How To Spot a Phishing Attack: 4 Ways That Work

Publication date: Mar 11, 2020

Last Published: Aug 06, 2020

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Read Time : 6 minutes
spot a phishing attack

Although the Internet has evolved into one of the most useful tools that businesses can take advantage of, it can also be used against them in the form of phishing attacks.  

Phishing is a type of cybercrime that is generally carried out through emails that at first glance can appear innocuous, but often contain traps to get users to click a toxic link or hand over sensitive information, which is then used to illegally access your computer or network. Scary, right? Consider the potential damage  that could be caused if a criminal gains access to your customers personal information. 

Phishing attacks are nothing new, and most people can spot a shady email from a mile away. However, this means cybercriminals are getting more and more clever at disguising their traps.

Let’s take a look at 4 ways you and your employees can spot a phishing attack.

1. The Message Will Urge The User to Take Action

One of the most frequent scenarios involved in a phishing email is an urge for the recipient to take some sort of action. More often than not, this involves urging a recipient to click a link provided in the email in order to resolve a conflict.

For example, a fraudulent email under the guise of being from a financial institution may declare there’s a problem with the user’s bank account and provide a link to view the ‘details’ about the incident.

From here, it’s possible for the attacker to compromise the user’s personal information, especially if they type a username and password after following the link provided.

Additionally, the email will not provide any way for the recipient to verify the claim, and the sender won’t be able to be contacted through anything other than email.

While there are plenty of red flags in this scenario, the fear that an urgent message instills is enough for some readers to follow through with the email’s request before they analyze the situation. 

2. There Are Often Grammar Errors

Phishing emails often disguise themselves as being from legitimate institutions, but there will frequently be grammar errors or awkwardly-phrased sentences.

Put simply, emails from legitimate businesses often pass through a large amount of quality control before they’re ever sent anywhere. Something that should say ‘Please use the below link for access to your financial records’ may be phrased as ‘Please kindly click the link below here to see more on your bank record.’

Blatant grammar errors are an even bigger sign that something is out of place. Common mistakes include your/you’re, bare/bear, read/red/reed/, etc.

In order to remain as unsuspicious as possible, fraudulent emails will often mimic a type of message where people normally click without reading the entire text. A Google Drive access link, for example, is often a link people follow without question.

So, be sure to remain vigilant before following a link from an email like this (even if you requested access to something yourself).

3. You May Be Asked to Sign into Something You Normally Wouldn’t

Unfortunately, this type of phishing email is relatively successful for the hacker.

If you’re already signed into an account on your browser, you’ll often never have to sign in twice when accessing the website. Twitter and Facebook, for example, will keep you signed in until you manually sign out yourself or force all other devices to sign out of your account.

So, clicking a link that leads you to Twitter will never ask you to sign in to the platform if you’re already logged in— it will simply take you to the content you’re trying to view.

An exception to this, though, is financial institution websites, as you’re often automatically signed out for your own protection.

In this type of scenario, you’ll often receive an email from a platform such as this that looks legitimate, and it will often ask you to view information about your account. Ironically, the fraudulent email may even tell you that your account was recently logged into by an unknown source and offer a link to learn more about it.

Regardless of how the message is worded, following the link will likely lead to a sign-in page where you type your username and password. Since the form is fraudulent, you won’t actually be able to log in.

Unfortunately, you’ll also unknowingly provide the sender of the email with your personal information.

4. There Are Unsolicited Attachments

It’s fairly rare for a company to send an attachment along with an email unless you specifically request it. Financial statements, for example, are often only available to be downloaded if you sign in to your account and select an option to have them emailed to you.

So, receiving a seemingly-legitimate email that says something along the lines of ‘here are your financial statements for 2019’ should be treated as a suspicious message if it’s sent to you out of the blue.

The wording on this type of email will also be very general. It’s unlikely to include your name (it may say something like ‘dear user’), and it often won’t specify what is actually attached.

Broad terms like ‘statement,’ ‘records,’ ‘account information,’ etc. will be used in order to reduce suspicion.

Don’t Fall For a Phishing Attack

It’s not enough for only you to be able to recognize phishing emails. Your entire team should be trained at least once annually on how to perceive fraudulent emails and what to do if they receive one. Constant vigilance is paramount. 

Additionally, any new hires should complete this same training process before they’re given full employee access to your company’s systems.

Your company’s employees should also be informed of what type of request is typical in a legitimate email. Even a brief training session could drastically reduce the chances that your company falls victim to one of these attacks.

Dealing With a Suspicious Link Can Seem Difficult

But it doesn’t have to be.

With the above information about handling an email with a suspicious link in mind, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring that your company stays as safe as possible in the future.

Want to learn more tips about cybersecurity vulnerabilities that can help you out in the future? This article has plenty of useful info.

If you are still uncertain about the state of your cyber security efforts, consider working with an MSSP like OSIbeyond. MSSPs are widely viewed as effective and affordable alternatives to in-house cyber security departments.

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