Phishing attacks: Cybercrime is one of the biggest threats to businesses today. From malware and viruses to identify fraud and blackmail, cyber security issues cost individuals and organizations billions of dollars every year. Even highly secure and high-tech organizations aren’t safe from these sometimes ingenious ploys.
While strong data security goes a long way in preventing attacks, phishing scams target individuals – and even the most tech-savvy users can get caught off their guard. When it comes to keeping yourself and your business safe, you need to be prepared. In this article, we’ll give you the basics for identifying phishing emails and scams.
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There are many types of phishing attacks that criminals use. Although they vary in style and goal, they all have one thing in common: Deception. All phishing scams will attempt to trick the recipient into clicking a malicious link or revealing secure information, and some are more convincing than others. Here are some common types of phishing attacks:
- Generalized phishing. These types of attacks are impersonal and target a broad range of potential victims. Usually, criminals will send out an email that impersonates a legitimate business – a bank, online store, or federal agency – in an attempt to get users to enter login information on a fake website. They may also contain malicious attachments.
- Targeted phishing. Targeted attacks, or “spear phishing”, are personalized to their recipient. These kinds of emails may include your name, title, and even personal phone number to appear more legitimate. These types of emails can also link to a malicious website or attachments – or they may include direct threats.
- “Whaling”. This type of attack targets the biggest fish in the pond – CEOs and other company executives. These kinds of attacks can have severe consequences. In 2017, for instance, phishing scams targeted at executives and accounting departments cost businesses over $670 million.
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Different phishing scams can vary a lot in their tactics – and how obvious they are. In the next section, we’ll give you some tips for recognizing the different types of attacks.
How to Recognize Phishing Emails
When it comes to cyber security, there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to keep your business secure. When it comes to phishing, however, individual vigilance is the best medicine. Here are some tips for recognizing phishing emails:
Check the Source – look at sender, search email addresses and phone numbers listed
The first and most important step to recognizing phishing emails is to check the source. Whenever you receive an email in your personal or business account that contains attachments, asks for information, or contains links, get in the habit of checking the sender. Sophisticated phishing attacks can even sneak in when you’re expecting a specific message.
When looking at the sender, look for the following issues:
- Misspelled names – for instance, jsmtih instead of jsmith
- Misspelled domain name – for instance, @gmial.com instead of @gmail.com
- Incorrect domain – for instance, .co instead of .com
Any of these issues likely indicate that the sender is not who they say they are.
Look for Unexpected Content
In both general and targeted attacks, scammers will often pose as a colleague or coworker to obtain sensitive data. If you receive an email asking for credentials, financial data, client data, or other sensitive information, ask yourself: Is this expected?
For instance, if you receive an email from human resources asking for updated tax documents, consider why. Is it the end of the fiscal year? Did you just apply for new benefits or change your employee status? If not, this might be an unexpected request – and it might be a phishing attack.
Look for Errors
A dead giveaway for many phishing emails is a high number of errors. Check for spelling and grammar errors that seem out of place for official company emails. Pay attention to issues with names, titles, and other personal information. For instance, if you receive an email from your bank that lists an old phone number or address, it may indicate your personal information was taken off the internet – not from the company’s internal files.
Check the Links
One of the most important steps to identifying a phishing scam is to check the links. It is essential that you do not open attachments or click on links from any source unless you are sure they are safe. However, hovering your mouse over hyperlinks in the email can reveal important details about its contents.
When you hover over a link, check for these items:
- Link description – The description of the website where the link leads may be deceptive.
- Link URL – see if you recognize the actual URL. Be sure to carefully check for spelling errors in the website name and domain.
Again, it is essential that you do not click on any links unless you’re certain they’re safe. When in doubt – throw it out.
What to Do If You Get A Phishing Email
Getting in the habit of screening your emails can take time, but its important. Phishing attacks trick all kinds of people – even IT specialists and CEOs. However, recognizing phishing attacks is only part of the battle. What do you do next?
Whenever you receive a suspicious email, do not download any attachments, click any links, or respond until you are completely sure it’s safe. If you receive a phishing email on a personal account, you can report the scam to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a global taskforce for combatting cyber crime. You can also report the email to the company that the scam is attempting impersonate.
If you receive a phishing email at work, report it to your company’s IT department. Do not forward the email – instead, write a new email describing when you received it and the contents. Save the email so your business can identify any potential threats and warn other employees.
Phishing attacks are a global problem that cost businesses and individuals millions of dollars a year. While basic security measures can help prevent some vulnerabilities, there is no replacement for vigilance and personal preparedness. Learning to identify phishing emails and properly handle them is the most important step in preventing fraud, data breaches, and blackmail.