What is Phishing?
Phishing is a type of online attack that uses fraudulent emails and websites to try and steal personal information from users, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or social security numbers. These attacks can be very sophisticated, and can often be difficult to distinguish from legitimate communications. In this guide, we will discuss what phishing is, the different types of phishing attacks, how to identify phishing emails, and ways to protect yourself from these attacks.
What is Phishing and what are its main goals?
Phishing is a type of cyber attack that uses fraudulent emails and websites to try and steal personal information from users. The goal of these attacks is typically to gather sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or social security numbers. Phishing attacks can be very sophisticated, and can often be difficult to distinguish from legitimate communications.
There are several different types of phishing attacks, each with its own goals and methods. The most common type of phishing attack is the email phishing attack. In an email phishing attack, attackers will send out mass emails that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or a website you frequent. These emails will often contain links or attachments that, when clicked, will download malware onto your computer or redirect you to a fake website that is designed to look like the legitimate site. Once you input your login information on this fake site, the attackers will then have access to your account.
What does a Phishing Email Look Like?
The good news is that most phishing emails follow a similar pattern. By discerning this pattern, you can identify and catch phishing emails. Some of the common features of a phishing email include:
Phishing emails typically come from an unknown sender. Sometimes, the screen name of a sender may look like very legit. But once you hover the cursor on the name or see the email details, you realize that it’s a completely unknown email address.
Most phishing emails come with an unbelievable offer. You have won a large sum of money or a lucrative prize such as an expensive smartphone. The attractive award is meant to trick you into clicking the attachment or the suspicious link in the email. Always remember that if the offer seems too good, it probably is false. Especially so when it comes from someone or something you haven’t contacted in lieu of a contest.
Urgent Response Required
This is another popular feature used in phishing attacks. The attacker offers you something lucrative and then creates a sense of urgency. Something like ‘You must respond within 24 hours to claim your $1 million prize.’ Then there’s the other variety ‘If you don’t reply and update your information in 24 hours, we will shut down your account.’ If you receive an email along these lines, simply ignore it.
If an email from an unknown sender has an attachment, it likely contains a virus or malware. If an email from a known sender has an attachment which you weren’t expecting, make sure you verify it with the sender before opening it.
Hyperlinks are a popular tool in phishing attacks. A fake hyperlink can be formatted to masquerade as a genuine hyperlink. You can see the actual link by hovering the cursor over the link. In some cases, attackers use clever combinations of characters. For instance, www.rnastercard.com may be touted as the link of Master Card but it actually uses a combination of ‘r’ and ‘n’ in the place of ‘m.’ In a quick glance, you may believe the link and click on it especially if you use Master Card and expect such an email.
What is Spear Phishing and How Does it Work?
In contrast to regular phishing, spear phishing is a more targeted form of phishing. In spear phishing, the attackers target a specific organization or individual. The goal is to steal the data of the victim and then exploit this data, compromise privacy, seek ransom or perform other fraudulent acts. Spear phishing attacks may also be part of a larger cyber scheme – it can be used to install malicious software on an organization’s computers and then secretly steal business information on an ongoing basis.
When the target is a specific person or individual, the attackers can use social engineering attacks far more effectively. The public information, habits, preferences and other details of the target can be used to craft a custom social engineering hack. This is why many organizations and individuals fall for spear phishing attacks.
How to Defend Against Spear Phishing Attacks?
Spear phishing attacks are quite hard to counter. This is because each phishing attack is customized to its target. So there are no hard and fast red flags for such attacks. The best way to counter spear phishing attacks is through awareness and training. If your employees are aware of such attacks and expect them, they may be in a better position to identify and combat them.
Various tools and techniques can also be used to ramp up email security of the employees. Better email security can flag suspicious emails by checking them against known cyber threats and phishing methods.
How is Spear Phishing Different from Phishing?
Phishing attacks are broader in scope and launched at a large number of users. This is why they usually come with a run-of-the-mill format and outlook. The attacker may disguise as a known bank, a major company or a trusted business to get your attention. The ultimate aim is to steal your data such as usernames and passwords.
