Phishing is a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.
The information is then used to access important accounts and can result in identity theft and financial loss.
Common Features of Phishing Emails
- Too Good To Be True - Lucrative offers and eye-catching or attention-grabbing statements are designed to attract people’s attention immediately. For instance, many claim that you have won an iPhone, a lottery, or some other lavish prize. Just don't click on any suspicious emails. Remember that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is!
- Sense of Urgency - A favorite tactic amongst cybercriminals is to ask you to act fast because the super deals are only for a limited time. Some of them will even tell you that you have only a few minutes to respond. When you come across these kinds of emails, it's best to just ignore them. Sometimes, they will tell you that your account will be suspended unless you update your personal details immediately. Most reliable organizations give ample time before they terminate an account and they never ask patrons to update personal details over the Internet. When in doubt, visit the source directly rather than clicking a link in an email.
- Hyperlinks - A link may not be all it appears to be. Hovering over a link shows you the actual URL where you will be directed upon clicking on it. It could be completely different or it could be a popular website with a misspelling, for instance www.bankofarnerica.com - the 'm' is actually an 'r' and an 'n', so look carefully.
- Attachments - If you see an attachment in an email you weren't expecting or that doesn't make sense, don't open it! They often contain payloads like ransomware or other viruses. The only file type that is always safe to click on is a .txt file.
- Unusual Sender - Whether it looks like it's from someone you don't know or someone you do know, if anything seems out of the ordinary, unexpected, out of character or just suspicious in general don't click on it!
There are a number of different techniques used to obtain personal information from users. As technology becomes more advanced, the cybercriminals' techniques being used are also more advanced.
To prevent Internet phishing, users should have knowledge of how the bad guys do this and they should also be aware of anti-phishing techniques to protect themselves from becoming victims.
While traditional phishing uses a 'spray and pray' approach, meaning mass emails are sent to as many people as possible, spear phishing is a much more targeted attack in which the hacker knows which specific individual or organization they are after. They do research on the target in order to make the attack more personalized and increase the likelihood of the target falling into their trap.
Using the most common phishing technique, the same email is sent to millions of users with a request to fill in personal details. These details will be used by the phishers for their illegal activities. Most of the messages have an urgent note which requires the user to enter credentials to update account information, change details, or verify accounts. Sometimes, they may be asked to fill out a form to access a new service through a link which is provided in the email.
Web Based Delivery
Web based delivery is one of the most sophisticated phishing techniques. Also known as “man-in-the-middle,” the hacker is located in between the original website and the phishing system. The phisher traces details during a transaction between the legitimate website and the user. As the user continues to pass information, it is gathered by the phishers, without the user knowing about it.
Link manipulation is the technique in which the phisher sends a link to a malicious website. When the user clicks on the deceptive link, it opens up the phisher’s website instead of the website mentioned in the link. Hovering the mouse over the link to view the actual address stops users from falling for link manipulation.
Keyloggers refer to the malware used to identify inputs from the keyboard. The information is sent to the hackers who will decipher passwords and other types of information. To prevent key loggers from accessing personal information, secure websites provide options to use mouse clicks to make entries through the virtual keyboard.
A Trojan horse is a type of malware designed to mislead the user with an action that looks legitimate, but actually allows unauthorized access to the user account to collect credentials through the local machine. The acquired information is then transmitted to cybercriminals.
Malvertising is malicious advertising that contains active scripts designed to download malware or force unwanted content onto your computer. Exploits in Adobe PDF and Flash are the most common methods used in malvertisements.
In session hijacking, the phisher exploits the web session control mechanism to steal information from the user. In a simple session hacking procedure known as session sniffing, the phisher can use a sniffer to intercept relevant information so that he or she can access the Web server illegally.
Content injection is the technique where the phisher changes a part of the content on the page of a reliable website. This is done to mislead the user to go to a page outside the legitimate website where the user is then asked to enter personal information.
Phishing through Search Engines
Some phishing scams involve search engines where the user is directed to products sites which may offer low cost products or services. When the user tries to buy the product by entering the credit card details, it’s collected by the phishing site. There are many fake bank websites offering credit cards or loans to users at a low rate but they are actually phishing sites.
Smishing (SMS Phishing)
Phishing conducted via Short Message Service (SMS), a telephone-based text messaging service. A smishing text, for example, attempts to entice a victim into revealing personal information via a link that leads to a phishing website.
Prevent Phishing Attacks
Though hackers are constantly coming up with new techniques, there are some things that you can do to protect yourself and your organization:
- To protect against spam mails, spam filters can be used. Generally, the filters assess the origin of the message, the software used to send the message, and the appearance of the message to determine if it’s spam. Occasionally, spam filters may even block emails from legitimate sources, so it isn’t always 100% accurate.
- The browser settings should be changed to prevent fraudulent websites from opening. Browsers keep a list of fake websites and when you try to access the website, the address is blocked or an alert message is shown. The settings of the browser should only allow reliable websites to open up.
- Many websites require users to enter login information while the user image is displayed. This type of system may be open to security attacks. One way to ensure security is to change passwords on a regular basis, and never use the same password for multiple accounts. It’s also a good idea for websites to use a CAPTCHA system for added security.
