Phishing attacks continue to be the bane of security teams across the globe. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in email, SMS, and voice communications to launch advanced phishing attacks as businesses increasingly rely on these channels. The emergence of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has further heightened the risk of phishing attacks. According to studies by AAG, phishing is the most prevalent form of cybercrime, with approximately 3.4 billion spam emails sent daily. These relentless phishing attacks pose a serious threat, including account compromise, data breaches, and malware infection. However, with the right tools, it is possible to swiftly identify and respond to even the most sophisticated phishing attacks.
How to Recognize Phishing Attacks
Scammers use a wide range of methods to steal important personal information such as passwords, account numbers, and Social Security numbers. If successful, scammers can gain access to your email, bank accounts, or they may opt to sell your details to other scammers. To stay ahead, scammers continuously adapt their strategies to align with current news or trends. For example, they will often create a deceptive storyline to manipulate you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. These messages may imitate companies or institutions you trust, like banks, credit card companies, or utility providers. Despite their appearance, these messages are likely from scammers who may:
- Falsely claim to have detected suspicious activity or login attempts
- Assert that there is an issue with your account or payment information
- Request you to confirm personal or financial details that are unnecessary
- Attach unidentified invoices that are fraudulent
- Encourage you to click on a payment link embedded with malware
- State that you qualify for a government refund, which is actually a scam
- Offer counterfeit coupons for free items
Although legitimate companies may use email to communicate, they would not send a link for you to update your payment information via email or text. Not only can phishing emails have severe consequences for individuals who unknowingly provide scammers with their personal information, they can also harm the reputations of the companies they are impersonating.
The first rule to identify a phishing attack is to consider every email as a potential threat. It doesn’t matter if the sender is familiar or if the email is a response to one you sent. Always be suspicious if an email contains a link, attachment, request for confidential information, or tries to appeal to your emotions. Email scammers are skilled at creating fake email accounts and domain names. They may use social engineering to gather personal information and then send phishing emails to contacts.
It’s worth noting that many of the tips used to spot phishing attacks are ineffective. For example, tracing email headers or hovering over URLs may not reveal an attack if the email is from a compromised company account or if the URL is well-disguised. Likewise, poor spelling and grammar in an email may also not be reliable indicators. If you are unsure about an email, verify its authenticity by contacting the supposed sender. If that’s not possible, inform someone in a position of authority, preferably a member of the IT department. If you accidentally click on a malicious link or open an infected attachment, it is imperative that you act quickly to prevent a potential attack from spreading to other systems.
10 Ways to Avoid Phishing Attacks
As a general rule of thumb, unless you 100% trust the site you are on, you should not willingly give out your card information. Make sure, if you have to provide your information, that you verify the website is genuine, that the company is real and that the site itself is secure. In addition to such measures, below are ten of the most notable ways to protect your systems and data from phishing attacks:
- Know what a phishing scam looks like
- Get free anti-phishing add-ons
- Conduct security awareness training
- Use strong passwords & enable two-factor authentication
- Don’t ignore update messages
- Exercise caution when opening emails or clicking on links
- Don’t give your information to an unsecured site
- Don’t be tempted by those pop-ups
- Rotate passwords regularly
- Implement anti-phishing tools
1. Know what a phishing scam looks like
New phishing attack methods are being developed all the time, but they share commonalities that can be identified if you know what to look for. There are many sites online that will keep you informed of the latest phishing attacks and their key identifiers. The earlier you find out about the latest attack methods and share them with your users through regular security awareness training, the more likely you are to avoid a potential attack.
2. Get free anti-phishing add-ons
Most browsers nowadays will enable you to download add-ons that spot the signs of a malicious website or alert you about known phishing sites. They are usually completely free so there’s no reason not to have this installed on every device in your organization.
3. Conduct security awareness training
It is impossible to solely rely on technical measures to prevent phishing attacks, which is why security awareness training is crucial. This training should educate employees on the harm of phishing and empower them to identify and report suspicious attempts. Simulated phishing campaigns can further reinforce the training, allowing organizations to assess their own risk and improve workforce resiliency. It is important to communicate with employees when they click on simulated phishing emails, emphasizing the risks and reminding them how to report suspicious emails. By monitoring the results of these campaigns, organizations can focus on improving their security measures, strengthening training, and implementing additional defenses for phishing protection.
4. Use strong passwords & enable two-factor authentication
Encourage the use of complex and unique passwords for all accounts, and discourage the sharing of passwords. Implement two-factor authentication on all accounts whenever possible. This provides an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification step.
5. Don’t ignore update messages
Receiving numerous update messages can be frustrating, and it can be tempting to put them off or ignore them altogether. Don’t do this. Security patches and updates are released for a reason, most commonly to keep up to date with modern cyber-attack methods by patching holes in security. If you don’t update your browser, you could be at risk of phishing attacks through known vulnerabilities that could have been easily avoided.
