How to Identify a Phishing Scam
Having good cybersecurity protocols in place is essential to protect yourself and your business. To keep your network safe, you first need to know what to look out for. Today we discuss one of the most popular tactics used by hackers known as phishing. Phishing is a method for hackers to get you to take a desired action that leads to compromised information.
Being able to identify phishing attacks and other threats is necessary for every internet user, especially business owners. Last year, 75 percent of organizations around the world encountered some form of a phishing attack.
As one of the most common tactics used by cybercriminals, phishing scams can be difficult to spot and can quickly take advantage of unsuspecting individuals. The effects of a phishing scam can range in severity and purpose. Some of the most common results from a successful phishing scam include:
- Data loss
- Credentials/account compromise
- Ransomware infection
- Malware infection
- Financial loss
The most common form of phishing scams involve email. It is estimated that one out of every 99 emails is a phishing attack. The widespread use of this attack centers around criminals sending out mass emails to thousands of individuals pretending to be a reputable business or organization. These phishing emails are sent from an irregular domain where character substitution (such as “r n” is used without a space to look like the letter “m”) or name replication is used to trick a user into believing the email is from a trusted company.
The second most common form of email phishing is called spear phishing. This form of cyber attack is more sophisticated and harder to catch compared to general phishing attempts. These email attacks most often already have some personal information relating to the recipient and have a specific goal in mind. When info like name, job title, company role, and other details are outlined, it provides a false sense of security to recipients. This helps increase the likelihood that a link will be clicked, sensitive information will be provided, or attachments will be downloaded.
Phishing scams are prevalent and becoming more sophisticated all the time. While platforms like Gmail and Microsoft Office improve their security technology to prevent phishing attacks, hackers are becoming more creative. They use persuasive language and personal information to make it into the inbox of users. . So when emails do make it past the algorithm and land in the inbox, it is up to the recipient to know what to look for.
The Major Signs of a Phishing Email
Human intelligence is the best deterrent to successful phishing attacks. Businesses need to educate and train their employees and personnel on how to spot, discard, and report phishing attempts. Unfortunately, many email users do not know how to identify phishing scams and end up on the wrong side of an attack. Here are seven key ways to decipher a phishing scam from a safe and trusted email.
Sensitive Information Requests
No legitimate company is going to ask for sensitive information via email. If an email is asking you to provide credit card information, social security numbers, bank accounts, or other personal information — it’s most likely a red flag.
Unfamiliar Tone or Greeting
This tactic relates specifically to spear phising, where it is targeting an identified individual. Many of these phishing scams feature an email greeting that is unusual or odd. For example, you may receive an email disguised under your boss’s name or similar address with the opening, “Dear John” — but in all your time working there your boss has never communicated with you like that before. This and examples like it are something to keep in mind in the future.
The Right Domain Email Address
One of the best ways to identify a fraudulent email is by looking at the email address of the sender. Emails from reputable companies will feature professional, well-established domain addresses. Receiving an email from a Google address like “firstname.lastname@example.org” is an indicator this isn’t actually from Google. Always triple-check the email address for typos or abnormalities.
Misspelling & Grammar
The body copy of an email is always a good judge of character. Emails that are littered with misspelled words or improper grammar should raise concerns. No proper business is sending out emails with typos all over the place. Read through the content and you’ll be able to notice if something doesn’t seem right.
False Sense of Urgency
If an email is claiming action must be taken immediately on a sale, information update, or another call to action, there is a chance this is a phishing scam. While some businesses may send immediate action emails if your account has been compromised or another serious concern, use your best judgment and look at other factors in the email to determine if it is authentic or not.
Opening an email and then clicking anywhere on it shouldn’t download a file or open a new browser tab. Phishing emails are notorious for being embedded as a hyperlink and clicking anywhere can deploy a malicious actor.
An email that features a downloadable attachment is rare — and usually a quick and easy tactic liked by cybercriminals. Companies almost never send unsolicited attachments in their email communications, instead, they will direct recipients to their own website to download related documents and content if necessary. Always fully vet before downloading anything from an email!
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