Online fraudsters are exploiting users’ excitement for March Madness by targeting them with phishing attacks and streaming scams.

Zscaler researchers came across multiple phishing websites after searching Google for free livestreams of March Madness, the colloquial name for the annual NCAA Division I basketball tournament. One such site, streamcartel[.]org, contained adware on each of its pages. Whenever a user clicked anywhere on the page or attempted to close one of the malicious ads, a new tab opened and prompted the user to install a fake browser extension.

The security firm also found malicious activity on sawlive[.]tv. This phishing site used sporting events to attract users into visiting and then bombarded them with malicious ads. One such ad redirected users to a fake Windows security warning page.

Zscaler’s research also turned up several typosquatting domains that used terms associated with the NCAA Tournament to prey upon unsuspecting users. With thousands of people rushing to watch the games online, it’s easy to imagine some fans clicking on malicious links without thinking twice.

Streaming Scams Are Common in March

Given the relatively high success rate of social engineering campaigns, March Madness-themed cyberattacks are unsurprisingly common this time of year.

In March 2017, for example, Zscaler detected attackers using phishing sites that used the popularity of March Madness to target employees with adware. These malicious ads, in turn, tricked users into installing browser hijackers and other potentially unwanted applications. And in 2018, WXYZ reported that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette had issued an alert warning users to be on the lookout for scammers pushing fake March Madness tickets.

How to Stop the Madness of Topical Phishing Attacks

Threat actors have a history of creating phishing attacks around topical events such as March Madness. Acknowledging that reality, security professionals should help defend their organizations with ahead-of-threat detection to detect potentially malicious domains before the threats themselves become visible.

Additionally, companies should create a security awareness training program that, among other things, teaches employees about some of the most common types of social media scams and social engineering tactics.

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