Understand phishing: How to spot and avoid it

We refresh your memory of phishing and what the hacker is thinking when they launch an attack. Read more about phishing here and learn about the cyber threat.

26-09-2023 - 7 minute read. Posted in: phishing.

Understand phishing: How to spot and avoid it

We’re facing a bigger cyberthreat than ever before since everything in our daily lives depend on technology - whether it’s our communication, transportation or home, we’re dependent on it. That’s why cyberattacks have become a lot more prominent in the cyber landscape, and particularly phishing attacks have emerged as one of the most prevalent and deceptive types of cybercrime there is.

We’ve decided to refresh all of our memories and dive into the world of phishing, since it’s one of the foundations for modern hacking and cyberthreats. We want you to know the core of good cyber security, and you can only do so, if you know how hackers act and on what foundations they act on.

What is phishing?

We should, first and foremost, brush up on what exactly phishing is.

Phishing is a malicious cyberattack technique based on tricking people into providing

  • Personal information.
  • Financial information.
  • Login credentials.

The name "phishing" is derived from "fishing," as attackers use fake e-mails, webpages, or messages as bait to entice unsuspecting victims.

Phishing attacks take many different shapes, but they all aim to trick their targets into doing something that will benefit the attackers. These behaviors can involve submitting sensitive information, downloading malicious attachments, or clicking on harmful links.

How phishing works

Phishing attacks usually follow a particular pattern, where the attackers use social engineering and psychological manipulation to prey on people's emotions. Below we'll give you a step-by-step of how a general phishing attack works:

  • Making convincing bait: Attackers make deceptive bait, often in the shape of fake e-mails, texts, or websites. These are made to look like actual businesses or people by using their logos, branding and online signature.

  • Finding the right format: Through email, SMS, or other messaging services, the phishing bait is distributed to a large number of recipients. To reach their targets, cybercriminals may also use false advertisements, social media accounts, or even make fake phone calls.

  • Fooling the recipient: The bait often carries a sense of urgency or threat that encourages the target audience to respond right away. It may be a fake notice of account suspension, a security alert, or a tempting offer.

  • Getting people to click the link: Victims are told to open a link or download a file, which could take them to a fraudulent website that looks just like the real thing. As an alternative, the file can also contain malware which is programmed to infect the victim's device and thus steal invaluable information.

  • Collecting your data: Once users get to the fake website, they are asked to provide private data which may include usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or personal information. The attackers then get hold of this information which they then can do with whatever they like.

  • Making a run for it: Attackers may simply disappear after getting the needed information from victims or redirect them to a legitimate website, preventing victims from spotting the data breach before it's too late.

Common phishing methods

Phishing attacks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own set of strategies and goals. Some typical phishing methods are:

  • Spear Phishing: Attackers tailor their bait to a particular person or group in this targeted method. Hackers usually conduct considerable research on their targets, giving their e-mails or communications a strong sense of authority and trust.

  • Whaling: Whale phishing is similar to spear phishing but targeted at high-profile people or company executives. Attackers try to access private corporate information or financial data since high-profile employees often possess this information.

  • Vishing: This method, often known as "voice phishing," involves cybercriminals calling victims to trick them into disclosing personal information or carrying out particular tasks, such as transferring money - when victims speak with the hacker, they often don't suspect the malicious act.

  • Smishing: Smishing attacks, which combine "SMS" and "phishing," employ text messages to deceive users into opening links or downloading harmful files because you can't check links and files the same way as you can on a computer. Thus, people don't consider the cyberthreat that is on our phones as well.

  • Clone Phishing: Attackers make virtually exact replicas of authentic e-mails and change a few details or links that lead victims to fraudulent websites where their personal data is stolen.

Beside these general phishing methods, there are even more that has emerged, as the technique has become popular;

Just to name a few. So, there’s plenty to look out for when you’re browsing the internet, and using the many functions it offers.

How to spot and circumvent phishing attacks

The best way to protect yourself against phishing attacks is to be alert and educated. Here are some crucial pointers to help you recognize phishing schemes and steer clear from becoming a victim:$

  • Always check the sender: Always double check the sender's phone number or e-mail address. If the e-mail comes from a strange e-mail address or domain, or if an unknown number calls, proceed with great caution.

  • Look closely at the message: Look for typos, grammatical mistakes, and strange formatting in e-mails and communications. Genuine businesses usually have a professional communication standard which would be obvious in an e-mail from them.

  • See if it’s an urgent matter: Be wary of messages that seem urgent; these can mention that your account will be shut down, that there are suspicious activity on your bank account etc. Attackers utilize urgency to get you to respond quickly.

  • Hover your mouse over links: To preview the real URL, hover your cursor over links rather than clicking on them straight away. Before clicking, make sure the domain matches that of the genuine website.

  • Check the web domain: Make sure the website's address starts with "https://" and has a padlock icon in the address bar, signifying a secure connection, if you're directed to a login page.

  • Don’t download suspicious files: Avoid downloading attachments from unexpected messages or sources. If you are uncertain, ask the sender for confirmation and an elaboration of what the attachment contains.

  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA): To increase the security of your accounts, enable MFA whenever possible. MFA can prevent unauthorized access even if your login credentials have been stolen.

  • Use awareness training: Keep up with the most recent phishing methods and cyberthreats. Your strongest line of defense against cyberthreats is knowledge - by being educated and maintaining awareness about your cybersecurity, you improve your defences against the hacker.

  • Don’t share your personal information: Sharing private information online should be done with caution. Legitimate organizations won't request sensitive information via e-mail or text, this will alwats be a good indicator whether you're communicating with a scammer or not.

  • Report suspicious activity: If you think you've been the victim of a phishing attack after receiving a phishing email or message, you should report it to your email provider or your local authorities. Many countries have implemented special departments for cybersecurity.

Keeping this in mind

Phishing attacks continue to evolve and present a serious threat to people, businesses, and society overall. Staying safe in cyberspace requires having a thorough understanding of how these attacks operate as well as staying vigilant with your online surroundings.

You can significantly lower your risk of falling for phishing schemes by keeping our advice in mind - it comes pretty naturally once you open your e-mail and read a peculiar-sounding message; then report and delete the e-mail.

Remember that information and a healthy dose of skepticism are your strongest weapons against phishing attacks.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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