What Is Phishing? Your Guide to Email Security Solutions

What is Phishing? Your guide to email security solutions 

7 MINS
Diana Alcanzar

When you sign up for a newsletter or give your email to a brand’s website, you’ll receive emails from them. These are usually about the availability of their products and services, or simple updates and announcements. Unfortunately, scammers have increased their phishing efforts in response to this trend.

43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, and only 14% of them are prepared. The most common types of attacks are phishing/social engineering (57%), compromised/stolen devices (33%), and credential theft (30%). You could be a part of these egregious numbers if you’re not well-equipped for cyberattacks. In this article, we’ll tackle the most common cyberattack: phishing.

What is phishing?

Phishing is a type of cyberattack that involves tricking individuals into revealing personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and social security numbers, through deceptive emails, messages, websites, or other forms of communication. These communications often mimic legitimate sources, such as banks, social media platforms, or government agencies, to appear more credible and persuade the recipient to act on their deceptive messaging.

The cybercriminal’s goal is to steal sensitive data for fraudulent purposes, such as identity theft, financial theft, or unauthorized access to private systems. Phishing attacks can vary—from generic mass emails to highly targeted messages specially crafted to deceive specific individuals, known as spear-phishing. Awareness and education on identifying phishing attempts are crucial for protecting personal and organizational information from these malicious activities.

10 types of phishing

Phishing attacks come in various forms that are tailored to exploit different vulnerabilities and deceive targets in the most unique ways. These are the common types of phishing you need to be aware of:

  • Email phishing. The most common form involves fraudulent emails that mimic legitimate companies with the end goal of stealing personal information or login credentials. These emails often contain links to fake websites that look real.
  • Spear phishing. Unlike broad, indiscriminate email phishing, spear phishing targets specific individuals or organizations. Attackers will spend time gathering personal information about their targets to craft more convincing emails.
  • Whaling. A subset of spear phishing, whaling attacks target high-profile individuals like CEOs or CFOs. The goal is often to steal sensitive company information or commit financial fraud.
  • Smishing (SMS Phishing). Like vishing, smishing involves sending text messages that trick recipients into clicking malicious links or providing personal data.
  • Pharming. This technique redirects users from legitimate websites to fraudulent ones without their knowledge. It often involves tampering with a website’s DNS (Domain Name System) settings.
  • Clone phishing. Attackers create an almost identical replica of a legitimate email that the recipient has previously received but with malicious links or attachments. This can be highly deceptive because it appears to originate from a trusted source.
  • Business Email Compromise (BEC). In these scams, attackers impersonate company executives or employees to mislead others into sending money transfers or confidential information to fraudulent accounts.
  • Angler phishing. This type exploits social media platforms. Attackers impersonate customer service accounts to interact with people, directing them to phishing sites or soliciting private information.
  • Pop-up phishing. These are pop-up windows that suddenly appear while browsing, claiming that you’ve won a prize or warning of a computer virus. This often directs users to enter personal information or download malware.

Be on the lookout for phishing scams: how to identify them

Protecting your business from a phishing attack involves two parts. The first part is to make sure that you and the other people in your company know how to identify phishing messages. The second is to have a cybersecurity solution in place that monitors the security of all your business-related computers and mobile devices. Here are some email phishing reminders that you need to remember that could be applied to other phishing types as well:

Check the sender’s email address

Phishing emails often use email addresses that look like legitimate ones but contain slight misspellings (instead of Amazon, the sender uses Amazon instead), extra characters (instead of PayPalService.com, the sender uses PayPalServicee.com), or visually similar characters (using “rn” to mimic “m”). You must exercise vigilance by inspecting the sender’s email address thoroughly for any peculiarities before engaging with the content of the message. This includes hesitating to click on any embedded links or attachments and refraining from disclosing any personal or sensitive information. By verifying the authenticity of an email, you can mitigate the risk of falling victim to these phishing scams.

Look for generic greetings

Phishing emails often use generic and impersonal greetings like “Dear Customer” or “Dear User” because they lack the specific information required to address recipients individually. This is in stark contrast with legitimate businesses that personalize their communications because they have access to their customers’ names and other personal details. An example of this is greeting you directly by name.

When you encounter an email with a vague salutation, it should raise a red flag for you. Take this as a sign to check the email more closely for signs of phishing. You should also take note that cybercriminals rely on these generic greetings to cast a wide net because they’re aiming to deceive as many individuals as possible.

Beware of urgent or threatening language

Phishing emails frequently use tactics that manipulate emotions and provoke immediate action. They’d craft messages skillfully with urgent or threatening language that aimed to instill fear or anxiety in the recipient. This sense of urgency is intended to make you ignore your rational thought process and prompt hasty actions, such as clicking on a malicious link or entering sensitive information on a fraudulent website.

For example, you might receive an email claiming that your bank account will be permanently closed or that you will incur severe legal penalties unless you verify your identity immediately. Alarming phrases like “Immediate action is required!” or “Your account is at risk!” are commonly used to instill a sense of urgency in you.

Always be skeptical of these types of communications and verify their authenticity through official channels rather than responding directly to the email.

Examine the email content and formatting

Phishing emails may betray themselves through spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistent use of fonts, or poor image quality, which are very uncommon in a legitimate organization’s communications. This is due to the attacker’s limited access to genuine branding materials or lack of language proficiency. In addition, you should also look out for an unprofessional appearance, awkward layouts, and mismatched formatting in a possible phishing email.

Hover over links before clicking

Hover your mouse over any links contained within the emails you receive. This simple action allows you to see the actual URL that will direct you to a fraudulent website. If there are suspicious characters in the link, don’t bother clicking on it.

Verify with the company

Legitimate companies usually won’t ask for personal or financial information from you via email. If you’re in doubt, verify with the sender—whether that’s a bank, a retail store, or a service provider via their official contact details or their verified channels to be sure. Avoid contacting the details provided in the suspicious email because these could easily connect you to scammers posing as company representatives to steal personal or financial information from you.

Watch out for fake logos and branding

Phishing emails may attempt to imitate the branding of reputable companies. Pay close attention to the brand logo, color variations, unusual spacing, and overall design to spot any discrepancies. Additionally, consider the email’s tone and language, as inconsistencies in these areas are telltale signs of a phishing attempt.

Use email security features

Your professional email should have security features (i.e., anti-phishing, spam filtering, and antivirus protection) to protect crucial information from threats. Moreover, it’s advisable to implement two-factor authentication (2FA) for an additional layer of security. This ensures that whenever you access your email, not only will it require a password but also a secondary code that only you can access, typically through your mobile device.

You should also encrypt your email messages to prevent unauthorized access during transmission. Ensure your email software or service provider is updated with the latest security features and fixes to prevent cybercriminals from exploiting possible vulnerabilities. Lastly, you should also have training and awareness programs for you and your team so you can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches.

Secure your inbox now!

Nowadays, cybercriminals have become so clever in their deceptive methods that it’s easy to overlook them. While being knowledgeable about phishing attacks helps, there should still be security measures in place in your email to ensure the absolute safety of your company’s important information. The crucial information in this article should equip you with sufficient knowledge and a keen eye for spotting phishing attacks.

  • Diana Alcanzar

    Diana is a Technical Writer at Web.com. She's dedicated to creating compelling and impactful web content that empowers online businesses from around the world. Outside work, she enjoys trying out new foods and visiting different places. She's always eager to experience something fresh and exciting.

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