Understanding Phishing Scams

The first thing that is necessary to prevent a cybersecurity incident such as phishing is to understand what phishing is and how it happens. A phishing attack is most often executed either through an email or messenger service. It happens when, for example, an attacker sends an email that looks like it is coming from a legitimate company in an attempt to get you to click on a link within the email or message. Once the attacker is able to get you to click on something within the email, the link may route you to a fake website where they solicit personal information from the user or it may even initiate a download having a malware payload to cause damage to the user or company’s systems.

An example of this may be if an attacker makes an email from a website such as Amazon.com indicating that updated payment information is necessary to process a recent order. The link in the email may route you to a fake website that looks like it is from the same company. The fake website may prompt you to input the information they are looking for, like your name and credit card information. Once you submit this information, some of the phishing schemes will route you back to the legitimate website to make it seem as if nothing ever happened.

To avoid this from happening to you or your employees it may be a good idea to educate people how to identify phishing emails or messages in the first place and also how to respond to legitimate emails.

Identifying a Phishing Scam

The problem with phishing email scams is that they are becoming more and more difficult to identify at first glance. They may look exactly the same as a real email from a legitimate company. The first thing to think about when identifying phishing emails is to consider whether you actually have an account with such a company. If you do, you may want to think about whether you actually made an order or took some action that would prompt such an email. This may seem like common sense, but often times these types of considerations are overlooked.

Next, you will want to identify where this email is actually sent from. You can typically do this by hovering over the sender’s email address. Sometimes the attacker will use a technique called spoofing where they make the display name look legitimate but it is actually being sent from another email address. When you hover over the display name, you may be able to see that it is not coming from the same domain or email as the spoofed name. This is a sure-fire way to identify that the email is fraudulent.

An additional way to identify that the email is coming from a fraudulent source is to hover over the links that the email would like you to click on. By doing this, it will show the URL that it is attempting to send you to. If it is not an address that you recognize, do not click on the link because it is likely coming from an illegitimate source and may be attempting to cause you harm in some way.

How to Avoid Phishing Attacks

Finally, if you are not sure if something is a phishing attack or not, then you should not click on the links in the email or message. Some emails are becoming so sophisticated that they are difficult to recognize. Therefore, even if it is a legitimate email, it is recommended that you do not click on links in emails unless it is coming from someone you absolutely know is sending you something legitimate. If the email is coming from a company that operates online or is a business that you can contact directly, close out of the email and contact them directly.

For example, in the Amazon.com hypothetical from above, you would not want to click on a link to update your payment information, but rather, go directly to Amazon.com and check to see if you have some sort of notification in your account. Further, if the email requests that you contact them via a phone number in the email, do not use that number either. Rather, look up the real phone number online and then call them from the phone number listed on the company’s website to see if there really is an action you need to take.