Phishing Basics: Protecting Yourself From Online Threats



Do you want to protect your organization from phishing attacks? Scary statistics say 85% of organizations have crumbled to superior spam techniques, and 90% of data breaches can be traced to phishing. The average financial cost of a data breach is $3.86 million. Phishing attacks have grown exponentially in the last decade. Individuals and organizations have seen their expensive security apparatus breached. But, spam filters are now more robust and sophisticated and have become a staple feature of corporate budgets.

Widespread social engineering scams are continuously used to deliver ransomware and other malicious software. Thus, a deep understanding of these threats is important. This is how any organization can be kept secure and protected.

Cybercriminals are traditionally viewed as innovative and inventive individuals might be misleading. But, they are simple-minded individuals with great aptitude for social engineering. They skillfully lure unsuspecting victims into downloading malware or parting with personal or financial details.

Phishing is actually just one small but significant piece in the larger jigsaw that the so-called Dark Web is. For example, ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) is more pervasive than before. Hackers with a great skill build malicious software, fully relying on other individuals to escalate their usage and split ensuing proceeds.


Table of content:


The Key to Identifying Email Phishing Scams


Email is way down the pecking order of social communication tools, but it’s been exploited as the preferred means to deliver social engineering scams. Scam is so common that every individual or business entity has received them at least one time. They are possibly not aware of this and it’s encouraging that many of these emails end up in the spam folder. Other times, they are simply flagged as suspicious by email software. Yet, many earn their place in our inboxes. This tells how sophisticated scams have become.

Phishing works when emails appear as legitimate as possible. They mimic banks, building societies, and other firms with the highest precision. Email spoofing is the method used by superior scams to forge a legitimate email address to wear a hint of authenticity. Recognized branding from legitimate commercial or government entities are also viable alternatives. Either way, these emails have flaws that show them up as fake.

Social engineering tactics are the only thing phishing scams depend on. They exploit weaknesses by creating fear. A relatable example are emails announcing imminent closure of accounts unless some demand is met. Let’s say you get an email bearing the hallmarks of a website or company you maintain an account on. It threatens action if you don’t provide financial details or login information. In any case, these are quite easy to detect, as no legitimate organization will ever demand for such sensitive details by email. Such emails must be immediately eliminated with the full force of the delete command.


How to Effectively Spot Targeted Phishing Scams


Sophistication is a feature of scams targeted at resources personnel, company executives, and sales staff. This is spear phishing, and promise much danger. This is because their apparent genuineness surpasses that of generic, widely disseminated scams. They create rapport by addressing the target by name and using a spoofed email address. The source of a spear phishing attack is usually a compromised genuine email address. Investing in email encryption technologies is important as no one can tell where or how the scammer would strike next.

Inspiring fear in targets and using a blunderbuss approach to pick an unfortunate target were effective years in earlier phishing scams. Spear phishing is built on familiarity. Safety from targeted attacks is a function of how much information the public has about the target. An example is a scammer checking out LinkedIn profiles to locate potential targets. Any information gathered is then used in a scam email. Receiving such suspicious email from a friend or colleague means you should immediately contact them via a separate channel to verify they are the sender.


What Are the Signs of Malicious Email Attachments?


Social engineering tactics to unearth personal or financial information is important to sophisticated scammers. This is even more than the malicious software itself. Experts say humans are the weakest link it in the cybersecurity chain. But, malicious email attachments continue to be a significant problem. They are the primary channel for delivery of ransomware scams such as the infamous WannaCry attack.

Identifying suspicious attachments is relatively easy, once there’s prior preparation. Understand that only a small number of file formats can contain malware. JPG image files are among numerous other formats which cannot hold malware. An executable file can contain malware, just as formats supporting macros (MS Word documents or MS Excel sheets) can contain macros used to execute malicious code.

File extensions can be changed to mask the actual file type. This is a common scammer trick. However, only files with certain extensions will run. Compressed archives like RAR or ZIP are also culprits since they may contain files of any type, executables included. Attachments that are images and videos should not bother you as much, but unfamiliar files types are definitely cause for concern. Handle attachments with care. In any case, internet-enabled infrastructure should be adequately protected and prepared to handle the unexpected. With a browser and internet, you should have access to Fort Knox-like security.


