What Are Phishing Attacks. How Do We Protect Ourselves From Them

What Are Phishing Attacks, Phishing sounds just like ‘fishing’ and follows pretty much the same ideology of an angler throwing out bait and hoping for a bite. However, there’s one crucial difference: in this case, the prey is real people and their personal information.

The term phishing saw popularity in the mid-1990s, describing hackers tricking AOL users into revealing their personal information. Unsurprisingly, the ‘ph’ in the term comes from one of the earliest types of hacking, called ‘phone phreaking,’ where hackers would get phone calls for free by playing sound tones into telephones.

In the 21st Century, Phishing has risen to be one of the Internet’s topmost concerns. Phishing, a commonly seen form of Social Engineering, revolves around tricking potential victims into giving up their data through a fraudulent or ‘spoofed’ email, generally giving them a fake warning about some crisis.

What Are Phishing Attacks?

You might What is Phishing Attack, A Phishing Attack is a type of malicious digital scam designed to make the victim willingly give up their details. Usually, these attacks are perpetrated by internet criminals playing the part of a trusted organization or person. They are based on online communication from the scam artist, like an email, text message, or a Twitter DM.

Mostly, phishing attacks try to convince a target to click on a fraudulent link, which can have devastating effects: your computer could be taken over by ransomware until you send money online. The attacker could gain access to credit cards whose info you have stored on your computer.

In most cases, phishing attacks aren’t so extreme. Instead, the aim is to get the victim to enter confidential information, whether it’s their name and address, bank password, or the password to where they work.

What makes phishing attacks such a big concern is that they happen on many different levels, using various communication methods. Phishing could be something as simple as a malicious script installing adware on your computer or even an orchestrated phishing attack on a large corporation.

How Can You Identify A Phishing Scam?

The answer is following a general rule while surfing the Internet: Never give out personal information on the Internet. If a bank, school, college, or workplace needs this sort of information, they’ll likely ask you to head in or offer some unique identification only you and the organization will have.

Why Is It So Important To Understand the Risks of Phishing?

The most significant reason behind understanding the risks of phishing is the tremendous effect these attacks can have on your life. Attackers could gain control over your finances, your financial or online decision-making, and even make large purchases using your credit cards, leaving you in massive debt.

Who Do I Contact If I’ve Been Phished?

Phishing attacks revolve around the hacker conning you out of information, and in 90% of cases, this is your email and password to a particular website or organization.

If you think you’ve been a victim of phishing, contact their support service or administration wing, and inquire about any changes involving your account or registration.

For government changes, ask about any activity that has been made recently, and if you didn’t make it, try to reverse them. On the other hand, banks have transparent processes for customers who’ve been phished out of their information, and all you need to do is comply with the instructions given at a bank branch.

Where Can I Report Phishing Emails?

Email services like Gmail have many options you can take for every email, and one of them is reporting them to the authorities. For Gmail, this means reporting them to Google, which investigates the claim and suspends the account if it was a phishing email.

If you care about saving others from phishing attacks, take the time to report email addresses that send phishing emails.

Does Phishing Only Happen Through Email?

Last but not least, thousands of people worldwide think that they’re safe as long as they don’t click any links they find in their emails. This is far from the reality today, however, as phishing attacks can take place through any platform that’s free and easy to sign up to.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all platforms where you can be phished out of your personal information.

A Deeper Dive Into the Methods and Types of Phishing Attacks

What Are the Types of Phishing Attacks?

Attacks meant to con you into giving up confidential information can take several shapes and forms. You’ll see many different types of phishing attacks if you’ve been on the Internet for some time, with many of them customized for the common group of recipients they’re targeting.

Most of the time, phishing attacks are differentiated based on the platform or medium they use for the fraudulent message. ‘Smishing’ is phishing attacks sent through personal text messages, or SMS, while ‘Whishing’ refers to messages with phishing links sent over Whatsapp.

Email, which is the most common medium for phishing attacks and other types of social engineering threats, comes in two different types:

  1. Personal Email: Personal Email phishing targets your personal Gmail or Yahoo email address and is generally emails with lower levels of risk. Commonly, they might install adware on your computer.
  2. Corporate Email: Corporate Email phishing generally presents a higher level of risk since these are targeted towards the employees of a corporate entity. As seen in some cases over the years, these might even be large-scale attacks on companies and corporations meant to either cause them financial loss or leak immense archives of data.

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What Are Phishing Attacks – Categories of Phishing

In addition to differentiating phishing attacks based on the platform they’re sent through, there are also two specialized categories of phishing:

  1. Spear Phishing: While phishing is a constant threat for everybody today, Spear Phishing is the more malicious, generally more harmful version. It entails a highly personalized email or message meant to convincingly fool a single person or target or even the members of a particular organization.

These emails can include names and events from your personal life that people can find through stalking your social media or be structured around an organization’s standard work email template.

