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How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams?

Everyone is susceptible to a phishing scam – from leading businesses and SMEs to start-ups and even individual professionals. Typically, phishing attacks are target-oriented, well-crafted, and often target companies of all sizes. However, you can spot them by paying close attention and looking for signs to distinguish genuine emails from fake ones.   

What is a Phishing Scam?  

The word phishing is generally used to indicate the attacks launched using emails and malicious links (or an attachment) in the email body to trick the victim into handing over their confidential information, such as their login details and financial data, like credit card info.    

In a nutshell, a phishing attack is a cybercrime where scammers try to prompt email users to give away their sensitive information or data by accident. These emails masquerade themselves as reliable source and pretend to be coming from a well-known brand or a company you trust. Hence, their sender address may look like they are from a prominent bank, a trusted credit card company, or a social networking site that wishes the best for you. They will create a sense of urgency in the email and pretend to be your well-wisher to prompt you into sharing your sensitive details.   

How Do Phishing Scams Enter Your Email Environment?  

Phishing scams can enter your email environment with a variety of malevolent practices. Some phishing emails will request you to click on a URL to supposedly prevent your credit card from getting blocked. However, when you click on the link and fill in your sensitive details on the fraudulent website asking for your personal financial information, you only lose access to your credit card and other critical accounts that use the same credentials. Other than this, attackers can use many types of emails to break into your network and steal your credentials.  

Note that the Phishers (cybercriminals who practice phishing attacks) use multiple platforms, not just emails. However, using different platforms also changes the type of phishing attack. For example, if scammers use SMS to steal your sensitive information, it’s called Smishing instead of phishing. If the attackers try to gain your info via a voice call or recorded voice message, it’s called Vishing. Some scammers target high-profile business people and high-ranking executives to access their sensitive business data; this type of phishing is called Whaling. 

Let us learn different ways (types of emails) that phishing scammers use to execute an exploit. Later we will discuss methods of how you can successfully avoid phishing scams.  

How to Identify Phishing Emails?  

Listed are the seven ways with which you can spot a possible phishing attack and protect your email environment from any harm:    

1. Suspicious Sender’s Name  

Checking the sender’s name for any spelling alteration or suspiciousness is critical because email addresses and domain name spoofing is an easy task for attackers. Hence, it’s vital to double-check even if you find the email seems legit or if it appears to be sent by a renowned sender.   

2. Are There Typos?  

Unlike authentic, reputed brands, most scammers don’t care about being grammatically correct. Thus, typos and spelling errors are often evident in phishing emails. It makes it easy for email users to recognize phishing attacks by checking for visible typos.   

3. Requesting Sensitive Information  

Any legit company, such as a bank or a credit card company, will never ask for your personal/ sensitive details over an email. Hence, an email asking for your sensitive information or login credentials can be categorized as suspicious, and you can block them. Emails that ask to share your personal information or to make cash transactions are fishy. 

If you still think the email could be genuine, directly call your service provider (the mentioned sender) before clicking on any link or downloading any attachment to ascertain the email is genuine.   

4. Emails labeled as “URGENT.”    

Phishing scams generate fear of missing out by using “urgent” in their subject lines as a tactic. They pretend to be an authority and create a sense of urgency to trick victims into acting immediately. Note that every message labeled as “urgent” is not necessarily legit. Hence, do your due diligence and share information only after ensuring the sender’s authenticity.   

5. Have Suspicious Links  

Any email asking you to click on an unknown link can be malevolent. Such emails can be malicious phishing scams. To ensure if they are phishing attacks or not, users can hover on the link but don’t click open it. Hovering over the URLs to see if the alt text matches the display text. If the link seems off or unknown, Do Not click on it, and delete the email immediately.  

6. Attachments Can be Malicious Too  

Do you get unexpected emails with unknown attachments? It possibly can be a phishing attack attempt to lure you into opening the attachment. Avoid opening every attachment you receive in an email, especially if it seems suspicious until the email is from a legit brand or credited people from within your organization.   

Like with links, you should first hover over attachments to check for an actual link before you click on it or download it. If there is no authentic link or you are still unsure of the sender, avoid clicking it open.  

7. An Offer That’s Too Good to Be True   

If the message in the email sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many phishing scams use fake rewards and offer to tempt users to take action (such as opening a malicious link, downloading an infected file, or giving away sensitive information). So, it is probably a phishing scam if you have never enrolled somewhere for a reward or lottery.  

How to Prevent Phishing Attacks?  

After realizing that an email can be a phishing scam – what’s next? What should you do if you fall prey to a phishing attack, or how to avoid phishing scams altogether? Just bring the listed steps into practice and stay protected from sophisticated phishing scams. The last point is probably the most important because it offloads your IT team from an overwhelming workload.   

#1 Update Your Devices Often   

End-user devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets, and their applications are more vulnerable to phishing attacks when they are not updated. Typically, email attacks aim to gain administrative access to your accounts and systems. Thus, keeping your devices and accounts up-to-date will ensure they are cyber-ready. Also, update your Antivirus and firewalls from time to time.  

Updating critical software on your mobile phones will protect you from phishing attacks, including smishing attacks, spear phishing, Vishing, etc. You can also go to your phone’s settings and automatically select the necessary software you want to update. Regular updates will offer critical protection against phishing scams and other email threats.  

#2 Check Your Accounts Frequently  

Regularly checking your accounts for any unexpected or sudden change can be an indicator that you have a possible data breach. So, ensure you always stay on top of your accounts and know in which folder, email, or application you keep your data. It will make it easier to spot a phishing attack.  

#3 Get Help Immediately  

If you suspect that you have fallen prey to a phishing scam or your network’s security has been compromised, call out for help immediately. Inform the cyber security experts or your IT team to report phishing emails without delay.  

#4 Incorporate Two-Factor Authentication   

Multi-factor authentication gives attackers a hard time logging in to your accounts even if they have your username and password.   

It is like double checking your locked door, or rather putting multiple locks to a single door. It ensures better security and protects your accounts by using two verification steps. Since you need multiple layers of security for your critical accounts, you can add two or more credentials to log in to your account. The additional credentials can be something you already have, such as a passcode (OTP) or a security key. Or it can be something you are, such as your fingerprint, face, retina, etc.   

#5 Backup Today & Forever  

Proactively backing up your data can help protect it from accidentally getting lost or leaked. Most businesses back up their data but leave it connected to the network. If your backed-up data is connected to the network, it’s susceptible to a security breach. Once the hackers break into your network, they can also gain access to your backups. So, ensure you save your backups to a separate safe space like an external hard drive or cloud storage.   

#6 Always use Security Software, Or Better, a Security Service  

Protect your email environment by using security software. You can install Antivirus software and keep it updated from time to time to ensure safety against phishing attacks. However, Antivirus is a traditional solution and may fail to identify sophisticated phishing scams. Hence, for advanced security, businesses need a fully managed Email Security Service with advanced AI-based features, in-depth industry experience, and practical resources and services like Sandboxing, Spam filtering, Data Loss Prevention (DLP), spotting and blocking any malicious activity such as phishing spams.   

One such leading managed email security provider is Ace Cloud Hosting. With over a decade of experience in cyber security and 24x7x365 support, ACE offers top-notch email security against different email threats, including advanced phishing attacks. Book your FREE security consultation worth $500 with seasoned security experts to assess your company’s current security posture.   

 

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