What Is Phishing? | Everything You Need To Know

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What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a type of cybersecurity attack where malicious actors send deceptive messages pretending to be a trusted person or entity. The purpose of phishing attacks is to manipulate users into performing actions that benefit the attackers, such as installing malware, clicking on malicious links, or divulging sensitive information. Phishing attacks rely on social engineering techniques, which involve manipulating or tricking computer users. These attacks are often combined with other threats like malware, code injection, and network attacks to maximize their impact and success.

Phishing Attacks Statistics 2023

Targeted Brand Names:

According to the F5 Labs Phishing and Fraud Report of 2020, 55% of phishing websites use targeted brand names to capture sensitive information. Attackers impersonate well-known brands to gain the trust of their victims and increase the likelihood of successful attacks.

Effectiveness of Security Awareness Training:

Research has shown that conducting regular security awareness training has helped reduce the rate at which employees fall prey to phishing attacks. In the US, 84% of organizations have reported the positive impact of such training in increasing their employees’ ability to identify and avoid phishing attempts.

Increase in Successful Phishing Attacks:

In Australia, there has been a significant increase in successful phishing attacks. Statistics show that 92% of organizations in Australia suffered a successful phishing attack, representing a 53% increase from the previous year. This highlights the growing threat and the need for robust cybersecurity measures.

Highly Impersonated Brands:

Phishers often impersonate popular brands to lure victims into their traps. The most highly impersonated brands for phishing attacks include Amazon and Google at 13%, followed by Facebook and Whatsapp at 9%, and Netflix and Apple at 2%. These brands have a large user base, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.

Mean Time to Identify and Contain Breaches:

According to IBM’s 2022 Data Breach Report, breaches caused by phishing attacks took an average of 295 days to identify and contain. This highlights the challenges organizations face in detecting and mitigating the impact of phishing attacks, emphasizing the importance of proactive security measures.

3. How Phishing Works

Phishing attacks typically involve several elements and steps:

Step 1: Gathering Information:

Phishers often use public resources, especially social networks, to collect background information about their potential victims. They gather information such as names, job titles, email addresses, interests, and activities. This information helps them create a reliable fake message that appears legitimate to the victim.

Step 2: Creating a Fake Message:

Using the gathered information, phishers craft emails that appear to come from a known contact or organization. They may use the name of a colleague, a trusted brand, or a familiar institution to increase the chances of the victim falling for the scam.

Step 3: Malicious Attachments and Links:

Phishing attacks are carried out through malicious attachments or links. These attachments may contain malware that, when opened, can compromise the victim’s device. Links often direct victims to fake websites that mimic trusted entities like banks, workplaces, or universities. Through these websites, attackers attempt to collect private information such as usernames, passwords, or payment details.

Step 4: Sophistication of Phishing Emails:

While some phishing emails can be identified due to poor copywriting, spelling errors, or improper use of fonts, logos, and layouts, many cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in creating authentic-looking messages. They employ professional marketing techniques, test their emails for effectiveness, and continuously improve their tactics, making it harder for users to distinguish between genuine and fake emails.

Types of Phishing Attacks:

Email Phishing

Email phishing is the most common type of phishing attack. Attackers send fraudulent emails to a large number of recipients, often mimicking legitimate organizations or creating fake domain names. These emails usually contain urgent requests or threats to prompt users to take immediate action without verifying the source or authenticity of the email. The goals of email phishing can include tricking users into clicking on malicious links that install malware, downloading infected files, submitting personal data on fake websites, or replying with sensitive information.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing attacks are highly targeted and personalized. Attackers gather specific information about their victims, such as their name, place of employment, job title, email address, and even details about their job role or trusted contacts. With this information, attackers create convincing emails that appear legitimate and trustworthy. The goal of spear phishing is often to manipulate the victim into performing specific tasks or activities, such as transferring money or providing sensitive information.

