When browsing the World Wide Web, where every click can lead you into a cyber-snare, it’s crucial to arm yourself with knowledge about one of the most common online threats, known as “phishing.” This article aims to explain what exactly phishing is, how these attacks work, the various types to watch out for, tips to recognise phishing attempts, the dire consequences of falling for them, the best practices to keep you safe, and the tools that can help you fend off online criminals.
Let’s start with the basics. Phishing is essentially the online version of a con artist’s sleight of hand. It’s a cyber-attack where cyber-criminals pose as trusted sources to trick you into giving up personal information, login details, or even infect your device with harmful malware. They do this through emails, texts, calls, or by setting up fake websites to lure you in.
How Phishing Attacks Work
A typical phishing attack could look something like this: The attacker sends you a message or otherwise attempts communication that looks legit, as if it’s from your bank or a familiar company. They often play on your emotions, trying to scare or rush you into doing something you shouldn’t. Then, they get you to click on a link or download a sketchy file (which is more likely than not infected), or otherwise reveal your sensitive information.
Common Types of Phishing Attacks
Email Phishing: The most common type of phishing attack. Scammers send you bogus emails that seem totally legit. They might have links that take you to fake websites or attachments that can infect your computer.
Spear Phishing: Here, attackers target specific individuals or organisations. They personalise their messages to make them look super real, and that makes them even trickier.
Smishing (SMS Phishing): Think email phishing, but over text messages. Scammers send you texts with malicious content hidden inside, hoping you'll click or respond.
Vishing (Voice Phishing): Scammers call you up and pretend to be someone you trust. They'll try to squeeze info out of you or get you to take some action you shouldn’t.
Pharming: A combination of “phishing” and “farming”, in this type of attack, attackers manipulate the Domain Name System (DNS) or your device’s settings to redirect your traffic to fake websites, even if you type in the right web address.
Recognising Phishing Attempts
By taking the right precautions, you can identify threats and avoid phishing attempts. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Identifying Suspicious Emails:
The first thing you should do is verify the email address of the sender. At first glance, an email might look legitimate, but often there are slight misspellings or odd domain names. For instance, you might receive an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org” instead of “email@example.com”. Poor grammar, awkward phrasing, or multiple spelling errors can also be indicators of phishing emails, especially if the email claims to be from a professional organisation.
Many phishing emails use urgent and alarmist language to create a sense of panic. They might say your account has been compromised, there’s a problem with your payment, or that immediate action is required to avoid dire consequences.
Without clicking, hover your mouse over any link in the email. This will display the actual URL to which the link points. If the URL address looks strange, doesn’t match the supposed sender, or is a shortened URL that obscures the destination, be very cautious. Also, be wary of unsolicited emails that contain attachments, especially if you’re not expecting them. These attachments may contain malware.
Remember that legitimate organisations, especially banks, will never ask for sensitive information like passwords, social security numbers, or credit card details via email.
If you’re ever in doubt about an email’s authenticity, go directly to the company’s official website (type the address manually into your browser) or call them using a known, trusted number (not a number provided in the suspicious email). Most email providers offer filters that help detect and isolate phishing emails. Ensure these are activated and regularly check your spam/junk folder to ensure legitimate emails aren’t being misclassified.
Spotting Fake Websites:
Always double-check the website’s address. If it doesn’t match the legit domain, don’t open it.
Make sure you see “https://” and a padlock icon in the address bar for secure connections.
Look for professional design and consistent branding.
Don’t trust pop-ups asking for your login info.
Analysing Social Engineering Techniques:
Through their cunning strategies and tactics, certain unorthodox social engineers (including hackers) can manipulate and deceive others into divulging confidential information, performing certain actions, or even making poor decisions that benefit them.
Online and offline, these techniques can have serious consequences if used successfully – and that’s why it’s simply so important to learn to recognise them and act accordingly (such as reporting a suspicious email or blocking a specific sender).
Stay alert for emails or messages that try to mess with your feelings, like scaring you or making you curious.
Don’t blindly follow requests for personal or financial info. Verify through a trusted source first.
Impact of Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks can have dire consequences if you fall victim to one. By not enforcing proper practices to stay safe, you’re at risk of:
• Financial Losses: Scammers can drain your bank account or make fraudulent purchases in your name.
• Identity Theft: When they get hold of your personal info, they can pretend to be you, wreaking havoc on your credit and life.
• Reputation Damage: Businesses can take a serious hit if they fall for phishing. Trust is hard to win back once it’s lost.
Best Practices to Stay Protected
Thankfully, there are ways to increase your security from phishing attacks. By observing these best practices, you can be much safer when browsing the web:
Strengthen Password Security:
- Use strong, unique passwords for each account.
- Consider a password manager to keep track of them all.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA):
- Wherever you can, turn on 2FA for an extra layer of protection.
Regularly Update Software and Applications:
- Keep your devices and apps up to date to patch any security holes.
Educate Employees and Individuals About Phishing Awareness:
- Teach everyone about the importance of phishing attempts and safe browsing habits.
Tools and Technologies to Combat Phishing
There are some useful tools out there to help you fend off these phishing attacks:
• Anti-Phishing Software: Special pieces of software that scan emails and websites for phishing signs and block communication.
• Browser Extensions: These add-ons can warn you about dubious websites and keep you safe online.
• Email Filters and Spam Blockers: These help keep phishing emails out of your inbox in the first place.
A Few Final Thoughts
Phishing can be likened to a lurking predator, patiently waiting for its next meal. However, by staying well-informed of common phishing indicators and adopting industry-recommended protocols, you can protect yourself against such threats. DNSSense security solutions leverage Artificial Intelligence to provide state-of-the-art defence at the DNS layer, protecting you not only against phishing attacks but also from other types of malware, ransomware, and emerging threats.