Have you heard about a recent cyber scam attack that targeted American Express cardholders? This famous cyber security attack is known as a “phishing” scam. What do you think this is, or what did the hackers attempt to steal online? And how did they do this?
In this comprehensive beginner’s guide to phishing attacks, we will talk about phishing messages, types of phishing, how these scams are performed to leak sensitive information from users, examples of phishing, and how to prevent this cyber attack.
There are several facets to this vital concept. So, without any further ado, let us get started and explore this a little more.
Table of Contents
What is a Phishing Attack?
Phishing is a typical social engineering cyber attack used to steal user information, including login credentials, phone numbers, and credit card information. It occurs when an attacker poses as a trustworthy source via an email, instant message, or text message to trick the victim into opening it.
The recipient is then tricked into clicking a harmful link. This can result in the malware being installed on the recipient’s computer, a ransomware attack to lock it down, or the release of private data.
Devastating results characterize cyber security attacks. Hackers can process unauthorized purchases, commit identity theft, and steal funds.
Furthermore, this attack is part of a more comprehensive attack, like an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) incident, to infiltrate businesses or governmental networks. In the latter case, staff members are compromised to overcome security barriers, spread malware in a safe setting, or gain access to protected data.
A company that falls victim to such an attack usually suffers significant financial losses and diminishing market share, reputation, and customer trust. Depending on its size, a phishing attempt could become a security issue that a company will find challenging to recover from.
Types of Phishing Techniques
There are two main types of phishing attacks that can be seen happening in the world mostly nowadays. They are phishing emails and spear phishing.
Let us give you the crux of both types so that you know about them and don’t fall prey to them.
Email Phishing Scams
Phishing via email is a game of numbers. Even if only a tiny portion of receivers fall for the scam, an attacker sending out thousands of bogus emails can obtain valuable information and large quantities of money.
There are several techniques that hackers use to enhance the success rates of this scam. For starters, it will take a lot of pain to create phishing communications that closely resemble real emails from a fake company. The emails provide the impression of being real by using the same wording, typefaces, logos, and signatures.
Furthermore, there are several hackers out there who try to create a sense of urgency in order to push them into action immediately. For example, a phishing email scam could initiate tension by showing account expiration within a few hours or days. When the user is put under such pressure, they are prone to think less and act more abruptly, and hence get scammed.
Finally, the inks inside messages look exactly like their real equivalents. However, they frequently have extra subdomains or incorrect domain names, as shown in the example below. If you didn’t have much time to look at them, probably, you would not even be able to trace that they were fake!
Spear Phishing Scams
In contrast to phishing that targets random application users, spear phishing targets a specific individual or company. It’s a more sophisticated form of phishing that necessitates in-depth familiarity with an organization, including its hierarchy.
This kind of attack can take the form as follows:
- A culprit looks for the identities of personnel in the marketing division of a company and acquires access to the most recent project bills.
- The attacker contacts a departmental Project Manager (PM) as the marketing director while using the subject line “Updated invoice for Q3 campaigns.” The language, formatting, and attached logo are all identical to the organization’s default email template.
- The email contains a link leading to a password-protected internal document, a fake invoice. When you click on a link, you get scammed.
- To access the document and open an attachment, the PM is asked to log in. After stealing his credentials, the attacker gains complete access to the organization’s network’s sensitive sections.
Spear phishing is an effective technique for carrying out the initial step of an APT since it can give an attacker legitimate login credentials.
Attacks on top management and other privileged positions are called “whaling.” The motive of these attacks is similar to other phishing attacks, but their method is frequently very different. Much information is available to senior employees, and attackers can use this information to create potent attacks.
As an illustration, whaling attackers frequently utilize phony tax returns to gather personal information about the victim and use it to plan their attack. These assaults typically don’t make use of shady URLs and bogus links. Instead, they use highly tailored communications utilizing the information they acquire in their investigation of the victim.