Whaling

Whaling attacks specifically target senior management and other high-level roles within organizations. Attackers leverage the public domain to gather information about their victims, such as their professional history, job responsibilities, and even personal details. By using this information, attackers can craft highly personalized and convincing messages that appear legitimate. Whaling attacks often do not rely on typical phishing tactics like malicious URLs or fake links. Instead, they use subtle techniques to trick victims into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that benefit the attacker.

Smishing and Vishing

Smishing and vishing are phishing attacks conducted through SMS messages (smishing) or phone calls (vishing). In smishing attacks, scammers send fraudulent text messages that appear to be from trusted sources, such as banks or service providers. These messages often contain urgent requests or enticing offers to trick recipients into clicking on malicious links or providing personal information. Vishing attacks, on the other hand, involve scammers making phone calls and pretending to be representatives from trusted organizations, such as credit card companies or banks. They use social engineering techniques to convince victims to disclose sensitive information over the phone.

Angler Phishing

Angler phishing attacks take advantage of social media platforms. Attackers create fake social media accounts that mimic well-known organizations or brands. They use similar profile pictures and account handles to make their accounts appear legitimate. These attackers rely on consumers’ tendencies to reach out to brands for assistance or to make complaints through social media channels. When victims contact the fake social media accounts, attackers may request personal information to “resolve” the issue or provide a link to a fake customer support page that leads to a malicious website.

Ways To Protect Yourself From Phishing Attacks:

1. Use Security Software:

Install reputable security software on your computer and mobile devices. Ensure that the software is set to update automatically so that it can effectively deal with new security threats.

2. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication:

Whenever possible, enable multi-factor authentication for your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring additional credentials, such as a passcode, security question, or biometric verification, in addition to your username and password.

3. Back Up Your Data:

Regularly back up the data on your computer and mobile devices. This can be done by using an external hard drive or cloud storage. In the event of a phishing attack or other incidents, having backups ensures that you can recover your data.

4. Employee Awareness Training:

Stay informed about phishing strategies and educate yourself on how to identify signs of phishing attacks. Organizations should provide training to employees to help them recognize phishing attempts, report suspicious incidents, and follow security protocols. Regular training can help employees stay vigilant and protect themselves and the organization from phishing attacks.

Ways To Protect Your Organization From Phishing Attacks:

1. Employee Awareness Training:

Organizations should conduct comprehensive training programs to educate employees about phishing strategies, tactics, and the importance of cybersecurity. Employees should be trained to recognize phishing attempts, report suspicious incidents, and follow security protocols. By creating a culture of cybersecurity awareness, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks.

2. Deploy Email Security Solutions:

Implement robust email filtering and security solutions to protect against phishing attacks. These solutions can detect and block emails that contain malicious links, attachments, spam content, or language that suggests a phishing attempt. Advanced email security solutions can automatically quarantine suspicious emails and use sandboxing technology to analyze and detect any malicious code.

3. Conduct Phishing Attack Tests:

Regularly perform simulated phishing attack tests to evaluate the effectiveness of security awareness training programs and identify areas for improvement. These tests mimic real-world phishing attacks to assess how well employees can detect and respond to phishing attempts. By continuously testing and evolving security measures, organizations can better protect themselves against evolving phishing techniques.

4. Limit User Access to High-Value Systems and Data:

Restrict user access to sensitive systems and data by implementing the principle of least privilege. Only grant access to users who require it for their job responsibilities. By limiting access, organizations can minimize the risk of phishing attacks targeting privileged user accounts and prevent unauthorized access to critical systems and data.

What are the Signs of Phishing?

Here’s a breakdown of the signs of phishing:

1. Threats or a Sense of Urgency:

Phishing emails often use threats or create a sense of urgency to pressure recipients into taking immediate action. They may claim that there will be negative consequences if the recipient does not respond quickly. These tactics aim to prevent users from thoroughly scrutinizing the email and identifying inconsistencies.

2. Message Style:

Phishing emails may exhibit inappropriate language or tone. For example, a message from a colleague that sounds overly casual or a close friend using formal language could indicate a phishing attempt. Recipients should be cautious of any inconsistencies in the style of the message that deviate from what is expected from the sender.

