Gone are the days of cybercriminals pretending to be Nigerian princes to gain access to your private data. Today’s cybercriminals are employing more complex social engineering tactics to deceive individuals and gain access to credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and entire networks. From re-creating internal emails with compromised links to replicating emails from trusted organizations, phishing attacks can now deceive even the most diligent employees. Here are the latest—and more subtle—indicators that an email might be a phishing attack.
Key Warning Signs
Some of the lesser known indicators you should be on the lookout for include:
You Don’t Recognize the Sender
The first thing you should consider when examining an email for legitimacy is the sender. If you don’t recognize the sender or the sender distorts a seemingly familiar email address, you should be careful about its content. Anytime you receive an email from a sender you don’t recognize, you should immediately be suspicious and not engage any of its content (i.e., clicking links, forwarding, or download attachments) until you have confirmed it’s legitimate.
At the same time, just because you recognize the sender of the email doesn’t immediately means it’s safe. Cybercriminals can compromise email accounts and use them to exploit other users. We’ve even seen internal phishing attacks purportedly sent by a company’s CEO. These types of phishing attacks can be a little more difficult to discern. Keep reading to discover some of their telltale traits.
Asking for Personal Information
You should also be immediately suspicious of any emails requesting personal information you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing online. This information includes name, address, logins, passwords, Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers, credit card numbers, and anything else you wouldn’t post online. Legitimate institutions and businesses never reach out to confirm confidential information over email. If you receive an unexpected email that asks for personal information, it’s almost always going to be a phishing attempt.
If an email encourages you to click on a link, you should always be careful before clicking. Oftentimes, links are masked as legitimate but redirect you to an unsafe URL. If you hover over the link and notice a URL you don’t recognize, chances are it’s unsecured. Online tools like isitPhishing and PhishingCheck can help you determine whether a link’s URL is legitimate or if it redirects you to another site.
One of the most common ways for cybercriminals to infiltrate an organization’s network is by spreading unsafe attachments via phishing emails. Simply by downloading and opening an unsafe attachment, your network can be exposed to threats such as malware, data breaches, and even ransomware. Cybercriminals do everything they can to make attachments look legitimate even when they aren’t. Before opening or downloading any attachments, make sure they have been run through your organization’s virus scanner and have been confirmed as credible.
A Sense of Urgency
Just as infomercials encourage you to buy products right away by offering a limited-time deal, phishing emails trick individuals by claiming an urgent matter needs to be addressed to avoid unwanted consequences.
What to Do Next
Fortunately, harm rarely comes from merely opening a phishing email. In fact, opening the email can often help you determine whether it’s phishing or legitimate. The danger comes when you click links, reply with personal information, or download and open attachments. Once you’ve determined that an email is phishing, you shouldn’t engage the email or the sender in any way.
Depending on your organization’s policies, you should report the email to your IT department as phishing. They will investigate the matter further and get to the bottom of the issue. In the best-case scenario, you prevent a phishing attack and inform your IT team of tactics cybercriminals are using to target your organization. In the worst-case scenario, the email may not turn out to be phishing, but you’re better off safe than sorry. In short, if you’re in any way suspicious that an email may be phishing, go ahead and report it. Little harm comes from a mistaken report, while a lot of mistakes can happen because of unreported phishing.
If your organization doesn’t have any phishing policies in place, it should. If you receive a phishing email, this means cybercriminals are targeting your organization, and you need to have concrete strategies in place to guard against these threats. In the meantime, you can mark the email as spam to filter out future emails.
Ongoing Phishing Training Solutions
Just as cybercriminals are continually adapting their tactics to exploit networks, you need to be prioritizing ongoing training that empowers your team to respond to ever-changing threats. Fortunately, today’s marketplace overs a variety of ongoing phishing training solutions like KnowBe4 and Rapid7 to keep your team on their toes.
Virtual phishing training works by sporadically sending out automated, simulated phishing emails to your team. The email works like a real-world phishing attack by encouraging them to click a link, reply with information, or open an attachment. If they fall for the attack, they’re required to complete virtual training within a specified time frame. If they spot the attack and report it as phishing, they’re congratulated and encouraged to keep up the excellent work.
Sitting your team down and informing them of the key warning signs that an email may be phishing is a critical first step. However, they need concrete experience to be able to respond appropriately to real-world phishing threats. Simulated phishing attacks bridge the gap between theory and practice by offering a safe environment for your team to test their skills while keeping them alert to real-world vulnerabilities.
Los Angeles IT Support and Cybersecurity Solutions
If your organization is ready to start taking a more proactive approach to cybersecurity, reach out to the experts at Be Structured today. We’ll work with you to pinpoint industry-specific threats and develop a comprehensive cybersecurity platform that protects your organization today while preparing for tomorrow’s threats.