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A phishing attack is a method of social engineering in which the attacker tries to contact the victim with counterfeit communications that look like coming from a legitimate source. The message aims to trick the victim to interact with a website that can steal login information, install malware, or steal sensitive information. These websites are generally designed as the exact copy of the websites they are mimicking. In 2020, phishing was the most common type of cyber attack performed by criminals. However, the term is almost as old as the internet.

How do Phishing Attacks work?

Phishing attacks start with any form of online communication, including, emails, links that can be found on websites, social media messages, etc. These links lead to fraudulent websites that exactly look like legitimate websites of companies or governmental organizations. These websites can try to deploy malware to the victims’ computers, which can be adware, spyware, or ransomware. Or, the website can try to steal information from the victim. It can be personal information, login credentials, or credit card information.

Why is it called phishing?

The word derives from fishing, replacing f with ph, and it goes back to the 90s. The word refers to the method as fishing for users’ information online.

What are the types of phishing attacks?

The most common method for phishing scams is sending thousands of emails that include the link. It can mimic emails from spoofed organizations. Some of these mail can focus on creating a sense of urgency, threaten account expiration, or claim that the victim has won something online. This is the most basic method and security firms can easily identify these actors since they are reaching thousands of users within a day.

A more advanced method is spear phishing. The most significant difference between the two methods, in spear phishing, the mail targets an individual directly, instead of thousands of users. Spear phishing attempts include the victim’s name and additional information about them, which increases the chance of tricking them to click the link. Another popular method is whaling, which is similar to spear phishing attacks but targets only senior executives or similar high-profile targets. The content is crafted to be of interest to the victim.

Another method is called angler phishing, in which the actors create a fake social media account that mimics legitimate organizations. Most cybercriminals prefer mimicking customer care accounts.

How to prevent phishing attacks?

There are several methods to prevent phishing attacks. It is important for the IT team to educate other employees about phishing attempts. The IT team should also watch closely incoming mail sources. Some of the phishing campaigns are announced by cybersecurity organizations right away. Organizations can also utilize third-party solutions that focus on email security to prevent such attempts.

For individuals, the safest method is to avoid suspicious-looking emails. If the link is already clicked, an individual can check the domain of the website. Most phishing campaigns are using domains that look like legitimate domains, with a slight difference. Individuals can also check if the website has an SSL certificate or not. If not, it increases the chance of being a scam attempt.

What should you do if you got a phishing email?

If a phishing campaign is targetting an entire organization, it should be reported to the IT team right away. The IT team then blocks the domain of the sender or the website which is used for the campaign. If the phishing mail targets an individual’s personal mail address, it can also be reported to the service provider. The user can also send it to the spam folder to avoid interaction with the mail.

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