3. Unusual Requests:

Phishing emails often contain requests for non-standard actions. For instance, an email claiming to be from the IT team requesting software installation, when such activities are typically handled centrally by the IT department, may indicate a phishing attempt.

4. Linguistic Errors:

Misspellings and grammatical mistakes are common in phishing emails. Legitimate companies usually have spell-checking mechanisms in place for outgoing emails, so emails with spelling or grammatical errors should raise suspicion as they may not originate from the claimed source.

5. Inconsistencies in Web Addresses:

Phishing emails may contain mismatched email addresses, links, and domain names. Recipients should verify the email address of the sender and hover over links to check the actual destination before clicking. If the email claims to be from a specific organization but the domain of the email address does not match the official domain, it is likely a phishing attempt.

6. Request for Credentials, Payment Information, or Personal Details:

Phishing emails often request login credentials or financial account information. Attackers may create fake login pages linked from emails that appear official. Recipients should exercise caution and avoid entering login credentials or clicking on links if the email is unexpected. Instead, they should directly visit the website they believe is the source of the email to ensure its legitimacy.

Recognizing Phishing:

Scammers employ various tactics in phishing emails or text messages to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. Some common tactics include:

Telling a story:

Phishing messages often tell a compelling story to deceive recipients into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. For example, scammers may claim there is suspicious activity on an account or that account information needs to be confirmed.

Impersonating trusted entities:

Phishing messages may appear to be from reputable companies or organizations, such as banks, credit card companies, or utility providers. Scammers use logos and language that mimic these entities to gain trust and credibility.

Urgency or fear tactics:

Phishing messages often create a sense of urgency or fear to prompt immediate action. Scammers may claim there is a problem with an account or that a payment is overdue, pressuring recipients to click on a link or provide personal information.

Unrecognized invoices or offers:

Phishing emails may include invoices for products or services that recipients do not recognize or offers for free items or discounts. These are designed to entice recipients into engaging with the email and providing personal information.

What To Do If You Suspect A Phishing Attack

If you suspect a phishing attack, it’s important to take immediate action to protect yourself and report the incident. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Do Not Click on Links or Open Attachments:

If you receive an email or text message that you suspect may be a phishing attack, do not click on any links or open any attachments. These may contain harmful malware that can compromise your computer or personal information.

2. Evaluate the Legitimacy:

Ask yourself if you have an account with the company or know the person who contacted you. If the answer is no, it’s likely a phishing scam. Look for signs of a phishing scam, such as suspicious email addresses, grammatical errors, or requests for sensitive information.

3. Report and Delete:

If you determine that it is indeed a phishing attempt, report the message. Forward phishing emails to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at reportphishing@apwg.org. If it’s a phishing text message, forward it to SPAM (7726). After reporting, delete the message to avoid accidentally clicking on any malicious links in the future.

4. Contact the Legitimate Company:

If you have an account with the company mentioned in the phishing attempt, contact them directly using a phone number or website that you know is legitimate. Do not use the contact information provided in the suspicious email or text message. Inform the company about the phishing attempt, so they can take appropriate action.

5. Monitor Your Accounts:

Keep a close eye on your bank accounts, credit cards, and any other accounts that may have been compromised. Look for any suspicious activity or unauthorized transactions. If you notice anything unusual, contact your financial institution immediately to report the issue and take necessary steps to protect your accounts.

6. If You Responded to a Phishing Email:

If you mistakenly provided sensitive information or clicked on a link in a phishing email, take action to mitigate the potential damage. If you believe your personal information, such as Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account number, has been compromised, visit IdentityTheft.gov. Follow the specific steps provided based on the information you lost to protect yourself from identity theft.

7. Update Security Software:

If you clicked on a link or opened an attachment that you suspect may have downloaded harmful software, update your computer’s security software immediately. Run a scan to identify and remove any potential malware or viruses.


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