Everything You Need You Need To Know About Phishing With How To Prevent Phishing Attacks
Phishing is a form of a cyberattack on individuals/organizations wherein the hacker tries to get sensitive information (financial information, account credentials, etc.) by masquerading as a trusted source. It gets the victim to click on a malicious link and cause harm such as steal sensitive documents, install malware, etc.
Such attacks can result in loss of money, identity theft, or compromising confidential information of the victim. A lot of phishing attacks are known to masquerade as well-established enterprises such as Amazon, PayPal, etc. 1 in every 99 emails is a phishing attempt. That explains how pervasive this dangerous cyber-attack has gotten.
Different Forms Of Phishing Attacks
Here are some widely prevalent and popular forms of phishing:
The phishers send a generic email to a large number of people to steal private information. E.g., Professors of a college all get an email from a generic-sounding email id such as ‘university.edu’ telling them that their password will expire in the next 24 hours. Such an email comes with a ‘Change password now’ link. Clicking on this link can take you to a page where you will have to type in your current password which can lead to many consequences such as identity theft, losing money, and loss of sensitive information from your system.
A more planned form of phishing, it targets specific individuals or organizations. The hackers do prior research on those individuals/ organizations using private information shared online by them, usually social media such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., and then target them in a highly personal way. Customized and specialized emails are sent posing as one of their friends or trusted colleagues. It usually has a sense of urgency about them so that the users tend to divulge information without a second thought. It is more dangerous than a traditional phishing attack. You will be surprised to know how common is spear-phishing. In the year 2017, spear-phishing was the most commonly used form of cyber-attack on the internet.
It is a specialized form of spear-phishing which is specifically designed to target C level executives, politicians, and celebrities.
Some Examples Of Spear-Phishing
Spear-phishing is a broad term and can have multiple types of attacks under it. Let’s get more acquainted with what such an attack looks like with these spear-phishing examples:
- CEO Fraud: This is a typical example of a spear-phishing attack, wherein an employee receives an email claiming to be from the CEO or a high-level executive of their company. The usual story is that the CEO/ Executive is out on a business trip and have lost their wallet. It is followed by a request of wiring a considerable amount of money to a bank account, details of which are in the mail itself.
- Bank Threats: Hackers use automated phone calls or messages to tell the victim that there may be a breach in their account security and ask them to click on a link to verify their authenticity. Clicking on this link can lead to compromising all of the device’s data.
- Account Expiry: A victim might get an email notification talking about their Netflix or Apple account getting expired soon by an email id that looks legitimate but is not, and the attacker tries to lure the user into providing their credit card details.
Recent Spear-Phishing Attacks
The following are three recent spear-phishing attacks that top the list of being the most sophisticated spear-phishing scams so far.
- The two digital giants, Facebook and Google, lost $100 million when they paid fake invoices sent to them by a Lithuanian phisher impersonating a vendor common to both organizations. The scam was reported in 2017.
- Crelan Bank in Belgium lost around $76 million in a ‘CEO fraud’ attack. It was discovered only later in an audit. The perpetrators are still unknown.
- In another ‘CEO fraud’ case in Austria, FACC, an aerospace manufacturer, lost $61 million when an employee was tricked into transferring funds to a fake project.
Prevention Of Phishing Attacks
Now that you have enough knowledge about what spear-phishing is, let us talk about how to prevent phishing attacks. Here are some methods of spear-phishing protection you can and should use:
- It is of utmost importance to keep your personal and organization’s systems up to date with the most recent security patches available. Check for the latest security patches and do not delay downloading and installing these. Operating systems keep updating security patches to tackle cyber threats, and it is crucial to take advantage of these.
- Keep the amount of personal information shared online to the minimum. Ensure strict privacy settings wherever possible.
- Never click on a link to go to your online banking site etc. Enter the URL directly from the browser instead. Also make sure any email address, URL, etc. are original and not merely a ‘look-alike’.
- Encrypt sensitive data and information that you have on any of your devices.
- Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible. It is a simple yet effective way to add another layer to your security.
- Use Artificial Intelligence (AI), not only to combat spear-phishing attacks but to avoid them altogether by predicting them. Machine learning can analyze data and predict specific attacks that humans can’t. Use this technology to ensure you are one step ahead, always.
- If you are running a business, make sure you train your staff and team and equip them well to identify and tackle such cyber threats.
Thus, we see that phishing, a common form of cyberattack since the early 1990s that started with bulk emails with intriguing subjects like “Free Giveaways,” “Fraud Alert,” etc. has come a long way. The messages have managed to become sophisticated and look more believable.
The advanced form, ‘Spear-phishing’ came into the limelight in the year 2011, and has seen an exponential rise in less than a decade. It has an incredibly scary success rate and is a more significant threat. It is therefore imperative that individuals, businesses, and government bodies take sufficient steps not to fall prey to this advanced mode of cyberattack.
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