What Exactly is a Phishing Email?

Phishing is one of the most common security threats on the web today. Hackers and scammers use various types of phishing schemes to steal login credentials like a username and password to access bank accounts, credit card numbers, and even Social Security numbers in an attempt at identity theft. With phishing attacks increasingly common and diverse, it is important for companies to better understand the phishing tactics employed by an attacker to capture legitimate user information so data security is improved.

What are Phishing Emails?

Phishing is a form of cyber attack that uses email as the weapon of choice to scam a user out of legitimate information such as usernames and passwords or a Social Security number. A phishing email is disguised as an official email that cyber criminals use to target individuals and businesses. The goal of a phishing email is to get the user to click a link and redirect the reader to malicious websites or download malicious software. The goal of the attacker and the email phishing scheme is to create a fake email that directs a user to a company’s website that looks legitimate.

Can You Spot a Phishing Email?

While scammers have taken great strides to make unsolicited emails look legitimate, security awareness is vital for the user to ensure that individuals and companies prevent phishing attacks. While low-end phishing techniques employ fake emails that are easy to spot, there are malicious threats out there from scammers that look legitimate visually. A phishing email is designed to look authentic and will even use the logos and mottos of a legitimate company in order to appear authentic to the reader. Here are some clues you should keep in mind that will help you identify phishing attacks. The following issues are indicative of a potential phishing email attack:

  • The email is not addressed directly to the reader, but rather employs a casual greeting such as “Dear Client” or “Dear Customer.”
  • Grammatical errors in the content suggest that the phishing attacks could come from overseas and the content was written by scammers whose first language is not the one in use in the email content.
  • Scammers often include links for users to click on that are designed to reassure the reader that the email is in fact from a legitimate source. This is done to build confidence in the reader, but actually redirects the user to phishing websites designed to steal identity or even initiate a download of anti-virus software.
  • Hover over any link within the phishing email and the true name of the website from which the email originated is exposed. If the immediate web address doesn’t identify the brand and its name only appears after a “/” in the URL, it is likely a scam.

How do You Protect Against Phishing Attacks?

If you have noticed a phishing email in your inbox, you can always mark the email as spam. However, spam filters are not always perfect in preventing various types of phishing attacks. Preventing phishing attacks is possible by taking a number of different steps. For starters, vigilance on behalf of the user is critical. Follow the clues above when trying to determine if an email is a phishing email. Beyond that, a critical first step to prevent phishing attacks is the implementation of two-factor authentication. This can protect user information from a malicious scam attempt by ensuring that a user must have two things to ensure legitimate login, such as password and username and the smartphone linked to the account.

Other steps that businesses can take to prevent phishing attacks include password management policies and educational campaigns. Examples of password management policies include requiring users to frequently change passwords and use different passwords for varying accounts. Educational campaigns can help users enforce security practices by increase awareness of threats. For example, telling users not to click on any external links in a phishing email can prevent malware and other malicious threats.

Don’t be the Phish – Upgrade Your Security

Why is this Successful for Scammers?

Phishing email scams are successful for two reasons. First, the email phishing scam makes every attempt to appear legitimate. Second, it seeks to stoke fear in the reader by ensuring them that threats exist to their bank account, Social Security number, or other information vital to personal and business security.

What are the Dangers of Phishing Attacks?

Phishing attacks are dangerous for individuals because ransomware attacks and other malicious threats seek to take advantage of user information. Phishing email attacks attempt to steal credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, login credentials, and other sensitive data that exposes security measures. For individuals, this could result in unwelcome charges on credit cards or new lines of credit opened in the user’s name when Social Security numbers are stolen. Login credentials can expose bank accounts to scammers and even result in severe security breaches in a company that could result in losses totaling into the millions of dollars.

What’s the Cost of Phishing Attacks?

The cost of phishing attacks depends on the type of phishing email scam sent. Some scammers are looking to steal credit card numbers to make fraudulent charges up to a user’s maximum credit limit. Scams that seek to expose bank account information can cost thousands or hundreds of thousands as a user’s account is completely drained or even over-drafted. The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center found that American consumers lost a total of $30 million as a result of phishing schemes in one year alone. The costs can be truly devastating to both individuals and companies.

How does Phishing Affect Your Business?

Phishing attacks can affect your business in a number of ways. First and foremost, when security breaches occur within your business network it diminishes public trust in your brand. Additionally, if your brand suffers a data security breach it could expose the business to lawsuits. Those lawsuits could result in millions of dollars in damages due to consumers.

What do You Think is the Best Defense Against Phishing Attacks?

There are multiple defenses available against phishing email attacks. As alluded to earlier, educating the weakest links in an enterprise is the best way to combat malicious threats from phishing scams. It is important to educate CEOs as well. From 2014 to 2016, phishing schemes targeting CEOs impacted 12,000 companies and cost those businesses upwards of $2 billion. Beyond activating multi-factor identification, companies should deploy multiple layers of defense against phishing attacks. This is often best left to security solutions such as CompleteCloud, which will be highlighted in-depth momentarily.

What Types of Phishing Scams are There?

Phishing email scams can take a variety of forms, but most have the same goal of either tricking the user into handing over sensitive information or getting the user to click a malicious URL and download malware content. Examples of different types of phishing email include attacks that take on these forms:

  • Deceptive phishing: the most common type of scam is employed by cyber criminals impersonating legitimate companies to steal sensitive information from users or businesses.
  • Spear phishing: a spear phishing scam is also very common, but employs a greater level of personalization in the content. The goal remains the same: lure the recipient into clicking on a malicious URL or content package.
  • Whale phishing: a potentially devastating phishing email, this type of scam targets CEOs and executives to steal their more valuable login credentials that could bring a company to its knees.

What are Examples of Phishing?

There are many common examples of specific types of phishing attacks. Among the favorite targets of phishing scammers in 2019, businesses in the financial industry dominate the Top 25. For example, PayPal, Bank of America, WellsFargo, and Chase make the list. In this type of phishing attack, scammers send emails to users informing them that their bank account has been compromised or multiple attempts have been made to sign in to the user account. The individual is encouraged to click a link in the email to reset usernames and passwords. In the process, the user is walking right into the trap set by the scammer to steal login credentials.

Another common type of phishing email seeks to get a user to download malware or other malicious content. The fake email contains a link or data package that a user is convinced to click on or download. As a result, the scammer can take control of the user’s computer through the malware or ransomware. Ransomware attacks lock users out of a computer until financial information is provided or payments are made.

How Common is Phishing Today?

In 2016, there were 6.3 million phishing emails sent out in the first quarter of the year alone. That was a 789% increase over the final quarter of 2015. Within those numbers, 93% of phishing emails contained encryption ransomware. Those figures were up 56% from December 2015. As long as scams are working, hackers will continue to launch phishing attacks.

Avatara CompleteCloud can serve as your business’ first line of defense against phishing emails. Avatara has found that 35% of employees fail when faced with a simulated phishing attack. CompleteCloud offers security awareness training to help educate employees within a company to boost overall defense. With Avatara’s Security Operation Center, comprehensive detection procedures are in place to analyze ongoing activity on the network and identify hidden security risks.

Our CompleteCloud solution also offers multi-factor authentication systems and cyber security measures to protect the business. The most potent form of security in CompleteCloud is its encrypted email system. Email remains user-friendly in this platform and comes with optimal security that protects the company’s network and users from external threats such as phishing email.

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