what is phishing

Phishing: Definition, Prevention, and Real-Life Examples

Phishing is one of the cyberattacks that’s commonly used by hackers who want to steal a user’s identity and access their confidential financial information.

According to Statista, even 22.46% of banks were targeted by phishing in 2022, together with other organizations that include global Internet portals, social networks, online stores, payment systems, online games, telecommunication companies, and more.

Phishing attacks are often executed through emails and instant messages and can be fatal for both home and business users. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to recognize a phishing scam and what to do when you receive one.

This post will provide you with a phishing definition, examples, and tricks that will help you recognize a link that might lead to the attacker’s website.

What is Phishing?

The word ‘phishing’ is a neologism, which is created as a homophone of ‘fishing.Although these two words shouldn’t be confused with each other, they still have something in common.

While fishing refers to the attempts to catch fish using food as bait, phishing meaning explains the action of using email to trick people into entering malicious links and leaving confidential information to hackers.

The primary goal of a phishing attack is to deceive users by using techniques that seem legitimate at first glance. That said, users are often tricked by emails and links that look as if they were coming from a trusted source, such as a bank, a social web site, or a federal agency.

How Does Phishing Work?

Most phishing attacks use email as a tool to approach the victims and steal their data. A phishing email often seems right, which is why most users trust the content written there.

Such emails contain a link or an attachment that leads to a fraudulent webpage, which requires the user to leave their financial or other confidential information. By the time users realize what happened, the attackers have already taken the money, Social Security Number, and other vital information.

What are the Most Common Types of Phishing Scams?

Attackers have developed a variety of phishing attacks that are targeted at different groups. Therefore, we can distinguish among the following forms of this cyber threat:

1.      Spear Phishing

One of the most popular types of phishing is spear phishing, which is targeted at a particular organization, business, or individual that has privileged access to a company’s confidential data.

To implement this attack, hackers need to use smart techniques and custom-tailored approaches that would allow them to enter a wanted system successfully. To do that, they will get to know you better by digging into your social media accounts or tracking your online activities.

By clicking on the link included in such an email, you may be putting your entire company at risk. Therefore, never download attachments that come from untrusted sources and never leave confidential information to someone who’s asking you for them via email.

2.      Whaling

Like spear phishing, whaling is targeted at specific company members, especially senior executives.

Since CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and other senior management positions are not likely to click a fraudulent link that comes from an untrusted source, hackers need to think about the strategy that will help them approach the whales of the company.

Therefore, they may install a spoofing tool to monitor their calendars, conversations with employees or CFOs, etc., looking for a way to trick them into leaving their credentials to attackers.

By spying on the activity of a company’s CEO, attackers can learn how they write their emails, how they call their CFOs, and other details that can help the compose an email that might not seem suspicious at all.

3.      Clone Phishing

Clone phishing uses an actual email that might have been intercepted as a part of the legitimate correspondence between two parties to trick the recipient into opening the links and attachments that had already been replaced with those that lead to the attacker’s site.

The recipient will get an email that seems to be a re-send of the original or an updated version to the original. Therefore, most of those emails will come with the mark RE:.

4.      Link Manipulation

Link manipulation is one of the most common ways of misleading users into leaving their confidential data to untrusted sources.

Phishers often use the names of popular organizations such as PayPal, Amazon, Apple, and others to make you think that you’ve received a legitimate email. Even if nothing seems suspicious, you need to take a closer look; namely, a URL provided by hackers is often misspelled and contains characters URLs of legitimate companies’ websites don’t.

Therefore, make sure you don’t trust the links such as pyapal.com, amazon.example123.com, etc.

phishing attack

5.      Website Forgery

Website forgery consists of the attacker’s attempt to build a website that is entirely independent or represents a replica of a legitimate website, whose goal is to deceive users and encourage them to leave the information hackers can later use to launch other attacks to victims.

Phishers can conduct website forgery by using JavaScript commands to modify the address bar of the site they lead to or take advantage of the flaws found in a trusted website’s script.

6.      Vishing and Smishing

Vishing and smishing refer to cyberattacks that are implemented through phone calls, voicemails, and SMS.

Vishing, VoIP phishing, or voice phishing is perceived as a form of criminal phone fraud where victims are tricked into revealing their financial information. Attackers will call or leave voice messages saying that they are from reputable companies that need your credit card information in order to give you a monetary reward.

Smishing or SMS phishing is a criminal activity that’s implemented through short message services (SMS). Smishing aims to gather a victim’s personal information by tricking them into downloading malware that seems legitimate.

7.      Search Engine Phishing

Fake websites are present even on legitimate search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. In most cases, you’ll be notified that a site you’re entering is dangerous, but sometimes you won’t realize it.

Phishing scams that appear on search engines often come in the form of free/discount offers, job offers, or emergencies. The best way to prevent such attacks is to stay away from the sites that offer a free download of unlicensed software or free streaming of TV shows obtained illegally.

How to Recognize a Phishing Attack?

Despite the attacker’s attempt to create an authentic email, some signs can help you recognize the scam.

1.      No Legitimate Company will Request Sensitive Data Through an Email

Since most phishing emails allegedly come from reputable banks, agencies, or non-profit organizations, you should know that neither of them should ask for your passwords, credit card details, or tax numbers using email or phone as a communication channel.

Besides, trustworthy companies will never include a link from which you need to log in.