The attacker themselves poses as a family member or close friend, and in work-related Spear Phishing emails, supervisors, managers, and HR employees.

  • Whaling: Whaling is an even more high-end version of phishing and entails using website spoofing, several data-stealing scripts, and extensive research about a company to trick high-level company executives specifically.
  • Usually, the purpose of whaling is to defraud the company out of large amounts of money and capital, and in other cases, the leaking of years and years of extensive data records.

The practice is also called CEO fraud because, in many cases, the group or individual behind the attack poses as the company’s CEO, COO, or a large stockholder, i.e., a ‘whale.’



How Do Phishing Attacks Happen?

According to cybersecurity specialists, one of the first things that helped the world understand the phishing threat was analyzing the contents of a phishing kit. Hackers and scam artists have a set process to con people to give up their confidential information.

All processes have minor irregularities here and there depending on factors like the specific scam, the author, or even the target. Still, by and large, a phishing attack is set up the following way:

  1. A Legitimate Webpage Is Cloned: The first step for any hacker orchestrating a phishing attack is cloning a legitimate, trustworthy website. The website itself changes depending on the scam: sometimes, it’s your State Health Authority, and other times it’s your school, college, or workplace. For some particular scams, hackers also use brand names like Amazon or Paypal.
  2. The Login Page Is Switched: Most people prefer to remain logged into websites they frequently access. On the fraudulent clone of the website, the login page is modified to instead point to a script that records your personal details and sends them somewhere, effectively stealing them.
  3. Modified Files Are Bundled to Make A Zip Kit: After this setup is complete, the modified files, including all scripts used for the phishing attack, are bundled into a zip file. This zip file is called a phishing kit and includes everything cybercriminals need to con you out of your data.
  4. The Phishing Kit Is Uploaded to The Spoofed Website: The phishing kit is then uploaded to the cloned website, where the scripts are unpacked. Now the site is all ready to steal the data that users enter onto it.
  5. Emails Are Sent With Fraudulent Links: The last step for most hackers is to acquire a list of email addresses to whom they send emails containing the fraudulent link. These are the potential victims of the cybercrime.

After the last step, it’s more or less intuitive: victims respond to the fraudulent emails and end up giving out their confidential data to the hacker. However, if you got this far, there’s something else you need to know: what can the hackers behind phishing attacks do to you?

What Are Phishing Attacks – The Consequences of Giving Out Your Info to Phishing Emails

What Can Happen As A Result of Phishing?

It isn’t hard to see that there are easily hundreds of things that a hacker with information from phishing attacks could do to his victims. From changing important documents in databases and archives to further expanding his victim count by attacking other people in your workplace, hackers have a terrifying level of freedom in what they can do.

Still, even with the wide variety of the threat, some things are most commonly seen as a result of not knowing What is Phishing Attack, like:

  • Having Usernames and Passwords Hijacked: The most common result of responding to phishing attacks is the attacker hijacking your login details for a particular website or service. This usually depends on the legitimate website cloned for the scam since you’ll be asked to enter details for that specific site.
  • Hackers Making Purchases In Your Name: Low-level hackers that aren’t part of some larger plan will settle for getting something for free most of the time. Sometimes, this can be something as small as a coffee machine or something as expensive as a TV if you’re unlucky!
  • Having Money Withdrawn From Linked Accounts and Cards: Remember those scripts mentioned earlier? Some of them automatically comb your browser cache to find credit cards and bank accounts linked to your device and forward the details to the attacker so they can withdraw money from them.
  • Having New PINS or Credit Cards Issued: Continuing the theme of monetary risks, hackers who have your bank details could ask for new PINs so they can lock you out of your accounts. They could also request the issuing of new credit cards, which they could use to purchase expensive items in your name.
  • A Hacker Could Steal your Identity!: Another perfect example of one of the most significant risks of phishing attacks is having your identity stolen. With your identity, the hacker or cybercriminal can masquerade themselves as you and even make fake IDs in your name!
  • A Hacker Could Sell your Information: In one of the more minor threats of phishing attacks, the attacker could sign up your email address for newsletters and promotional content like advertisements. It’s not precisely world-ending, but it does create a significant amount of inconvenience.

Today, identity theft from phishing attacks has become extremely common. Attackers use malicious scripts, cloned websites, and several other tools to steal different types of crucial information.

If your aim is to know more about the situation of facing a phishing scheme, keep reading the next section to know more about identifying when you’ve been phished.

How Can You Tell When You’ve Been Phished?

The first thing to remember about being phished is that the entire scam works based on you responding to the fraudulent email. If you take steps to verify the sender’s identity, you’re safe from these targeted scams most of the time.

Even with the precautions that different organizations take to protect people against phishing attacks, you can still get scammed. If you notice transactions on your bank account you don’t remember making or start getting emails from sites and services you didn’t sign up to, check for any of the following signs:

●          Identity Theft

A common symptom of these cybercrime attacks is having your identity stolen. If you get phone calls from some government about purchases or changes made in your name, immediately seek to know more.

