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How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Attacks on Your Business

Phishing Attacks

Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a type of fraud where the victim is contacted by telephone, text message or email by someone pretending to be a legitimate organisation.

The fraudster will then try and trick you into providing sensitive data like your passwords, credit card details and address under false pretexts.

Phishing attacks can take many forms, from official-looking emails asking you to confirm a password to threatening phone calls ordering you to take urgent action. The most important thing is to stay calm and look out for the warning signs of a phishing attack before revealing any sensitive info.

What is a Phishing Attack?

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack commonly used to steal sensitive data like credit card details and login credentials. These attacks happen when phishers, disguised as a trusted entity (i.e. Amazon or a bank) trick victims into accepting fraudulent messages in the form of emails, text messages or phone calls.

These messages commonly contain malware or malicious links designed to fool the recipient into providing sensitive information. Many of these fraudsters go to great lengths in creating their digital disguises, so even if a message or link looks official, not everything is as it seems.

Being able to reliably identify phishing emails will help you avoid these tricksters and keep your information secure, so look out for these warning signs:

  • A random company – many phishing attacks are sent to thousands of email addresses at random, so if you aren’t affiliated with the company an email is from, ignore it.
  • Spelling and grammar – Official company emails will (almost) always be proofread, so obvious errors are a dead giveaway for a phisher.
  • Lack of account info – if a company was contacting you, they would include details like your username or account number, but a phisher wouldn’t know these details.
  • Deadlines – phishing attacks often include a fake deadline to make you panic, so be wary when an email asks you to reply immediately or within a tight timeframe.
  • Links – Links in emails are easy to fake or manipulate, so be cautious when clicking a link or – better yet – navigate to the company’s official site yourself if you’re unsure.

What are the Different Types of Phishing Attacks?

Phishing attacks come in a variety of types, so you should know how to spot common phishing scams to protect your sensitive information from scammers. We’ve included a detailed list of five common types of phishing attacks so that you can detect threats and protect your sensitive information:

1. Deceptive Phishing

By far the most common type of phishing attack, deceptive phishing involves fraudsters impersonating a legitimate company then asking you to click a link or enter sensitive info. Watch out for emails with minimal content, odd email addresses or small errors in spelling, grammar, and design.

2. Spear Phishing/Targeted Phishing

A more targeted form of scam, spear phishing uses a personal touch, customising emails with the target’s name, company and/or contact information. However, just because an email refers to you by name or asks you to login to your company’s ‘official’ portal doesn’t make it genuine.

3. Whaling/CEO Fraud

Much like spear phishing, whaling uses personalised emails to fool a senior executive or CEO and steal their data. Make sure to train all your employees in security protocol and consider two factor authentication on your bank accounts to avoid these phishing attacks.

4. Vishing/Voice Phishing

Scammers will sometimes call targets over the phone using tools like a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) server to hide their identity. These phishing calls often use pre-recorded messages, so avoid answering unknown phone numbers and never give out personal info over the phone.

5. Smishing/SMS Phishing

Scammers may also text you a link or fake questionnaire to get your personal info over the phone. These scams can take the form of fake competitions, so avoid following links in SMS messages unless you can trust the sender.

If you think that you may have been compromised by a phishing attack, it’s important to check the state of your website and personal security quickly. By following our tips below, you should be able to see whether your site is locked up tight or hacked open.

How to Check Your Website Security

Unless there are obvious signs like your website being replaced with a ransom message, it can be tough to determine if your site is still secure. But rather than keep yourself awake with paranoia, run through these simple checks to answer the burning question  of whether your website is hacked:

1. Check “Security Issues” in the Google Search Console

The Google Search Console is a powerful tool for any website administrator, allowing you to monitor search engine rankings, site stats and, of course, security issues. If you don’t have an account, create one and view your “Security Issues” report to see data on security issues that your site may be having.

2. Use a Safe Browsing Tool

Google’s Safe Browsing tool is designed to protect users from phishing attacks, malware and social engineering by warning them of dangerous sites and software. Google scans for malware daily, using advanced statistical models to look for phishing sites, so the safe browsing tool is an easy way to check your site for security issues.

3. Watch for Notifications from Hosting Providers, etc.

In some cases, you will be notified of a hacked site by your hosting provider, internet browser or even other internet users. While you should never rely on these notifications alone, you can increase the odds of you detecting a hacked site quickly by using reputable hosting providers and malware scanners, to name a few solutions.

4. Check Your Search Results

With a focussed search – type “site:domainname.co.uk” into Google – you may be able to find malware or phishing activity on your site. If it sounds too easy, that’s because Google technicians have worked hard to flag suspicious websites with “this site may be hacked” warnings, especially when using targeted searches like the command listed above.

5. Use the Hacked Sites Troubleshooter

Another handy web tool from Google, the Hacked Sites Troubleshooter is recommended when you are trying to find hacked content on your site and search for remaining issues. This free tool includes a helpful beginner’s guide, so why not get to grips with the troubleshooter today?

How does Phishing Affect Businesses?

Now that you know how to detect a phishing attack, you’re probably wondering about the kind of damage that they can cause to a business. As one of the main delivery methods for malware, data breach attacks and scams of all kinds, phishing remains a serious threat to businesses, and the costs of failing to address them can result in…

Monetary Loss

Many phishing scams have the sole aim of ripping off the recipient, which can be a serious inconvenience for individuals but potentially devastating for businesses. An employee being scammed into making a fraudulent purchase pales in comparison to a scammer that has access to your bank account, so make sure you have strong safety measures in place.

Loss of Reputation

A common phishing tactic is impersonating a reputable company, so your reputation could be suffering from scammers impersonating your business or spoofing your domain. Even if you had nothing to do with the scam, the victim may lose trust your business, so use email authentication to avoid email spoofing.

Ransomware

One of the costliest types of malware, ransomware is often delivered through phishing emails and can cripple entire organisations in extreme circumstances. In a ransomware attack, the hacker encrypts files, making them unusable, before demanding a ransom (often in cryptocurrency) to supply a decryption key.

How to Stop Phishing Emails

For individual users, scepticism and vigilance is key in protecting against phishing attacks, as spoofed messages often contain subtle mistakes that reveal their true nature. As a rule, never follow links in messages or give out personal information unless you can trust the sender.

Phishing emails continue to evolve as hackers develop ever-more elaborate scams to gain your trust (and your data), adopting some good security practices will help you avoid the worst of them. While hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to take advantage of businesses, there are some measures you can take to protect yourself and your business, such as:

  • Use spam filters – because many phishing attacks are unsolicited emails with odd formatting, spam filters can filter out some phishing attacks before they become a threat.
  • Prevent fraudulent sites from opening – change your browser settings to prevent fraudulent sites from even opening for a good pre-emptive defence.
  • Change passwords often – Regularly changing passwords and using unique passwords for each account is a great way to improve security and prevent phishing attacks.
  • Double-check links in emails – As links can easily be spoofed or tampered with, make sure to investigate any links in emails, making sure they link to secure sites beginning with “https”.

Because phishing attacks rely on deception and social engineering to succeed, the number one defence is still education and caution. If you can educate your employees on cybersecurity and instil a healthy paranoia of suspicious emails, then you’re closer to stopping phishing emails than most.

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