Technological developments and widespread use of the internet have created many positive effects, including more access to information and greater interconnectedness. However, they also expose users to an array of cybersecurity risks. One of these are cyberattacks which have the ultimate aim of stealing identities, money, or illegally assuming control of people’s accounts and profiles. Phishing, as these cybercrimes are called, is now so prevalent that between January and October 2022, there were over 255 million attacks, a 61% increase on the year before.
Because of the increasing frequency of these attacks—and the damage to individuals and companies that they can cause—it is crucial that people are aware of what these attacks are, how they work, what to do after a phishing attack and, of course, how to prevent them.
To avoid becoming a phishing victim, it is first essential that people understand what these attacks are. Simply put, it is a type of scam, often executed by emails, text messages, or phone calls, in which a malicious actor manipulates their target into sharing their login information, credentials, or other personal data and then uses these for nefarious means.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines phishing as “an attempt by criminals to trick you into sharing information or taking an action that gives them access to your accounts, your computer, or even your network.”
After surrendering their information in the scam, the cybercriminal will usually use the phishing victim’s details to reap financial gains or perpetuate other crimes. This is usually done by using the stolen login credentials to access bank accounts or credit cards, or email inboxes, home networks, social media profiles, and even Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Social Security accounts. If the stolen credentials include passwords that are used across multiple accounts, then the phisher may be able to access a wider range of the victim’s accounts and cause more damage.
Often, phishers attempt to create a sense of legitimacy for their scams by impersonating reputable companies or people. For example, they might send an email from a major company that the phishing victim might have an account with—in fact, Yahoo, DHL, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Adobe, and Netflix are among the most impersonated brands. Or, the phisher might impersonate a friend or acquaintance in the phishing message. The message will often include a link directing the receiver to a fake website, where the victim is asked to provide privileged information such as login details, credit card information, or perhaps personal data like birth dates and Social Security numbers.
There are many ways through which cybercriminals can steal your personal information to access your money or assume your identity. Most of these involve hackers impersonating official representatives of legitimate companies and duping the phishing victim into providing personal details that can then be used for financial gain or identity fraud. Understanding what these cyberattacks might look like can assist with phishing attack prevention. Here are some of the most common ways hackers phish:
It is essential for people to remember that legitimate companies, such as banks, ecommerce sites, and social media platforms, will never ask account owners to provide sensitive information through any of the above means. If in doubt, it is always best to ignore the potential scam and reach out to the legitimate company through official channels.
There are myriad ways through which scammers can steal people’s sensitive information, such as through email, text message, or phone calls, and they can use this in ways that can cause significant damage to the phishing victims. For this reason, being aware of the most common tactics which phishers employ to carry out their attacks is the first step in phishing attack prevention. For example, a scam email, text, or a scam phone call might say that:
In addition, the message or phone call might show other signs of phishing, such as:
Victims of phishing may wonder what to do after their details have been compromised. There are numerous steps that can be taken which may mitigate the damage from the attack, stop other people from becoming phishing victims of the same scam, and even protect the victim from future attacks. Here are some things to consider.
After a phishing attack, victims need to understand how the attack happened. This might involve a bit of investigative work, such as scrutinizing the phishing email or text to work out what the purpose of the attack might have been, checking firewall logs for any suspicious URLs or IP addresses, and working out exactly what information and details might have been compromised. It is also a good idea to check any accounts that might be associated with the stolen information to see if there is any suspicious activity.
For phishing victims wondering what to do in the aftermath of an attack, reporting it to the officials is one possible option. Although this is not always simple or straightforward, reporting the attack is important for various reasons. For example, if a legitimate organization has been implicated in the attack, it could ensure that they are aware that a scammer is masquerading as an official representative. Perhaps more importantly, it may help the victim regain control of any compromised accounts, protecting them from if the scammer tries to perpetrate identity theft, and block any suspicious financial transactions. In the United States, phishing can be reported to the Anti-Phishing Working Group and the Federal Trade Commission while in Europe, the responsible organization is the European Anti-Fraud Office. All of this can help future efforts towards phishing attack prevention.
Legitimate companies are often unwittingly involved in phishing attacks because the phisher pretends to be a representative or sends a message that is supposedly from the company. If this is the case, then what to do after a phishing attack will involve contacting the company in question to let them know about the incident. This way, they can take steps towards preventing future phishing attacks by advising customers to be aware that scammers are contacting clients in their name.
In some cases, phishing attacks can be executed with the help of malware. For this reason, it is essential that phishing victims disconnect their compromised device from the internet. This will involve disabling the device’s Wi-Fi connection, or completely disconnecting and resetting the Wi-Fi network. This is important because it ensures that the malware will not be further transmitted through the network.
Phishing scams will often manipulate victims into providing sensitive information. Usually, they will use a link to redirect the user to a spoof website and get them to enter login credentials like passwords. After clicking a phishing link like this it is best to change any passwords that might have been compromised in the attack. Make sure this is done through the real website and not through the phishing link, and if the password has been reused on other accounts, be sure to change those, too.
Anti-virus software is a crucial part of ensuring the security and privacy of any device, but it is also an important part of phishing attack prevention. Once the software is installed, it should scan the device automatically to detect any potential malware. However, it is incumbent on the user to ensure the software is always up to date—simply set up automatic updates—and run periodic manual scans that will check all devices, files, applications, and servers on the network for malware.
The purpose of some phishing attacks is to steal enough personal information about the target so that the phisher can steal their identity for nefarious purposes. For example, by stealing someone’s Social Security number, phone number, and birth date, the attacker can instigate a sim swapping attack, take out new credit cards, or perpetuate other kinds of fraud. As such, phishing victims should watch for signs of identity theft, such as unexpected financial transactions or medical bills, new credit cards they did not apply for, suspicious login attempts to online accounts, for example. If finances are impacted, the attack should be reported to the United States’ main credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian—to ensure that the victim’s credit score is not impacted as a result of the identity fraud.
Despite how prevalent these attacks are, there are many measures people can take to avoid becoming phishing victims. Incorporating these eight tips into the general security measures of an electronic device can help fend off phishers.
Given the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals, it is unfortunately common for people to becoming phishing victims. Understanding what these cybercrimes are and what measures to put in place to strive for phishing attack prevention is important. However, it is equally important that people know what to do after a phishing attacks. From securing their devices and accounts to reporting the phishing attack and understanding how it happened in the first place, these essential steps can help mitigate any ensuing damage.
Kaspersky Endpoint Security received three AV-TEST awards for the best performance, protection, and usability for a corporate endpoint security product in 2021. In all tests, Kaspersky Endpoint Security showed outstanding performance, protection, and usability for businesses.
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