- Banks and financial organizations use monitoring systems to prevent phishing. Individuals can report phishing to industry groups where legal actions can be taken against these fraudulent websites. Organizations should provide security awareness training to employees to recognize the risks.
- Changes in browsing habits are required to prevent phishing. If verification is required, always contact the company personally before entering any details online.
- If there is a link in an email, hover over the URL first. Secure websites with a valid Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate begin with “https”. Eventually all sites will be required to have a valid SSL.
Generally, emails sent by a cybercriminals are masked so they appear to be sent by a business whose services are used by the recipient. A bank will not ask for personal information via email or suspend your account if you do not update your personal details within a certain period of time. Most banks and financial institutions also usually provide an account number or other personal details within the email, which ensures it’s coming from a reliable source.
10 Ways To Avoid Phishing Scams
Nobody wants to fall prey to a phishing scam. There’s a good reason that such scams will continue, though: They are successful enough for cybercriminals to make massive profits. Phishing scams have been around practically since the inception of the Internet, and they will not go away any time soon. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid becoming a victim yourself. Here are 10 basic guidelines in keeping yourself safe:
- Keep Informed About Phishing Techniques – New phishing scams are being developed all the time. Without staying on top of these new phishing techniques, you could inadvertently fall prey to one. Keep your eyes peeled for news about new phishing scams. By finding out about them as early as possible, you will be at much lower risk of getting snared by one. For IT administrators, ongoing security awareness training and simulated phishing for all users is highly recommended in keeping security top of mind throughout the organization.
- Think Before You Click! – It’s fine to click on links when you’re on trusted sites. Clicking on links that appear in random emails and instant messages, however, isn’t such a smart move. Hover over links that you are unsure of before clicking on them. Do they lead where they are supposed to lead? A phishing email may claim to be from a legitimate company and when you click the link to the website, it may look exactly like the real website. The email may ask you to fill in the information but the email may not contain your name. Most phishing emails will start with “Dear Customer” so you should be alert when you come across these emails. When in doubt, go directly to the source rather than clicking a potentially dangerous link.
- Install an Anti-Phishing Toolbar – Most popular Internet browsers can be customized with anti-phishing toolbars. Such toolbars run quick checks on the sites that you are visiting and compare them to lists of known phishing sites. If you stumble upon a malicious site, the toolbar will alert you about it. This is just one more layer of protection against phishing scams, and it is completely free.
- Verify a Site’s Security – It’s natural to be a little wary about supplying sensitive financial information online. As long as you are on a secure website, however, you shouldn’t run into any trouble. Before submitting any information, make sure the site’s URL begins with “https” and there should be a closed lock icon near the address bar. Check for the site’s security certificate as well. If you get a message stating a certain website may contain malicious files, do not open the website. Never download files from suspicious emails or websites. Even search engines may show certain links which may lead users to a phishing webpage which offers low cost products. If the user makes purchases at such a website, the credit card details will be accessed by cybercriminals.
- Check Your Online Accounts Regularly – If you don’t visit an online account for a while, someone could be having a field day with it. Even if you don’t technically need to, check in with each of your online accounts on a regular basis. Get into the habit of changing your passwords regularly too. To prevent bank phishing and credit card phishing scams, you should personally check your statements regularly. Get monthly statements for your financial accounts and check each and every entry carefully to ensure no fraudulent transactions have been made without your knowledge.
- Keep Your Browser Up to Date – Security patches are released for popular browsers all the time. They are released in response to the security loopholes that phishers and other hackers inevitably discover and exploit. If you typically ignore messages about updating your browsers, stop. The minute an update is available, download and install it.
- Use Firewalls – High-quality firewalls act as buffers between you, your computer and outside intruders. You should use two different kinds: a desktop firewall and a network firewall. The first option is a type of software, and the second option is a type of hardware. When used together, they drastically reduce the odds of hackers and phishers infiltrating your computer or your network.
- Be Wary of Pop-Ups – Pop-up windows often masquerade as legitimate components of a website. All too often, though, they are phishing attempts. Many popular browsers allow you to block pop-ups; you can allow them on a case-by-case basis. If one manages to slip through the cracks, don’t click on the “cancel” button; such buttons often lead to phishing sites. Instead, click the small “x” in the upper corner of the window.
- Never Give Out Personal Information – As a general rule, you should never share personal or financially sensitive information over the Internet. This rule spans all the way back to the days of America Online, when users had to be warned constantly due to the success of early phishing scams. When in doubt, go visit the main website of the company in question, get their number and give them a call. Most of the phishing emails will direct you to pages where entries for financial or personal information are required. An Internet user should never make confidential entries through the links provided in the emails. Never send an email with sensitive information to anyone. Make it a habit to check the address of the website. A secure website always starts with “https”.
- Use Antivirus Software – There are plenty of reasons to use antivirus software. Special signatures that are included with antivirus software guard against known technology workarounds and loopholes. Just be sure to keep your software up to date. New definitions are added all the time because new scams are also being dreamed up all the time. Anti-spyware and firewall settings should be used to prevent phishing attacks and users should update the programs regularly. Firewall protection prevents access to malicious files by blocking the attacks. Antivirus software scans every file which comes through the Internet to your computer. It helps to prevent damage to your system.
You don’t have to live in fear of phishing scams. By keeping the preceding tips in mind, you should be able to enjoy a worry-free online experience.