Smishing and Vishing
This phishing attack uses a phone rather than relying upon written communication. In SMishing, hackers send fraudulent SMS messages. On the contrary, in vishing, people use phone calls to trick users.
An attacker would frequently pose as a bank or credit card fraud investigator and tell victims that their accounts have been compromised. The victim is then asked for their credit card information, owned by the attacker, to purportedly authenticate their identification or transfer funds to a secure account.
These scams also involve automatic calls from trusted sources so that victims can enter their details on the keypad of their phones.
In these attacks, the attackers use fake social media accounts belonging to reputed firms. The attacker makes an account handle that looks similar to a legitimate organization and uses the same display picture as the existing company account.
Attackers profit from customers’ propensity to complain to firms and ask for assistance through social media channels. However, the customer contacts the attacker’s phony social account rather than the legitimate brand.
Attackers could request personal information from the consumer in response to such a request to recognize the issue and take the proper action. In other instances, the attacker posts a link to a malicious website that appears to be a customer care page.
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How does Phishing Work?
The primary element in a phishing attack is always a message sent to the user via email, social media, etc.
A phisher mainly uses a public resource (social media in most cases) to learn everything about the victim. Social media is a great platform to extract the user’s details such as name, job title, contact number, email address, and hobbies that interest them. With the help of all these details, it becomes easier for them to draft a real-looking fake message to scam him.
The phishers often set up fake websites to collect information about the victims. Generally, this fake message happens to come from a known organization. However, the attacks are transmitted through malicious links or attachments.
It is possible to identify phishing emails when you see poor use of fonts, layouts, logos, or poor copywriting. However, with time, people are becoming more professional at designing authentic-looking emails and messages and using effective marketing techniques to enhance the success rate of these messages.
Attackers take advantage of anxiety and hurry. Attackers frequently warn users that their accounts will be restricted or suspended if they don’t reply to emails. Targeted consumers forget their phishing training and dismiss simple warning indicators out of fear. Even security professionals and administrators occasionally fall victim to phishing.
The salutation is typically generic since phishing emails are sent to many recipients. An example of a typical phishing email is shown below.
Five ways to Prevent Phishing Attacks
Worried about how to protect your organization from these attacks? a few ways that can help you do that. They are:
Employee Security Awareness Training
Educating staff members about phishing tactics, spotting phishing signs, and alerting security teams to suspect activity is imperative.
Similarly, businesses can urge staff to check for trust badges or stickers from reputable antivirus or cyber security firms before interacting with a website. This demonstrates that the website takes security seriously and is probably neither harmful nor phony.
Think of Email Security Solutions.
Modern email filtering technologies can defend against malware and other malicious payloads in email communications. Solutions can identify emails that include spam, attachments, harmful URLs, and language that can indicate a phishing assault.
Email security solutions use sandboxing technology to “detonate” emails to see if they include dangerous code and automatically block and quarantine problematic emails.
Endpoint Checking and Protection
With the alarming increase of cloud services and personal devices within the workplace, boundaries have paved the way for many recent endpoints that are not entirely safe. Therefore, security teams must assume that some of those points will be breached by endpoint attacks. So, they must take action accordingly and implement instant remediation for this.
Conduct tests to understand phishing campaigns.
With the use of simulated phishing attacks, security teams may assess the success of security awareness training initiatives, and end users can better understand assaults.
Even if your staff members are adept at spotting fraudulent messages, they should undergo frequent training that simulates phishing attempts. Cyber attack simulations must change as the threat landscape changes since it constantly changes.
Limit User Access to high-value data and Systems
Most phishing techniques aim to deceive human users, and privileged user accounts are popular targets for cybercriminals. Access control measures can assist in preventing the leakage of sensitive data. Utilize the least privilege principle and only grant access to users who genuinely need it.
The world of Phishing attacks is enormous with new developments every now and then. The hackers are all up and running to make the best out of their skills. Hence, it’s time to know everything about Phishing attacks, and get prepared for the faceoff! To know more, get in touch with us.