●          Unfamiliar Transactions

It’s a typical day at the bank, and you’re just there to update your passbook. If you see foreign transactions you don’t remember making, a hacker might have stolen the details from your bank account or credit card.

●          Spam Email From Your Account

Suppose your friends and family complain about spam emails coming from your accounts, such as advertisements and other promotional content. In that case, that’s a sign that your account has been hacked. Whether from a phishing attack or not, immediately change your password if possible.

What Are Phishing Attacks – Protecting Yourself Against Phishing Attacks: A Simple Guide

Tips on Not Becoming A Victim of Phishing.

The first tip for How We Protect Phishing Attacks is always to slow down and take a deep breath. Hackers and scam artists rely on you responding to an urgent call to action in their email: these could be dire warnings of things that are supposedly going to happen to you.

Don’t let their high-pressure tactics influence your careful review of the email’s authenticity.

It’s also best to never let a link control where you land. Instead of relying on emails giving you a link to go to, look up the website yourself on a Search Engine. This is generally an excellent piece of advice since any legitimate web page will appear on whatever Search Engine you’re using.

Following the same thread of exercising caution on the Internet, you should also be careful of any downloads offered by websites. Try not to download anything from websites that aren’t entirely secure: you can know a site is safe if it has ‘HTTPS in the link and a lock icon before the link, which signifies it uses the proper protection.

And while this shouldn’t have to be said, the Internet is the worst place to find out about a new lottery you just won or newfound foreign relatives sending you incredible amounts of money. Those aren’t real.



Steps to Take If You’ve Already Responded to A Phishing Email

Yes, phishing scams turn out to be very harmful, and yes, the hacker behind them can have several nefarious plans for your data. But falling victim to a phishing scam isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to be the end of your Internet usage.

Instead, if you’ve already fallen victim to a phishing scam, follow these steps to mitigate as much damage as possible:

  1. Change Your Password: This is a reasonably basic tip, but that doesn’t make it less critical. If you clicked a phishing link, immediately change the password to your email if it downloaded some script. If you instead gave out your personal information like they asked, close the fake website, log on to the real one and change your account password. It’s also generally a good idea to change up the security questions sites offer after you’ve fallen victim to a phishing scam.
  2. Run A Virus Scan: Regardless of whether you gave out information, downloaded an attachment, or clicked a link, run a virus scan on your computer to ensure that the fraudulent link didn’t download any malware. This helps you make sure that your device won’t suffer later on by removing any malware present on the computer.
  3. Watch Out for Identity Theft: As mentioned above, Identity Theft is one of the most prominent and riskiest consequences of falling victim to a phishing scam. If you’ve revealed sensitive information like personal documents, bank passwords, or credit card statements, immediately alert the organization or bank, and ask them to warn you of any suspicious activity.
  4. Contact the Organization Whose Website Was Spoofed: Companies and businesses have rules and helpful guidelines that users can take to safeguard their data if they’re phished out of their confidential information. Contact the organization whose website was spoofed to let them know about the situation, and follow the instructions they give you. If the information you gave out was financial, it’s generally a good idea to cancel your card.
  5. Learn From the Experience: Like everything in life, How We Protect Phishing Attack is a learning process. Take away from your experience with the phishing scheme that you need to be more careful in the future and carefully vet urgent emails and messages before replying to them.

Something that should be mentioned here is that no company, whether it’s your workplace, your bank, or your utility company, will ever ask for confidential details over email in the first place. No matter how urgent it might seem, never give out your info to people on the Internet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Phishing Attacks

Common Questions About Phishing Attacks

The inherently diverse nature of phishing attacks means that there’s a lot you can learn about them. How they happen, what results they can have, and of course, different steps that you can take to protect yourself against them.

Even with all of that on the playing field, particular questions remain frequently asked by people worldwide and are, in general, some of the first things you should know about phishing attacks and their consequences.

Some common examples of frequently asked questions about phishing attacks are:

How Can You Identify A Phishing Scam?

The answer is following a general rule while surfing the Internet: Never give out personal information on the Internet. If a bank, school, college, or workplace needs this sort of information, they’ll likely ask you to head in or offer some unique identification only you and the organization will have.

Why Is It So Important To Understand the Risks of Phishing?

The most significant reason behind understanding the risks of phishing is the tremendous effect these attacks can have on your life. Attackers could gain control over your finances, your financial or online decision-making, and even make large purchases using your credit cards, leaving you in massive debt.



Conclusion

Falling victim to a phishing scheme or an identity breach doesn’t reflect on you but points to the fact that you were the victim of a targeted malicious attack.

Following this guide on topics like What is Phishing Attack and How We Protect Phishing Attack techniques will help you protect your identity and your information’s safety and confidentiality.


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