Spear phishing is more specific, targeted and customized. As it is aimed at a particular individual or organization, an attacker is able to make it more effective. The hook of the attack is tailored to the details of the target. The attacker may use personal details, habits, preferences and other information of the victim to convince the victim to trust the scam.
This is precisely why spear-phishing scams are more prevalent and much harder to counter. In fact, successful spear phishing scams cause 95% of the enterprise network attacks.
Spearphishing attacks are a more targeted form of phishing, in which attackers will specifically target one individual or organization. These attacks can be even more difficult to identify than email phishing attacks, as they often contain personal information that makes them appear to be legitimate.
Smishing is a type of phishing attack that uses text messages instead of emails as the method of delivery. These text messages will often contain links that, when clicked, will download malware or redirect you to a fake website.
Vishing is another type of phishing attack that uses phone calls instead of emails or text messages. In a vishing attack, the attacker will pose as a legitimate representative from a company or institution and try to trick you into giving them sensitive information.
CEO Fraud is a type of spear phishing attack that targets high-level executives and employees in an organization. In these attacks, attackers will send emails that appear to be from the CEO or another executive in the company, asking the employee to transfer money or provide sensitive information.
Business Email Compromise
(BEC) is a type of spear phishing attack that targets businesses. These attacks typically involve attackers compromising the email account of an employee in the finance department and then sending emails to other employees in the company, asking them to transfer money to a fraudulent account.
Now that we have covered what phishing is and the different types of phishing attacks, let's move on to how you can identify these attacks.
How to Identify a Phishing Email
Phishing attacks can be very difficult to identify, as they often mimic legitimate communications. There are, however, a few things you can look for that may help you identify a phishing email:
- The message contains grammatical errors or odd phrasing
- You do not recognize the sender, or the message is from an unexpected source
- The message contains a sense of urgency or emergency
- The message asks you to click on a link or download an attachment
What are Phishing Red Flags?
One red flag is if the email appears to be from a legitimate source, but contains grammar or spelling errors. Another red flag is if the email asks you to click on a link or download an attachment, as this may be a way for attackers to install malware on your computer. Finally, be wary of any email that creates a sense of urgency or fear, as this may be an attempt to get you to act without thinking.
If you think you may have received a phishing email, there are a few things you can do to confirm. First, you can check the email address of the sender to see if it matches the domain of the legitimate organization. You can also hover your cursor over any links in the email to see where they will take you before clicking on them. If you are still unsure, you can always contact the organization directly to ask if they sent you the email.
Now that we have covered what phishing is and how to identify these attacks, let's move on to ways that you can protect yourself from these attacks.
How to avoid a phishing attack
There are several steps that you can take to protect yourself from phishing attacks. First, you should never click on links or download attachments from emails unless you are absolutely sure they are safe. If you are unsure, you can always confirm by contacting the organization directly. You should also be careful of what information you share online, as this can give attackers the clues they need to launch a spear-phishing attack against you. Finally, you should keep your software and operating system up to date, as these updates often include security patches that can help protect you from phishing attacks and other cyber threats.
By following these steps, you can help protect yourself from phishing attacks and other cyber threats. However, it is important to remember that no matter how cautious you are, there is always a risk that you could fall victim to a phishing attack. If you think you may have been the victim of a phishing attack, you should contact your local police department or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) at iccc.gov.
Phishing attacks are becoming more and more common, so it is important to be aware of these threats and take steps to protect yourself. By following the tips in this guide, you can help keep yourself safe from these attacks.
How to prevent phishing at work
There are a few things businesses can do to help prevent phishing attacks. First, they should educate their employees about the threat of phishing and what to look for in these attacks. Companies should do phishing testing to identify employees' level of risk. They should also have policies in place that dictate how employees should handle suspicious emails, such as forwarding them to a central location for review. Finally, businesses should use email filtering tools to block known phishing emails from reaching employee inboxes.
By taking these steps, businesses can help protect their employees from falling victim to phishing attacks. However, it is important to remember that no matter how much you prepare, there is always a risk that an employee could still click on a malicious link or attachment. If you think your business may have been the victim of a phishing attack, you should contact your local police department or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) at iccc.gov.
Phishing attacks are a serious threat to businesses and their employees. By taking steps to educate employees and prevent these attacks, businesses can help keep their employees safe and their data secure.