Say No To Suspicious Links


Scammers send phishing mails for one purpose – to make recipients to click on links to malicious webpages. The links could be links to websites that clone a real company’s website. Clicking feels harmless, but downloading anything from the website or supplying personal details is a sure recipe for disaster.

Fortunately again, fake websites are all too glaring. Before making the potentially grave mistake of clicking on any link, position the mouse pointer over it to see the full URL. If it differs considerably from the link you were expecting, there’s every chance it leads to a fraudulent website. Beware though; scammers love URL shorteners, as they help mask the actual content of any link. Still, check for short website addresses that look funny or suspicious.

Let’s think of an edge case where you actually click on a link and you’re redirected to a suspicious website, always verify it before supplying any login details, bank details, membership details, and so forth. Same applies to downloading any file. Fraudulent websites and emails share certain characteristics:

  • Suspicious domain names are generally misspelled and may contain an added word or different modification.

  • Fraudulent web pages and emails mostly contain no contact information, regardless of the plenty exceptions that exist.

  • Phishing scams often come from countries that do not speak the English language, making poor spelling and bad grammar easy indicators of a scam website.

  • TSL encryption is rarely a priority for scam site operators. Refuse to enter information where the encryption padlock icon is absent adjacent to the URL field.

If the site still looks clean, a WHOIS lookup or simple Google search often tells a good story of who owns the site in question.

The site’s contact information can be tested to confirm that the website is legitimate or a massive fraud.


Avoiding Pharming Scams


Pharming (a neologism of “farming” and “phishing”) refers to scams which are mass-produced. They are automated phishing attacks which rely on malware alone to defraud unsuspecting victims. Pharming may occur if someone successfully plants malicious software on victims’’ computers. They exploit the operating system (OS) by taking advantage of a vulnerability. In many cases, the installed malware will hijack the web browser to display a fake website.

Malware attacks can be avoided if the latest antivirus software is employed. There is a growing market for APT - Advanced Threat Protection solutions and social engineering scams confirm this. Keeping the operating system up-to-date, in addition to other software also helps. With a Windows 10 machine, you can be sure your automatic updates to the operating system and malicious software should be taken care of. Businesses usually consider more robust third-party solutions than Windows natively provides.

Regular phishing tests or simulated phishing can be conducted to assess staff response to fraudulent email attacks. Free phishing test simulations are available for proactive organizations who are concerned to safeguard their data.


Having An Ear For Scam – Voice Phishing Lessons


In an age driven by artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies, phishing scams conducted over the telephone are gaining traction fast. It affects individuals and businesses alike. Voice phishing or vishing hopes victims would give up payment or login details via a phone call.

Why does this matter? According to an IC3 report, such scams created at least 26,379 victims in 2018, with over $48,241,748 in losses.

To illustrate, a phone call may come in from one claiming to be an employee of an institution (often a bank or other financial institution). They typically ask victims to verify account information or provide credit card details, and so forth. The scammer is often bold to say the account is compromised and you should transfer money to another account for safekeeping.

Vishing practitioners are often high on confidence and display coherent professionalism for the most part. They are also targeted scams, dealing with one individual or business at a time. They appear genuine since they are able to reel out the victim’s name and several other details. Serious messages form part of the arsenal of experienced scammers. Thus, a formal business tone and the right details are a potent formula to set the ball rolling.

These scams can be avoided if targets decline to give private information over the phone unless they initiated the call to a number they are familiar with.




Has your company suffered a data breach due to phishing? Would you like to be proactive and protect your data integrity? There are simple techniques that cost little money. You could consider using strong passwords for instance for your email and website accounts. Strengthen your home network by getting a VPN. Know who your kids interact online while taking another look at your social media settings. You will also need to protect yourself from identity theft.

Phishing scams are the biggest cybersecurity threat in history. They work hard to beat obsolete security systems. Robust skill at identifying social engineering scams begin with deliberate security awareness training and extreme vigilance. This is important when offering personal or financial information to anyone are the best way to stay protected. In any case, no anti-malware solution can handle the dynamic human element that leads the individual to fall victim.