When it comes to cyberattacks, most people tend to think of elaborate hacking schemes or sophisticated malware exploiting critical vulnerabilities in computer systems. However, phishing attacks are much easier to execute and far more effective than a highly technical attack.
What are phishing attacks?
Phishing attacks are a form of social engineering scam in which cybercriminals use emails, text messages, or other forms of communication to trick individuals into disclosing sensitive information, clicking malicious links, or downloading malware-laced attachments. There are many different types of phishing attacks, including:
- Email phishing: This is when cybercriminals send fraudulent emails to individuals or businesses, posing as legitimate companies or individuals. Phishing emails are often sent out en masse, with the goal of tricking as many people as possible into disclosing sensitive information or downloading malware.
- Spear phishing: Spear phishing attacks are personalized to appear more legitimate for specific targets. Cybercriminals will often gather information about their targets through social media or other sources to make their emails seem more convincing.
- Whaling: The targets of this type of phishing attack consist of high-level executives and individuals who can access sensitive information. Cybercriminals will often impersonate a senior executive, such as the CEO, and request confidential information or financial transfers from other employees.
- Vishing: Short for voice phishing, this type of attack uses voice calls or voicemails to trick individuals into disclosing sensitive information over the phone. What makes vishing particularly effective is that it can be difficult to verify the authenticity of a caller, and victims may feel more at ease disclosing information over the phone.
- Smishing: Also known as SMS phishing, smishing attacks use text messages to trick individuals into taking action, such as clicking on a malicious link or disclosing personal information.
How to spot phishing scams
Being able to recognize phishing attempts is crucial in preventing successful attacks. Common indicators of a phishing scam include:
- Unfamiliar email address – Phishing emails often come from unfamiliar or suspicious email addresses, which may differ slightly from legitimate ones. For instance, instead of “firstname.lastname@example.org,” the email may come from “email@example.com.” If you're unsure about an email, it's always best to check directly with the company by using the official phone number or email address listed on their website.
- Urgency and fear tactics – Phishing emails usually create a sense of urgency and fear that pressures individuals into taking action without critically evaluating the legitimacy of the message.
- Suspicious links – Phishing emails often contain links that redirect to fake websites meant to obtain login credentials or inject malware onto the victim's device. These links may appear legitimate at first glance but are usually slightly altered versions of genuine URLs. Hovering your cursor over the link reveals its true destination so you can determine if it's safe.
- Requests for sensitive information – Legitimate companies will never ask for sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or login credentials, over email or text message. If an email asks you to click a link and enter your personal information, it's likely a phishing scam.
- Unsolicited attachments – Phishing emails may also contain attachments that can install malware on the victim's device. A surefire way to tell if an attachment is malicious is by looking at the file extension. Legitimate companies typically won't send executable files such as .exe or .bat through email.
How to defend against phishing attacks
Learning how to identify phishing scams is an important step in protecting yourself and your organization, but it's also worth implementing additional security measures to prevent attacks. Some effective defenses against phishing include:
- Email filtering software – These tools can automatically scan incoming emails for known phishing characteristics and prevent malicious messages from reaching inboxes.
- Multifactor authentication – This requires users to provide an additional form of identification, such as a code sent to their mobile device, adding an extra layer of security in case login credentials are stolen through a phishing attack.
- Email authentication protocols – Protocols such as SPF, DKIM, and DMARC can verify the authenticity of email senders and prevent spoofed domains from reaching inboxes.
- Employee education – Security awareness is crucial in preventing phishing attacks. Regular training in identifying and reporting suspicious emails can significantly reduce the risk of successful attacks. These training sessions should incorporate simulated phishing attacks to give employees hands-on experience in detecting and responding to potential threats.
At XBASE, we prioritize your digital security. We understand the devastation that phishing attacks can cause both on personal and organizational levels. That's why our mission is to equip you with the necessary tools and skills to shield yourself from such cyberthreats. Don't be a victim of phishing, contact us today.