6. Exercise caution when opening emails or clicking on links
Exercise caution when opening emails or clicking on links, especially if they are from unknown senders. Avoid downloading attachments unless they are expected and from trusted sources. It’s generally not advisable to click on a link in an email or instant message, even if you know the sender. The bare minimum you should be doing is hovering over the link to see if the destination is the correct one. Some phishing attacks are fairly sophisticated, and the destination URL can look like a carbon copy of the genuine site, set up to record keystrokes or steal login/credit card information. If it’s possible for you to go straight to the site through your search engine, rather than click on the link, then you should do so.
7. Don’t give your information to an unsecured site
If the URL of the website doesn’t start with “https”, or you cannot see a closed padlock icon next to the URL, do not enter any sensitive information or download files from that site. Sites without security certificates may not be intended for phishing scams, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
8. Don’t be tempted by those pop-ups
Pop-ups aren’t just irritating; they are often linked to malware as part of attempted phishing attacks. Most browsers now allow you to download and install free ad-blocker software that will automatically block most of the malicious pop-ups. If one does manage to evade the ad-blocker though, don’t be tempted to click! Occasionally pop-ups will try and deceive you with where the “Close” button is, so always try and look for an “x” in one of the corners.
9. Rotate passwords regularly
If you’ve got online accounts, you should get into the habit of regularly rotating your passwords so that you prevent an attacker from gaining unlimited access. Your accounts may have been compromised without you knowing, so adding that extra layer of protection through password rotation can prevent ongoing attacks and lock out potential attackers.
10. Implement anti-phishing tools
Use anti-phishing tools and technologies that can detect and block fraudulent websites and emails. Firewalls are an effective way to prevent external attacks, acting as a shield between your computer and an attacker. Both desktop firewalls and network firewalls, when used together, can bolster your security and reduce the chances of a hacker infiltrating your environment.
Types of Phishing Attacks
With the widespread use of the internet for business transactions, various types of phishing attacks have emerged. Understanding the different types of phishing attacks can empower you to safeguard your organization’s assets. Below is a comprehensive list of the different types of phishing attacks:
|Targets specific individuals within specific organizations to steal login credentials by tricking them with fake documents or links.
|Uses phone calls to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information, often pretending to be a trusted source.
|Conducts phishing attacks through text messages to deceive victims into entering personal information or visiting fake sites.
|Also known as ‘QR Phishing’, this type deceives individuals into scanning a QR code using their mobile phones, which then directs them towards downloading malicious software or deceives them into divulging confidential information.
|Sends emails with links to fake websites that appear secure, tricking victims into entering private information.
|Malicious code redirects victims to fake websites to collect their login credentials.
|Uses pop-ups to trick users into downloading malware or calling fake support centers.
|Evil Twin Phishing
|Uses fake Wi-Fi networks to capture sensitive information from those who connect.
|Watering Hole Phishing
|Infects users’ computers by exploiting frequently visited websites to gain access to their network.
|Targets high-level executives with privileged access by using deceptive tactics like fake Zoom links.
|Replicates previous emails to trick recipients into clicking on malicious links or sharing sensitive information.
|Manipulates individuals psychologically to reveal sensitive information through tactics like impersonating trusted institutions.
|Uses fake social media posts to engage with users and trick them into sharing personal information or downloading malware.
|Hides malicious files within images to steal account information or infect computers.
|Man-in-the-Middle (MTM) Attacks
|Intercept information exchanged between parties to steal account credentials.
|Creates fake websites that closely resemble legitimate ones, tricking users into entering login credentials.
|Impersonates company domains through email or fake websites to deceive individuals into sharing sensitive information.
|Search Engine Phishing
|Creates fake products in search engine results to collect sensitive information during fake purchases.
How Lepide Helps
If you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of a successful phishing attack, then it’s important you are able to detect and react in a timely manner. Having a data security platform in place helps take some of the pressure off the IT/Security team by automatically alerting on anomalous user behavior and unwanted changes to files. If an attacker has access to your sensitive information, data security platforms can help to identify the affected account so that you can take action to prevent further damage.
The Lepide Data Security Platform uses machine learning techniques to establish a baseline of normal user behavior. Using this baseline as a reference, it can identify anomalies in email behavior, such as sudden changes in email volume, sending emails to unusual recipients, or accessing suspicious URLs. This helps detect potential compromised accounts or phishing attempts. The platform will send real-time alerts to the relevant personnel whenever potential phishing incidents are detected, enabling them to respond quickly and take appropriate actions to mitigate the impact. The platform also has a built-in tool that can discover and classify sensitive data, making it easier to monitor and control the movement of this data to prevent it from being exfiltrated via a phishing attack.
If you would like to see how Lepide Data Security Platform can help you identify and prevent phishing attacks, schedule a demo with one of our engineers today.