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Phishing has long been identified as an online scam that lures victims into giving out credentials via fraudulent emails, messages or websites. Still, 97% of people failed to spot a phishing attack at the first glance. As scammers are getting more targeted and sophisticated, even the most cautious might fall prey to phishing attacks, not to mention businesses with weak preventive, detective and responsive measures.
Apparently, the accelerating pace of digital transformation has emboldened cybercriminals to ramp up the frequency of phishing attacks. The number of phishing attacks has also increased during the peak of the global pandemic.
In addition, the rise of Internet-connected devices has generated cybercrimes given that the incentive to commit phishing attacks is higher than ever.
Phishing often disguises itself as a legitimate message from a trusted brand such as banks or large corporations so as to trick victims into giving out sensitive information or making payments. Scammers might even create an official website for their fake profiles to enhance persuasiveness. With its “real-enough” feature, phishing has always been one of the most common cyberattacks, in which the targets are mainly businesses, small to medium-sized to be specific.
(1) Get Victims to Pay Attention
As people nowadays are more aware of the dangers posed by unknown parties, hackers have to mimic authentic organizations by using similar email domains, greetings, tones and manners, typefaces, logos, signatures and more.
To make the messages more catchy, phishing emails often create a sense of urgency in the subject lines, popular phrases include “Limited Offer”, “Hurry”, “Urgent” and “Help”.
(2) Convince Victims to Take Action
After grabbing targets’ attention, the next step is to get them to take action.
Given that the ultimate goal is to trick victims into opening malicious links or downloading infected attachments, the majority of phishing emails are stuffed with words that suggest immediacy. To lure the targets into a false sense of security, hackers might also increase the trust cues by capitalizing on several well-known events, for example:
(3) Activate Malicious Code to Steal Credentials
Normally speaking, if you haven’t clicked or downloaded anything, the phishing messages remain harmless. However, if you have committed any of the following actions, the malicious commands are very likely to be triggered and executed under your watch:
Sometimes, the hackers try to get away from the organization’s Email Security Gateway (SEG) by obfuscating the URL or attachments. For example, they might host documents on Dropbox, Google and Docusign to avoid being flagged, or use URL shorteners such as bit.ly and ow.ly to hide the destination.
(1) Email Phishing
Email phishing is originated in the 1990s. Ever since, it has been the most commonly used phishing attack.
As its name goes, email phishing refers to the phishing attacks via email. Apart from an enormous amount of misspellings and grammatical mistakes, you might also pay attention to the email domains. Most fake domains involve character substitution, for example, replacing “l” with the capital letter “I”, using “rn” instead of “m”.
(2) Spear Phishing
Instead of sending out ambiguous messages in the form of fishing expeditions, spear phishing requires in-depth research and planning since it targets a specific individual, organization or business.
In the case of spear phishing, hackers can precisely include the receivers’ personal information, including but not limited to names, job titles, places of employment and even details of their co-workers. Since these deceptive messages are highly personalized, it is very possible for one to drop the guard down against cyberattacks.
People occasionally mix up whaling and spear phishing as both of them target particular individuals. What differentiates them is that whaling plays on employees’ submissiveness - phishing messages are sent on behalf of someone who is specifically senior or influential within the organizations, for example, the CEO, CFO and managers.
One classic example is the scammer pretending to be the receiver’s boss asking about purchasing gift cards or transferring funds.
Vishing, or voice phishing, refers to a verbal scam that attempts to obtain a target's sensitive information over a forged phone call or voice message.
Vishing can be seen as a follow-up call to previous text-based phishing. Callers will masquerade themselves as the experts or authorities in their expertise, for example, computer technicians, bankers or police officers. With the use of persuasive and forceful language, the scammers are able to make victims believe they have no other option but to provide the information as requested.
Similar to email phishing, smishing tricks users into sending private information via text messages, but mostly in a form of SMS.
As SMS marketing is gaining popularity, so does smishing. In February 2022, there was a massive SMS phishing targeting users of one of the cryptocurrency platforms. The SMS warned receivers about an unauthorized withdrawal alert, and at the bottom of the text, there was a link to cancel withdrawals. If users click on the link, he or she will be redirected to a fake website designed to harvest their login credentials.
(1) Businesses of all sizes can be a victim
In today’s digital world, phishing attacks have left their mark across almost all industries worldwide. Businesses of all types can be victims of phishing, including Banking & Finance, Retail, Manufacturing and Healthcare industry.
(2) Impacts of phishing are everlasting
A successful phishing attack can be destructive and unrepairable, including but not limited to:
● User downtime
● Remediation Time
● Data Breach
● Compromised Accounts
● Malware & Ransomware Infections
● Response & Repair Costs
● Reputation Damage
● Revenue Loss
● Compliance Fines
● Legal Fees
● Loss of Customers
● Loss of Brand Trust
(3) Phishing attacks are harder to identify
The presentation of phishing is constantly changing. While some online scams remain easy to detect, many of them are getting more sophisticated and targeted than ever.
This evolving nature has made it immensely difficult for users to distinguish a phishing attack from a genuine message with naked eyes. It is of utmost importance for businesses to review the threat detection system regularly so as to prevent employees from clicking on distorted links and actually landing on the malicious websites.
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