How to Avoid Phishing Attacks?

An exponential rise in fraudulent attempts, which are financially motivated, has led to substantial monetary losses. The BEC (Business E-mail Compromise) alone cost $1.8 billion to the compromised organizations in 2019. At the core of these fraudulent activities lie phishing attacks that aim to gain information and access into the system/network of an individual or an organization. These practices lure or compel a person into providing privileged or sensitive information that could yield financial benefits to the attacker. Cybersecurity experts stress that phishing is a longstanding issue with an increasing impact in the near future due to computing technology advancements. The phishers aim to gain thetargets' trust by pretending to be a legitimate entity and asking for further access to unauthorized data. Phishing attacks are also considered as prequels to major malware and ransomware exploits.

What Is Phishing?

The fraudulent attempt to lure or compel a person to provide information or perform some malicious task is called phishing. Phishing aims to gain information and access into an individual or an organization, yielding financial benefits for the hacker. Studies suggest that more than 70% of phishing attempts are financially motivated, and phishers have bagged nearly $26 billion since 2016. It is no surprise that cybersecurity experts believe phishing to be a longstanding issue and likely to increase in the future.

By establishing themselves as a trustworthy and legitimate entity, the hackers can gain information or access into the systems for further exploitation. Sometimes the phishing attack itself neither harms your system nor benefits the threat actors, but what follows it can damage your data and reputation. A successful phishing attack is at times followed by other attacks, such as malware and ransomware, that can harm your system and yield financial gains. In order to lure their victims into divulging sensitive information such as username, password, credit/debit card details, or compelling them to perform financial transactions. The hackers use different digital and telecommunication modes such as email, phone calls, SMS, and other channels.

Types of Phishing Attacks

Hackers use different phishing techniques through various modes of communication, i.e., digital or telecommunication. The prominent type of phishing attacks could be classified as -

  • Email Phishing: As one of the most common types of phishing attacks, email phishing scams have become an issue for many organizations and individuals. These are the evolved form of spams that are carried via electronic mails. The hackers send malicious attachments and URLs within the phishing emails. The links upon clicking either redirect the users to malicious websites or download malware that auto-install and run in the background. Hackers usually register under a fake domain that imitates a legitimate website (something you have subscribed to) and sends spam and phishing emails in bulk, capturing multiple victims.
    Apart from this, some email phishing attacks are specialized to target specific people for a particular aim. These phishing email examples include spear phishing, which incorporates more relevant data of the target, such as their name, ID/account number, or other details, in the mail. Similarly, other types of phishing emails include whaling, which is similar to a spear phishing email customized to target an organization's influential and authoritative person. Generally, the higher echelons such as network admin, COO, CEO, and director tend to possess higher privileges on the organization's network. Hence, less time is required for the hacker to gain privileged access into the network if the whaling attack is successful.
  • SMiShing: SMiShing or SMS phishing attack is another common phishing attack that uses phishing text messages and majorly targets mobile device users. More than 3.5 billion people worldwide use a smartphone, and 52.6% of the global web traffic is occupied by mobile web traffic. But, when compared to the systems, mobile devices are less secured or poorly protected from external threats. The availability of multiple mobile base applications and their frequent downloads have further increased the risk. Through SMiShing attacks, the hackers have the opportunity to falsify their identity as an organization's IT service/security admin, banks, government agency, e-commerce, shipping service, and others. They encourage their victims to click links or divulge their personal information. With nearly 60% of internet users installing and using shopping apps on their mobile devices, the probability of phishing through a text message is likely to increase.
    A majority of people today communicate through SMS and chat-based applications. Thus, increasing the threat of SMS phishing could be supported by the reports stating that in 2019, 60% of SMS users possibly received spam messages once a week, and nearly 28% received almost every day. With more than 65% of the total digital ad spending being done on mobile ads, hackers' probability of using ad-based malware to conduct mobile phishing also increases.
    These statistics show the amount of money invested in the mobile market, and a large number of people use a mobile device for personal and official purposes. Thus, any random mobile has a high probability of containing sensitive data, such as financial and security information, username/password, etc., which could easily be exfiltrated by hackers if they can successfully install spyware or other malware onto the device through phishing text message.
  • Vishing: Voice Phishing, also known as Vishing, is conducted using voice technology (i.e., calls). The hacker impersonates your client, boss, IT admin, service provider, bank personnel, and other authoritative entity. They aim to extract sensitive and financially damaging information. By faking caller ID and imitating voice, hackers try to sound legitimate and use psychological factors such as urgency, intimidation, or general consent to provide little to no time for the target to think whether the call or process is legitimate or not.
    As many services use automated callers (also known as robocall or bot caller) to lessen the burden on their customer relations, this technology can also, for worse, be used for phishing or spam. Keeping in pace with the developments in technologies, hackers have also ramped up their game and have attempted to use AI (Artificial Intelligence), among other Vishing techniques. For example, the jaw-dropping features of AI could be used to record and analyze the voice pattern of an organization's CEO. The feature can also be used in a vishing attempt that analyzes the speech pattern to imitate the person and use the authority to transfer funds. 2019 witnessed an increase in the global voice phishing attack by nearly 18%, and more than $450 million is lost to vishing scams since 2014. These statistics point towards the increasing potential of vishing attacks and their impact on individuals and businesses.

