When we think of a cyber attack or hacking, we promptly envision a sophisticated group of veiled criminals targeting systems and networks through complex state-of-the-art malicious codes. Movies and dramas have contributed to creating and peddling this stereotype of a cyber attacker. In reality, cyber attacks are not always played out in that hi-tech environment. Many cyber attacks are based on the psychological manipulation of users called social engineering in the context of IT security. Phishing attempts are also a form of social engineering where criminals manipulate targeted users through fear, impersonation, and other psychological tools.

The idea is to get them to click on malicious links, download infected files, or give away their confidential information (SSN, banking details, SM and email passwords, phone numbers, etc.). Data reports suggest that more than two-thirds of cyber attacks are the combination of hacking and phishing. Statistics also indicate that phishing attacks have increased in the last year or so. 

Phishing attacks usually target an individual user. However, if that individual is being targeted at their work station, it can jeopardize an organization’s entire network security. This threat necessitates both individuals and organizations have a proactive approach against phishing attacks.

Here, we will share with you a quick rundown of how you can identify and protect yourself from phishing attempts at both individual and organizational levels.

Identification of Phishing Attempts

You can only protect yourself against phishing attempts if you can tell them apart from regular emails and messages. First of all, you need to know all types of phishing attempts that criminals use. Having this information will help you sense if there is something wrong.

Types of Phishing Attempts/Attacks

Bulk phishing

It is the most basic phishing attempt that targets the least literate computer and internet users. Criminals send out hundreds and thousands of emails with infected links and malicious codes or asking for information in the hope that some users will fall prey to their trap. These are usually generic emails offering ridiculous incentives to lure users and make them click on the infected link or download the attachment.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a more targeted form of phishing attacks. Here, attackers use personal and professional information and impersonate real entities to make their messages look as authentic as possible. They also exploit power dynamics to make their phishing attempts successful, e.g., an email to an employee from a higher-up asking for sensitive information.

Whale Phishing or Whaling

It is a type of spear phishing aimed at an organization’s C-suite executives or big fishes (hence called whale phishing). These phishing attempts are carried out after a lot of homework and reconnaissance because the dividends at successfully targeting a decision-maker of an organization are lucrative.

Clone Phishing

As the name suggests, clone phishing creates copies of an authentic email and sends it from almost identical email ID. 

Four Elements to Watch Out for

These are some recurring elements of phishing attempts. Always watch out for them while corresponding through emails. 

1. Fear and Urgency

To get the user in action (sharing the information, clicking the link, or downloading the file), attackers elicit a sense of fear and urgency among them. Mostly they use “account blocked” or “account hacked” motifs in the message and ask the recipients to respond quickly.

2. Generic Formatting and Details

Phishing emails usually use generic information. For instance, they will address the recipient as “dear client or customer” instead of using their names. Also, they won’t feature any signature in the end. 

The body of the message also doesn’t contain particular details (unless it is whale phishing). For instance, they will say your “banking card” is blocked instead of mentioning the bank’s name or the financial institute that issued that card.

3. Offering Something Too-Good-to-Be-True

No one wins $1 million or a high-end car in random, obscured, and unsolicited draws. An email offering such “good news” is either a prank or phishing attempt.

4. Grammar and Syntax

Odd sentences and structuring, spelling, and grammatical mistakes in an email are also signs of a phishing attack. 

Protecting Yourself against Phishing Attempts/Attacks

Suppose you can identify a phishing email with the help of all the information we mentioned above. In that case, you will succeed in protecting yourself against these cybercriminal activities of hacking and stealing data. Besides that awareness, you also need to incorporate some internet usage habits to thwart phishing attempts.

Never Ever Give Away Confidential Information

Never share login credentials, banking passwords, and pins over email. Authentic entities never ask their clients to share such confidential information via online written correspondence. Also, don’t provide confidential company information over email, even if the mail is from your superior. First, double-check their ID and then confirm them via a more authentic way (phone call or in-person) before forwarding any such information.

Don’t Download Surprise Attachments 

Don’t download any attachment sent by a sender you don’t know at all. Also, don’t download it even if it comes unexpectedly from an ID in your contacts. Only download files from the email that you have already talked about with the sender.

Use Antivirus Software

Some antivirus software comes with features where they blacklist email IDs and web links that have been flagged as malicious. This identification will help filter out many phishing emails.

Protection against Coronavirus-Themed Phishing Attempts

Before we wrap up, it is imperative to talk about Coronavirus-themed phishing attacks. Cybercriminals are fully aware of the public curiosity regarding new COVID-19 developments. They exploit this inquisitiveness by impersonating health and medical organizations and regulators (WHO, CDC, etc.) and send emails about “when the vaccine will be out,” “new important COVID developments,” “exclusive COVID stats,” and other similar response-inducing subjects lines. 

Just follow the same procedure we have discussed above against Coronavirus phishing attempts. Never respond to such emails with any personal information. Don’t click on the link or attachments given in those emails. 

If you want to know more about the latest Coronavirus updates, instead of relying on those shady emails, use Google. You are just one search away from getting reliable information on the subject.

Microsys can also help your business improve your networks and system and train your employees against phishing attempts.

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