2.      ‘Dear Account Holder’ is Not the Way to Start an Email

Every reputable company cares about its clients, which is why it will always call them by their name. Since hackers don’t care whose money they are going to steal, they will just say ‘Dear customer, ‘Dear account holder, or ‘Dear valued member’ instead of making sure your name is included in the salutation.

So, although the email you have received seems OK, the lack of direct addressing should make you rethink your decision about entering the link they’ve attached.

3.      Domains Reveal True Identity

Even if the name of a sender looks fine, double-check the sender’s identity by verifying the email address from which they’ve sent you a message.

Trustworthy companies often use unique domains, with no numbers or random characters included. That said, there’s a notable difference between danielle@paypal.com and danielle@paypal0002rtm.com, where the second address looks shady.

Still, note that some companies use unique domains to send emails, and some smaller organizations often utilize third-party email providers. In that case, check the logo included in the email, because it can also be a sign that something is wrong.

4.      Reputable Companies Don’t Misspell the Words

Bad grammar is the sign that something might be wrong with the email you have received. Namely, no legitimate company will never allow grammatical errors in their emails, which is why improper syntax implies shady actions.

However, hackers rely on the fact that their target won’t notice any inconvenience, which is why their targets are often the uneducated, who are considered less observant.

phishing email

5.      No Legit Company Will Create an Email That is in the form of Hyperlink

Most phishing emails come in the form of a hyperlink, which leads to a hacker’s website anytime you click on it, deliberately or accidentally.

In most cases, such hyperlinks download malware on your device and initiate achieving their primary goal, which is stealing your data.

6.      Companies Rarely Send Unsolicited Attachments

Unsolicited attachments that come from reputable companies are not that common unless it’s about a white paper or information that requires a download.

Dangerous attachments often come in .exe, .scr, or .zip format, executing malware on your system once you open them. Besides, such attachments may contain links that lead to fraudulent webpages that will ask for your information.

7.      Trustworthy Organization Links Match Proven URLs

It’s critical to double-check the URLs included in the email you’ve got. If they don’t match with links displayed as the mouse hovers the link, it means that you’ll probably be taken to a site you don’t want to visit.

Now, let’s see the most common phishing examples hackers choose to draw your attention:

  • Account problems: Phishing scams you often get from “Amazon,” “Apple,” “Netflix, or any other service will tell you that there has been noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts on your account. Make sure you contact the company directly if you’re not sure about the email’s trustworthiness.
  • Payment information: Most fake emails will ask you to provide billing information in order to extend your subscription or keep your account.
  • Fake invoices: You may notice that a sender included the attachment that consists of an invoice or another document that requires your attention. You should know that such attachments are fake.
  • Payment links: Emails you receive often include links that you need to follow in order to make a payment that goes to the hacker’s hands.
  • Government refund or grants: Hackers know that people fall for money, which is the thing they use as leverage to trick users into leaving their personal data for “receiving the refund.”
  • Charity and donations: Phishers are often trying to trigger our emotions by sending emails asking for donations for people who need medicines, food, or other resources.
  • Freebies: You may be offered free coupons or vouchers you can use for different purposes. To get them, you will need to provide personal and billing information.

Have a look at the phishing example that includes Netflix:

how to prevent phishing
phishing examples

Although these two emails seem particularly the same, some signs imply the falseness in the first example.

If we take a closer look, we will see that the logo letters in the phishing email look thinner than those in the original one. Also, we can see that phishers start their message without saying the user’s name, which is a commonly used pattern in phishing emails.

Besides, you can feel the tone of the message in the first and the second email. Phishers are not interested in being polite, which is why they won’t wish you to enjoy great TV shows and movies on the platform but require to update your payment as soon as possible.

Therefore, be careful whenever you receive such emails – contact the company when you want to check whether everything is fine.

How to Prevent Phishing?

Despite the hackers’ inexhaustible source of malicious ideas, you can prevent phishing from even entering your inbox. Therefore, consider the following tips that will help you do it:

  • Ask your IT department to perform security awareness training from time to time: It’s essential to keep informed about all the newest phishing tricks since you and your employees can quickly become the victims.
  • Don’t click suspicious links: When the email you have just received doesn’t seem right, don’t open any links and files you find attached there, but contact the company from which the email allegedly came.
  • Install anti-phishing toolbar: By installing an anti-phishing toolbar on your browser, you’ll get a notification when you enter the fraudulent website.
  • Avoid HTTP sites: It’s recommended not to leave confidential data on websites that don’t have Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate installed. The lack of SSL means the absence of encryption, which can open the door not only to phishing but other cyber threats, as well.
  • Never share personal information: Don’t share your personal information with untrusted entities, especially when such action is required by an email.
  • Install antivirus software: A proper antivirus program will detect and prevent any phishing attempt, making sure you’re provided with up-to-date protection.
  • Install anti-spam tools: Anti-spam tools will inspect your inbox and block any email that seems like a scam. That way, you’ll be protected from potential inconveniences.

Verdict: How Can You Prevent Phishing and Stay Protected Online?

Cybercrime has affected many companies so far, making sure they suffer both financial and integrity loss. Therefore, it’s critical to keep informed about the most advanced threats that strike online and learn how to protect from their impact.

So, the best way to protect from phishing is to be careful and not to trust the senders who are trying to trick you into leaving your confidential data by promising unbelievably good deals, no matter whether you’re trying to protect your personal or business interests.

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