Avoiding Phishing Attacks

Ketan Kapadia
Avoid Phishing

What is a phishing attack?

Phishing is a form of social engineering attack often used to steal user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to solicit personal information by posing as a trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send an email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution or a retail organization that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts. Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other types of organizations, such as charities. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year, such as

  • Epidemics and health scares (e.g., Coronavirus)
  • Natural disasters (e.g., fires in Australia)
  • Economic concerns (e.g., IRS and / Tax return scams)
  • Major political elections
  • Holidays

What are the common indicators of phishing attempts?

  • Suspicious sender’s address. The sender’s address may imitate a legitimate business. Cybercriminals often use an email address that closely resembles one from a reputable company by altering or omitting a few characters. 
  • Spoofed hyperlinks. If you hover your cursor over any links in the body of the email, and the links do not match the text that appears when hovering over them, the link may be spoofed. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net). Additionally, cybercriminals may use a URL shortening service to hide the true destination of the link.
  • Suspicious attachments. An unsolicited email requesting a user to download and open an attachment is a common delivery mechanism for malware. A cybercriminal may use a false sense of urgency or importance to help persuade a user to download or open an attachment without examining it first.
  • Generic greetings and signature. Both a generic greeting—such as “Dear Valued Customer” or “Sir/Ma’am”—and a lack of contact information in the signature block are strong indicators of a phishing email. A trusted organization will normally address you by name and provide their contact information.

How do you avoid being a victim?

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited email messages, text messages, phone calls, or instant messages from individuals asking about personal or employee information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.
  • Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information.
  • Do not reveal personal or financial information in email or text messages or instant messages, and do not respond to solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email or text messages.
  • Pay attention to the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of a website. If it looks suspicious and/or does not have HTTPS do not send sensitive information over the internet.
  • If you are unsure whether an email pr text message request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use the contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information. 
  • Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software, malware software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of the phishing traffic. 

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