware to initiate malicious activity. Also, knowing that most people reuse passwords, attackers harvest usernames and passwords to launch credential attacks on targeted websites, applications, and systems.

  5. Once a target’s system, application, or website is compromised, the attacker will perform lateral movements within the target’s network and ultimately steal the data.


Here are some of the most common examples of reservoir attacks.

The VOHO case

In this case, the attackers focused on legitimate sites in certain geographic regions that they believed were frequently used by the organizations they wanted to attack. Users from the target organization were taken to a fake watering hole website and then redirected to the site being used using a malicious Javascript link. During this attack, more than 32,000 users were found to have visited the malicious Watering hole site, affecting 4,000 organizations in the federal, state, defense, education and technology sectors.

Forbes attack

In 2015, hackers from China used a watering hole attack to compromise the prestigious business website Forbes. In this attack, attackers took advantage of existing zero-day vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash and Microsoft Internet Explorer to create a malicious version of the Forbes Thought of the Day feature. The financial services and defense industries were particularly affected by the watering hole attack.

A Chinese site from the US

In August 2019, FortiGuard Labs discovered a watering hole attack targeting a Chinese website community. This attack manipulated known vulnerabilities in Rich Text Format (RTF) and WinRAR using various tools, techniques and backdoor functions to target victims.

Impact of a watering hole attack

  • The goal of the attack is to infect the target’s system and gain access to the connected corporate network.

  • Attackers use this attack vector to steal confidential information, intellectual property and banking details and gain unauthorized access to critical business data.

  • Attackers can monitor the activities of the target organization. Once they have successfully penetrated the target organization’s network, they can initiate attacks that can be disruptive to the organization’s operations, such as deleting or modifying files containing critical business information.

How to prevent a waterspout attack?

You can protect yourself and your organization from a watering hole attack using the following methods.

Update the software

Waterhole attacks often use vulnerabilities to infiltrate your system or network. You can significantly reduce the risk of an attack by regularly updating your systems and software. Be sure to check the developer’s site for security patches. It is recommended that you hire a managed security service provider to keep your system up to date.

Hide your online activity

Attackers can create effective watering hole attacks if they compromise websites that your organization uses frequently. To stay protected, you should hide your online activities with VPN and private browsing features. Block social media sites on office networks, as they are often used as link sharing points to infect websites.

Keep a close eye on your network

Make sure you regularly check your security using network security tools to detect watering hole attacks. For example, intrusion prevention systems allow you to detect malicious and suspicious activity on your network. Deploying advanced network security monitoring tools can help detect zero-day vulnerabilities.

Use two-factor authentication

Waterhole attacks work by stealing user credentials, using a two-factor authentication factor like generating a code makes it much harder for attackers to break into your system.

We hope this post helps you understand water feature attacks and how to prevent them. Thank you for reading this post. Share this post and help protect the digital world. Visit our social media page on Facebook , LinkedIn , Twitter , Telegram , Tumblr , Medium and Instagram and subscribe to receive such updates.

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