What is Phishing: The Signs You Need to Look For

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What is a phishing email? Phishing is a type of malware that infects a device through emails that appeal to users who mindlessly click on infected links that an email contains, thinking it comes from a legitimate source.

It is one of the most common forms of cyber attack, because not only is it one of the easiest cyber attacks for criminals, but it is also one of the easiest types of malware to fall for.

To protect yourself from future cybersecurity breaches, it’s important to be well aware of what phishing is and the signs you need to look for in order to prevent falling victim to this pesky type of malware. 

The Perfect Attack: What is a Phishing email? 

A phishing email is one that appears to be sent from a legitimate source and has content that will more than likely be appealing to you, such as a department store newsletter with sales or what may appear to be a personal email. 

The goal of a phishing email is to encourage you to click on a link within the content of the email, that will install malware such as a trojan virus, ransomware or other types of viruses. As you are not made aware that you have installed something after clicking on a link, you could go on for days, weeks or months not knowing that you have fallen victim to a phishing scam. 

Identifying The Threat: What is a Phishing Scam?

It can be difficult to identify if an email is indeed a phishing email unless you pay close attention to the details of the content within an email. However, there are some signs and clues that will allow you to differentiate between an email that was sent to you from a legitimate source or a phishing scam. 

  • Spelling mistakes
    This is the time when you’ll be glad you paid attention in your English class in high school, as spelling mistakes are the easiest ways of identifying if an email comes from a legitimate source or not. Phishing emails often come disguised as emails from large companies such as Netflix, YouTube or Amazon. 

These companies have large teams of marketing and PR experts that would never let a spelling mistake go by unnoticed in any marketing material. Therefore, if you spot a spelling mistake, it is likely that you are looking at a phishing email.

  • Email includes an invoice for something you never ordered
    Cyber criminals are highly intelligent individuals who know exactly how to use human behavior in their favour. In order to cause a quick reaction from you, cyber criminals often use this tactic to get you to click on a link, as you chose to click to see what you have been ‘billed’ for. 

The phishing scam happens right then and there, when you act quickly without taking a moment to inspect the email to see if you had received an email as a result of a legitimate purchase or if it was just bait to get you to fall for the phishing scam.

  • You are being asked to update payment details
    If you receive an email asking you to update your payment details when you know you haven’t changed your credit or debit card, or made any changes to your forms of payment, you should be on alert and realize you could potentially fall victim to a phishing attack if you don’t stop to inspect the email before clicking on any link.

    If you happen to receive this type of email, instead of clicking on the links found on the email, go directly to the profile of the company that is asking you to update your payments. If all seems to be okay in your settings and you are not notified of a failure of payment, then you have received a phishing email.
  • The email may appear to be personal, but it is addressed with a generic greeting
    Most of the time people open emails that appear to be in a letter format, where you are contacted from an individual you may know or who may have sent you an email by mistake. If the email opens with a generic statement such as “Hello, dear” or “Hi” then you know the author is up to no good. 

Furthermore, it is possible they are asking you to click on a link to email them back or to ‘check out some pictures.’ As humans are curious by nature, clicking on a stranger’s link to see their personal pictures will almost always get a person to bite the line and fall victim for the phishing scam.  

Once you have picked up on one or more of the signs mentioned above, you can check if your suspicions are right by checking out a few of the following details:

  1. Look for a phone number on the email
    If there is a phone number on the email, go to your preferred search engine and check to see if the phone number matches the one that shows up on the business’ official website. If it doesn’t match, it is definitely a scam. 
  2. Pay attention to the header and footer of the email
    If the email came in as a newsletter, pay attention to the header and footer, this is because legitimate companies and organisations will almost always include their contact details on the footer or at the end of the email. If this information is absent, you should be wary of the content of the email. 

What is a Phishing Attack? And How to Avoid It

A phishing attack happens once you have already clicked on a link within the phishing email. It’s important that the moment you suspect an email could be a phishing email, that you avoid clicking on anything, not just visible links within the email. 

The attack can vary from having the cyber criminal ask you for ransom in exchange of not leaking your personal files, deleting your device’s files or selling your private personal details on the dark web.

A cyber criminal can also carry out a phishing attack by gaining control of your device and manipulating it to turn the webcam on or off as it pleases, slow down, freeze, turn on and off as they may desire or simply making sure your device is ruined. 

To avoid falling victim to a cyber attack you can follow a few simple tricks that will help you steer clear of a phishing scam. 

  • Do not click on anything until you are sure the source is legitimate
    It’s so easy to integrate invisible hyperlinks into the content of an email, that just by clicking randomly on the screen within the email, you could be taken to a malicious site that will install malware. So, unless you are certain your email comes from a legitimate source, avoid clicking on anything within the content of an email until you are sure you have not received a phishing email. 
  • Protect your personal accounts by implementing multiple-factor authentication
    Even if you have already fallen victim to a phishing attack, you can protect getting the rest of your accounts from getting hacked into them by setting up multi-factor authentication. Although it can be annoying, it could be the difference between having your personal information accessed by a cyber criminal, or not. 
  • Secure and backup your data constantly
    When it comes to ransomware, one of the biggest things that makes a victim want to pay a ransom is to recover files that a cyber criminal may have accessed or threatened to delete from your system. If you suffer from ransomware as a result of a phishing attack, you will notice that your files will be deleted from your system. A cyber criminal will use this to make a victim panic and pay for the ransom in order to regain access to their files. However, by backing up your data, it is less likely to fall for the phishing scam. 
  • Ensure your devices are updated frequently 
    It is quite often that people underestimate the power of frequent updates on all types of devices. Although you may not notice a difference in your system, updates have a lot of cybersecurity features that help to block new security threats, including those that come as a result of phishing emails. 

The Future of Phishing 

Unfortunately, even though cybersecurity experts are well aware of this type of malware, and antivirus security agencies continue to fight and take down cyber criminals who are culpable of phishing attacks, phishing does not seem to falter or have plans of slowing down. 

The easy nature of the crime and the ease to fall for it make phishing scams one of the most pronounced threats in the cybersecurity world and will continue to be so until there is a way to filter suspicious emails.

However, this could be a long ways away, so it’s best to be informed and aware of the possible phishing email threats you could face. 

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