We live in a perilous technological era with no foolproof strategy to inoculate oneself against the farrago of cyber vulnerabilities and threats. Cybersecurity experts, website owners, and technology enthusiasts can develop a multipronged security strategy that encompasses several security layers to prevent those threats. There could never be a better strategy to fight against the seemingly endless cyber threats. Malware attacks, Distributed Denial of Service attacks, phishing, and spear-phishing threats are some of the treacherous cyber threats that could hit you.
This article pays attention to phishing attacks. They are threatening the security of large and small organizations, business enterprises, governmental institutions, and even home users. Today, anyone could be a victim of a phishing attack. It does not matter the level of your computer proficiency. Knowing what a phishing attack is, different techniques used to execute the attack, and the measures to prevent the attacks are essential. Let us start by understanding what exactly phishing is.
What Is Phishing?
A phishing attack is an attempt by a malicious cyber attacker, posing as a legitimate person or institution, to lure an unsuspecting victim into giving out their sensitive details such as passwords, credit card details, and sensitive personal information. Phishing attackers achieve their intent by crafting a luring message then sending it via email or text message.
It is a form of cyber-attack where the attacker intends to “fish” usernames, sensitive personal information, and financial details by placing bait in the form of a compelling message in the “ocean” of unsuspecting internet users.
Phishing attacks have become so prevalent. A 2020 Verizon’s Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR) showed that 22% percent of all data breaches that happened in 2019 were phishing attacks. Although the figure had dropped by 6.6% from 2018, Phishing attacks are still a major threat that will spare no one.
Almost all industries have been victims of phishing attacks, with statistics showing that 75% of organizations worldwide have been victims of phishing attacks. With the attackers taking advantage of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic situation, we might witness more phishing attack cases.
What are Phishing Techniques
Pharming refers to the form of internet attack that involves a cyber attacker installing a malicious code on network servers or computer devices. The malicious code will direct the victim to a bogus website without his consent. In a pharming attack, the traffic of the website is manipulated, and the sensitive information stolen. In a layman’s language, pharming can be said to be “phishing without luring”
The attack is usually a two-step course. First, the attacker will install a malicious code on your system servers or computer devices. Secondly, the code will direct you to a bogus website. Once on the website, you can be tricked into giving out your personal information. With pharming, you do not have to make the first click to be directed to a bogus website; it happens automatically. The possibility of pharming will depend on the cyber attacker’s intention and how lucrative your organization is. Although pharming attacks are not so popular, you must remain cautious by having the necessary impenetrable preventive mechanisms.
- Spear Phishing
There is increased overreliance on emails and internet connectivity as communication forms, making it difficult to stop determined cyber attackers from accessing organizations’ websites. The increased reliance on email communication and internet connectivity has contributed to the emergence and prevalence of spear-phishing attacks.
A spear-phishing attack refers to a more targeted version of phishing. The attacker conducts a study about a potential victim to gather information about the victim and craft a more personalized email that appears to be of significant interest to the victim. The email is intended to persuade the victim to open an attachment or a malicious code or click on a website link. Once the victim opens the links, it will execute malware to his/her network, which will exploit and compromise data and information.
Smishing is a portmanteau of SMS (short message services) and Phish. It is a phishing technique carried out over text messages to trick victims into installing malware, giving out money, or sharing their sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers.
Smishing text messages are usually purported to be from charity organizations or banking institutions, which ask you for financial aid or trick you into giving out your financial information. Providing your financial information or login credentials is equivalent to handing cyber attackers the keys to your bank balance.
Smishing attacks have been on the rise following the increased reliance and usage of mobile phones. The best you can do is avoid giving out your financial information or clicking on links sent via text messages and whose source you do not know.
It is often referred to as voice phishing. It is a social engineering attack that attempts to trick potential victims into giving out their sensitive information. An impersonator calls his/her targets, referring to a factual or imagined issue that might trigger victims to give out their information or send out their money.
Vishing attackers use the Voice over Internet Protocol to sound like legitimate and genuine organizations. Vishing attacks are so common these days, with attackers personalizing their calls. According to the 2019 Scam Call Trends and Projection Report, 75% of scam victims who received calls from scammers said they already knew their personal information.
- Website Counterfeiting
This is also a common practice these days. It is where cybercriminals design fake websites that are look-alikes to the real ones. Their primary objective in developing counterfeit websites is to divert the users’ attention from the genuine websites to their forged ones. Any unsuspecting user can easily fall victim to website counterfeiting.
Even for the keen user, it would not be easy to differentiate between G0ogle and Google or Amaz0n and Amazon. You should notice a zero replacing an O. Such are the tricks hackers are using to lure unsuspecting victims into visiting a fake website. Once on the website, the attackers will defraud the victims by obtaining their personal information or luring them into downloading malicious code that could cause malware attacks.
- Domain Spoofing
Cyber attackers are using clever and sophisticated methods to hit their victims. Domain spoofing is yet another innovative phishing technique that hackers are using. Here, attackers will use spoofed domain names to make a malicious email appear as if it is from an authentic source.
Business Email Compromise attacks and CEO fraud are two examples of domain spoofing where an attacker will send a victim an email that appears to be from a higher authority. This way, an unsuspecting user can easily share his personal information or even wire money to an unrecognized account.
This is a form of a malware attack where the attacker encrypts the victim’s files, systems, or network. The attacker will only restore the system to normalcy upon payment of a given amount of money referred to as a ransom. The victims are usually given instructions on how to make the payments, usually by bitcoins.
Ransomware is one of the most devastating phishing techniques where the unsuspecting victims are tricked into clicking on a malicious email link or attachment. The system will get corrupted when the user opens the attachment and can only be restored upon payment of a ransom.
How to Prevent Phishing Attacks with Cyber Awareness
It is good to be cautious when opening and reading email attachments and links. In an organizational set-up, cybersecurity awareness and education could be the first step towards preventing phishing attacks. You must also consider installing an SSL certificate on your website to ensure the security of your customers’ personally identifiable data such as credit card, debit card details, etc. For a phishing attack to work, the attacker needs to trick the victim into opening a malicious attachment or clicking on a link. Cyber awareness will enlighten your employees. They will know when they are being deceived by looking at different clues such as:
- The message displaying a great sense of urgency could be a phishing scam. The attacker will want to rush the victim into making a mistake. They should avoid such messages.
- A message that pressurizes you to abandon your work policies could be a phishing attempt.
- A message that sparks curiosity on something that is too good to be true. Always remember the saying- when the deal is too good, think twice.
- A message requesting highly sensitive information.
- A poorly structured message with spelling mistakes and poor grammar could have been crafted quickly and could be carrying malicious intent.
All organization members should be taught to spot red flags and be enlightened on the best course of action in a phishing attempt.
Phishing attacks have become very popular. As a user, you should be aware of how phishing attacks can happen and the various techniques used by hackers to carry out a phishing attack. This article has explained phishing attacks’ meaning and the different phishing techniques that hackers are using today. I have also explained some of the best strategies to cushion yourself from the phishers. Ultimately, common sense is the most excellent line of defense. Always have an extra instinct and think before you click.