8 Tips to Avoid Phishing Attacks

The first step towards mitigating phishing attacks is training and awareness. Individual users and employees of the organization should be able to understand the difference between authentic mail/call and phishing. Awareness about phishing methods and precautions could help users and organizations mitigate breaches. Mitigation awareness that could be used are:

  • Use basic cybersecurity and phishing security tools like anti-phishing tools and software.
  • Avoid suspicious emails and calls by using spam filtering, attachments scanning, phishing email detectors, etc.
  • Email handling techniques, checking the email id, sender domain, and website.
  • Checking the content of the mail/call for mistakes and authenticity (whether it is too good to be true), etc.
  • Check email authentication by looking at the SSL certification and encryption details.
  • Avoid opening any attachment or the sender, and the mail is verified and scanning the attachment before opening it.
  • Avoid clicking onto the links and verify the link by hovering the cursor over to reveal the actual URL.
  • Report phishing email to IT admin or cybersecurity analyst.

Incorporate OhPhish Solutions in Your Cybersecurity Infrastructure

Though awareness could help, to some extent, organizations and their employees need to have experience and practical knowledge of dealing with phishing attacks to mitigate threats in a better way. This is possible through OhPhish's simulation-based training, phishing security test, and awareness programs that stress SMS phishing simulation, voice phishing simulation, and email phishing simulation individually. OhPhish provides tailored solutions for your business, depending upon the scale and requirement of your business operations. Some of the important features of OhPhish solutions include:

  • A web-based portal to test your employees’ susceptibility to phishing with customizable templates to help adjust the attack's difficulty level.
  • A vast collection of email simulation templates with different phishing tactics, along with customizable features to increase awareness of advanced threats.
  • Customizable SMiShing templates with a baseline measurement to check the employees’ performance.
  • Customizable vishing templates with user-friendly interphase and male and female voice patterns.
  • OhPhish application platform captures simulation responses and generates detailed reports and trends (on a real-time basis) that can be tracked according to the user department, designation, office, etc.
  • Flexible scheduling of campaigns with CheckAPhish feature for reporting suspicious emails with easy configuration and plugin.
  • Identifying critical systems and susceptible candidates based on behavior towards 'lost and found' USB sticks.
  • Flexible user management with direct integration with active directory, Microsoft O365, Google, and OhPhish Address Book.
  • Utilization of custom and legit domains to create and spoof employees with phishing emails, i.e., using customizable sender address to select email IDs that do not exist.
  • Deployment modes include on-prem, Saas (Software as a service), and hy

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Q. What is spear phishing?

A. Spear phishing is a targeted attack that researches the victim before sending a personalized message or email.

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Q. What is whaling?

A. Whaling is a spear phishing attack that targets a probable victim who could yield larger financial gains. For example, senior executives and other high-profile professionals with a higher level of trust, access, and authority within an organization.

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Q. What is email phishing?

A. Under the pretense of a false domain, perpetrators send out thousands of emails to innocent customers from seemingly-trusted sources.

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Q. What is a phishing scam?

A. Phishing scams attempt to get users to divulge personal information such as login credentials, bank details, or credit card numbers.

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