Everything You Need to Know About Phishing Attacks and How to Avoid Them

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There are a lot of hackers who exploit people’s gullibility and trust by using phishing attacks. Read the blog to learn what to look for in order to stay safe from these attacks and understand what phishing is and how it works.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a cyber attack where the targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message. These are disguises used as weapons by people who pose as legitimate institutions. They do this in order to lure individuals into providing the attackers with sensitive data by using social engineering. The sensitive, confidential information could mean any information that can be categorized as personally identifiable such as banking and credit card details, usernames, passwords, network credentials, and more.

After acquiring this information, it is used to access important accounts belonging to the targets. It can result in identity theft and financial loss. The main goal is to trick the recipients into believing that the message is legitimate and has something that the targets want or need, such as a request from their bank or a note from someone in their company. Then it calls for some action like clicking and getting redirected to a link or downloading an attachment.

It is not just individuals who are at risk from phishing attacks, organizations can be affected too. Nearly any type of personal or organizational data can be considered valuable, and it can be used to either commit fraud or access an organization’s network. Some phishing scams can also target organizational data to support various efforts of espionage or spying activities.

“Phish” is pronounced just the way it’s spelled, like “fish”. The analogy is of an angler throwing a baited hook out into the waters, which is the phishing email, and hoping the target bites. It is one of the oldest types of cyber attacks, starting from the 1990s. It still is one of the most widespread ones especially since the messages and techniques are becoming more and more sophisticated.

Identifying a Phishing Attack

Phishing mostly starts with email communications. There are ways to distinguish the legitimate from the suspicious ones. You can train your employees on how to recognize these malicious emails. This is a must for enterprises who want to avoid losing sensitive data. These data leaks usually occur because employees do not know what they need to help protect critical company data.

Below are a few indicators of a phishing attempt:

Emails with Generic Greetings

Phishing emails usually start with something generic such as, “Hello Bank One Customer” instead of using the recipient’s actual name, indicating the bulk nature of the phishing attack.

Emails that Request Personal Information

Legitimate companies do not email customers asking them to enter their login credentials or any other private information, especially not by clicking on a link to a website.

Emails that Ask for an Urgent Response

Most phishing attacks try to create a sense of urgency among their targets which leads to the recipients being afraid of their account’s safety unless they act immediately.

Emails with Spoofed Links

To verify a link’s authenticity, hover over it. The hyperlink may not actually lead to the page it claims and you should never click on these links to find out. Look for URLs that begin with HTTPS. The “S” means a website uses encryption to protect users’ page requests.

The Dangers of Phishing

Phishing is all about deception. Attackers take full advantage the human curiosity, fear and gullibility. These targeted attacks are becoming more efficient and sophisticated. Now they have started to involve extensive planning and research about their victims as well.

To ensure that people believe the phishing attack, the cyber criminals use three tricks:

Consistency

Attackers try to create some sense of familiarity with the target. For example, they can ‘inform’ the person about a company or bank’s new security policy to get them to give out their password.

Reciprocity

The attacker could get in touch with the target via email, call or chat and offer help with a common problem. After providing the help, the attacker will attempt to get them to reciprocate and give the attacker the information they need.

Validation

The attacker can call and claim to work for a legitimate company associated with the target and try to get validation by asking them if they have opened a fraudulent phishing email, which will lead them to believe that this one is a legitimate email.

Types of Phishing

Deceptive Phishing

This is the the most common type of phishing scam. Deceptive phishing can be any attack that the cyber criminals use to impersonate a legitimate company. They try to steal people’s personal information or login credentials. These type of emails frequently use threats along with a sense of urgency to instill fear into the scare into taking action.

The closer the message is to the legitimate company’s official correspondence, the more successful the phishing attack. Users need to carefully check all URLs to see if they redirect to an unknown website. Also they need to be wary of things like generic salutations, grammar mistakes, and spelling errors which could be scattered throughout the email.

Spear Phishing

Some phishing scams use personalization quite heavily, like spear phishing.

In spear phishing scams, the attackers customize their mails with the target’s name, position, company, work phone number along with any other information available to them to create legitimacy in the mail.

The goal is the same as deceptive phishing. It is to lure the victim into clicking on a malicious URL or downloading an email attachment which will hand over the user’s personal data.

CEO Fraud

Even top executives can be victims of spear phishing attacks, which is the logic behind a “whaling” attack. This is where the attackers try to harpoon an executive so that they can steal their login credentials.

If the attack is successful, the cyber criminals have the option to conduct CEO fraud which is the second phase of a business email compromise (BEC) scam. Here, the fraudsters pretend to be an executive and misuse that individual’s email so that they can authorize fraudulent wire transfers to any financial institution.

Pharming

Nowadays due to the increasing awareness of phishing attacks, the attackers have started to abandon the idea of baiting their victims altogether. They are using a method that stems from the domain name system (DNS) cache poisoning. This method is called pharming.

The Internet’s naming system uses DNS servers that helps them convert alphabetical website namesto numerical IP addresses. This is used to pinpoint computer services and devices.

When a pharming attack takes place, a DNS server gets targeted and the IP address associated with it changes. This means that the attacker has the ability to redirect users to a malicious website of their choice, despite the victims using the correct domain name.

Phishing Prevention Methods

  • Do not ever reply to any spam mails that ask you to confirm or update any information about any of your accounts, be it the username, password, or even email address.
  • Never open or follow any links that come with the spam mails. These will lead you to malicious websites that ask for confirmation of your account details.
  • Do not ever copy an unknown link from spam mails and try to open them by pasting them on your browser. They look like regular and legitimate links because of the phishers but they will lead you to some scam and fraudulent websites.
  • Avoid or be careful of the documents that come attached with the spam mails. As far as possible, prevent yourself from downloading them. Never trust these emails even if they appear to be legitimate.
  • Do not ever send any of your confidential information to anyone on your email about any of your accounts. Ever.
  • Install anti-malware or firewall or some type of security measures on your computer system to protect yourself. It is better to be safe from these scams by using anti-spyware or any other anti-virus software. Keep the software updated regularly to safeguard your personal computer.
  • Keep in mind to never reply to the spam mails being sent to you. They may seem to offer some sound business advice or assistance, or they could even offer you with a reward or a refund of some sort. The phishing attacks sometimes have the cyber criminals send you phone numbers that you can contact for some purpose that could be beneficial to you. Phishers use Voice Over Internet Protocol Technology to make their calls untraceable.