Did you know that over 500 million phishing attacks were reported in 2022? The trend is set to continue and potentially rise in 2023 and beyond as the world ventures into a digital-first economy.
Whether you’re an individual or a business, you must arm yourself with the knowledge and solutions to recognize and dodge traps laid by cybercriminals in emails or messages to get access to your financial assets, online identity, and sensitive data.
In this article, you’ll learn how phishing attacks work, why cybercriminals use them, and ways to avoid getting hooked.
Table Of Contents
What Is the Simple Definition of Phishing?
Phishing is a popular fraudulent technique cybercriminals use to deceive individuals and businesses into disclosing sensitive information, including (but not limited to):
- Contact information;
- Banking account details
- Social media account credentials;
- Social security number, etc.
These criminals manipulate unsuspecting individuals by disguising themselves as people or entities they know and trust, such as:
- Family members;
- Work or school;
- Online accounts and services;
- Subscribed businesses, etc.
By getting the information they need, they can achieve their malicious objectives, which typically include:
- Financial gain;
- Identity theft, etc.
What Is an Example of Phishing?
Most phishing attacks and campaigns are designed to target and steal users’ banking and credit card information. Hence, cybercriminals pretend to be banks and credit unions to send account closure notifications, fake promotions, etc.
Suppose you check your inbox and receive a notification email from your bank informing you of a security concern with your account. The email might require you to respond immediately by clicking on a link to input and verify your credentials.
The link will take you to a site identical to our bank’s official login page. Once you enter your username and password, you will unknowingly handle your account details to cybercriminals.
With access to your banking details, they can carry out unauthorized transactions and steal your money. They can also use your identity and banking details to lure others into different traps without leaving any trace behind and getting you in even more serious trouble.
Is Phishing Attack a Crime?
Phishing is among the most dangerous social engineering attacks in the cybersecurity industry. Cybercriminals use this technique to deceive and defraud victims. Hence, the practice has several legal consequences. Even misdemeanor convictions can lead to a year in jail or more, depending on the laws and jurisdictions.
Other punishments include:
- Civil lawsuits and their consequent damages;
- Loss of professional licenses and certifications;
- Forfeiture of digital and physical assets;
- Community service, etc.
Why Do Hackers Use Phishing Emails?
According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigations, 65% of cybercriminals use phishing emails as their primary attack vector. Phishing emails are simple to create and send, especially with popular AI tools like ChatGPT that can simplify and accelerate the process.
More importantly, sending phishing emails is a simple way to exploit human vulnerabilities, including their inherent trust in the internet.
Below are other technical and anthropogenic reasons phishing emails are wildly popular:
- Low Skill Requirements & Execution Costs
Compared to brute-force attacks, SQL injection, and other sophisticated cyberattacks, phishing attacks are much easier to execute. Cybercriminals of all levels can create genuine emails to deceive recipients into sending their personal information, even without malicious links to fake sites.
Phishing is far less expensive than sophisticated cyberattacks, making it a viable option for new or inexperienced cyber criminals.
- Human Vulnerabilities
As a human, you have certain traits that make you highly susceptible to phishing attacks, such as curiosity, fear, and the desire for rewards. Cybercriminals exploit these vulnerabilities to drive actions, prompting you to succumb to their CTAs.
For instance, they can email you that your banking account is in danger, creating a sense of urgency and fear. By exploiting your emotions, they can trick you into sharing your divulging sensitive information or following their instructions.
What Is the Most Common Type of Phishing?
Common phishing methods include:
- Smishing (SMS Phishing);
- Vishing (fake phone calls);
- Hyperlink manipulation;
- Malvertising (fake advertisements);
- Angler phishing (posing as CSR on social media platforms and forums);
- Pharming (DNS settings tampering), etc.
Although these are all frequently employed phishing techniques, email phishing remains the most popular technique in the industry.
Anyone can send phishing emails regardless of their skills and experience.
They can easily send malicious links, malware, and other attachments with a few clicks and reach a wide audience quickly, increasing their success chances. Email lists are also available online for free or purchase.
How Can Phishing Be Prevented?
Today, phishing poses a serious threat to individuals and businesses. Therefore, you must learn to prevent phishing attacks to protect your sensitive data and financial assets.
Below are a few proactive measures, vigilant practices, and useful solutions you can adopt to avoid falling victim to phishing emails and other social engineering attacks:
- Cybersecurity Training
If you run a business, you must conduct cybersecurity training sessions to share awareness and educate employees about common phishing practices and red flags. You can also share tips to recognize and handle suspicious emails.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication is a popular security measure that adds multiple protection layers to your accounts and systems. The purpose of MFA is to make it more difficult for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access even if they manage to steal your information through phishing.
Popular MFA methods include:
- Location-based verification;
- Device-based verification (IP, browser, etc.);
- One-time passwords (OTPs).
A virtual private network or VPN is a security solution or software that encrypts your IP address and internet traffic before routing it to a secure third-party server. The core purpose of this encrypted network is to ensure and maintain anonymity and data privacy.
Hence, connecting to a VPN makes it nearly impossible for cybercriminals to intercept sensitive information you share on websites and emails. However, you shouldn’t opt for a VPN free of cost. Instead, consider choosing a paid one for:
- Enhanced security;
- More servers and server locations;
- Stronger encryption;
- No data logging, etc.
- Use Advanced Email Filters Or Spam Detection Solutions
Since phishing emails look like legitimate messages, you can easily be tricked by cybercriminals and reveal sensitive information or click on fake links.
You can automate phishing email identification and removal by opting for an email filter or spam detection software. These solutions check everything, from the sender’s email to suspicious attachments and AI-generated content.
With cybersecurity becoming a global concern, you must take extra caution, especially when using digital products and solutions.
Hopefully, our simple guide to phishing attacks can help you avoid getting hooked by cybercriminals and protect your devices, network, and personal information.
Related article: The Dangers of Phishing Scams and How to Avoid Them