How to Prevent Phishing Attacks
Growth planning for 2022? Not without a phishing defense. Your business is a more than a tempting target for phishing attacks and other cybercriminals. Phishing is a technique that has been used by criminals successfully for years because businesses remain unprotected and cyber “unaware”. Don’t get caught in the net and learn how to protect your organization against phishing attacks.
For generations, professional fishermen have understood how bigger fish made for better payouts. Catching the largest fish in the river on a regular basis is every fisherman's goal, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. The biggest fish in the river gets that way by never being caught.
The goal is the same for cybercriminals, except this time, you and your business are the fish.
Just like literal fishermen, cybercriminals cast their lines into the business waters and hope to hook as many 'fish' as they can. Business leaders with growth intentions cannot let themselves get caught in the net of criminal phishing attacks.
Phishing refers to cybercriminals using deceptive tactics to lure unsuspecting businesses into sharing sensitive information that can then be used to steal valuable business and personal data.
How Does Phishing Work?
The tactics and techniques that cybercriminals rely on are constantly evolving. On the most basic level, however, phishing attacks function similarly. Criminal actors pose as legitimate and credible sources, contacting business systems, management, and individual team members alike to manipulate them into clicking embedded links, sharing login credentials, or otherwise granting access to business systems.
This type of psychological manipulation is a kind of social engineering, where criminals target human vulnerabilities instead of technological vulnerabilities.
Did you know? Cybersecurity experts estimate that 98% of all cyberattacks rely on social engineering, with phishing as the most common attack method employed.
Social engineering and other common phishing techniques rely on some fairly effective modes of attack:
- Email – Email manipulation attacks are the most well-known phishing techniques employed by cybercriminals. This kind of attack relies on disguising fraudulent emails as legitimate correspondence, often appealing to an individual's inclination to trust the credibility and authority of the supposed sender implicitly. These attacks may disguise themselves as a financial institution, falsely notifying users of compromised accounts and the need for password resets. In addition, cybercriminals may also impersonate law enforcement agencies, relying on the fear of non-compliance by falsely threatening impending legal action against the recipient.
- Content Injection – Even more deceptive than email phishing, content injection seeks to fool individuals by posing as legitimate login portals for banking websites and other familiar online entities. These fraudulent websites may contain embedded links, forms, and pop-ups that redirect users to secondary websites that request confidential information, all while continuing to camouflage themselves as a trusted establishment.
- Spear Phishing – Spear phishing is a sophisticated phishing attack that targets specific individuals with personalized messages to manipulate them into following malicious instructions. Organizations with a robust online presence in which team member bios are easily accessible are common targets. Targets most often include universities, medical practices, real estate agencies, and financial institutions.
- Man in the Middle – This type of cyber-attack relies on manipulating multiple targets into sending sensitive information to one another, which the attackers will then intercept. This may include an initial spear-phishing attack, in which the criminals will pose as trusted team members requesting valuable organizational information. Man-in-the-Middle attacks may also take advantage of technological vulnerabilities, such as weak wi-fi security, to steal transmitted data.
How To Protect Your Organization
One of the most effective things you can do to protect your organization against malicious phishing attacks is to partner with a trusted cybersecurity team to develop a comprehensive IT security strategy that identifies and addresses your unique vulnerabilities.
Some small-to-medium businesses may perceive retaining dedicated IT security services to fall beyond their financial means.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides resources for SMBs that can help organizations with best practices and vulnerability self-assessments. These DIY methods can be helpful in cybersecurity awareness but offer no substitute for the actual expertise, experience, and effectiveness of professional cybersecurity personnel.
Following these security protocols will increase your cyber awareness and better prepare you for an outsourced cybersecurity relationship. Business leaders should do everything they can now to make cybersecurity an operational priority, including revisiting budget allocations.
Before hiring professional services, businesses should follow these best practices to minimize their risk and mitigate the threat posed by ever-increasing phishing cyberattacks.
- Always Examine a Sender's Email Address – One of the simplest ways to identify a phishing attack disguised as a trusted entity is to examine the sender's email address. While many phishing emails work hard to camouflage themselves and mimic the appearance of legitimate correspondence, they are unlikely to be able to mask their sending addresses in the same way. For example, a phishing email that appears to come from Bank of America may include company logos or mimic email templates, but if it doesn't come from bankofamerica.com, you shouldn't trust it.
- Consider an Email's Tone and Grammar – Professional correspondence typically employs cordial tones, greeting readers from the opening lines and remaining fairly pleasant throughout. Do not engage with emails that fail to include a professional greeting, have a threatening tone, or demand immediate action to avoid negative consequences. Additionally, recipients should examine the grammar of the message content – while grammar mistakes may not necessarily translate to malicious intent, it is undoubtedly an indication that an email may be fraudulent, particularly if the sender claims to be a professional institution.
- Look for Included Contact Information – Legitimate correspondence should always include verifiable sender contact information that recipients can confirm independently of the sent message, such as names, phone numbers, and addresses.
- Never Send Sensitive Information in Email – Organizations should establish a policy never to send or request sensitive information through email. Not only will this help ensure data security and information reaches its intended target, it demonstrates a commitment to protecting clients, team members, and third-party entities from digital insecurity.
- Never Click Embedded Links from Unverified Sources – Phishing emails disguised as legitimate correspondence will often include embedded links that lead recipients to content injection websites to steal information. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of an email requesting urgent actions, you should always verify this information independently. Use a secured browser to visit the institution on your own and verify the information by following secured portals.
- Never Open Email Attachments from Untrustworthy Sources – Phishing attacks are often used in order to gain access to company systems and deploy malware on compromised devices. These malicious programs can be attached to executable files that may appear superficially safe, such as pdfs. If a business suspects for any reason that the sender of an email may not be legitimate, they should never open any attachments no matter how inert they may seem.
- Utilize Phishing Filter Software Applications – Many email applications have anti-phishing tools built into the software, but businesses may want to supplement this with compatible external programs. This will not prevent all phishing emails from getting through, but it will significantly reduce that amount.
Phishing costs companies $17,700 every minute worldwide, meaning the biggest fish could lose up to $25 per minute. You can mitigate these with appropriate cybersecurity policies, procedures, technology, and training.