With over 60,000 phishing websites reported in the March of 2020 alone, phishing has seen an exponential rise in recent years owing to the increase of digitalisation globally with over 22% of all data breaches in 2020 involving phishing attacks. Google Registers Record Two Million Phishing Websites In 2020. With a single spear phishing attack resulting in an average loss of $1.6 million, Phishing is one of the most common and deadly cyber-attacks in the world right now. This has led to immense number of people searching for ways to prevent phishing attacks and safeguard themselves.
Phishing refers to a specialised type of social engineering attack that is aimed towards stealing user data and financial details of the victim. The attack involves the perpetrator masquerading as a trusted entity and will trick the user to open an instant message or an email, which contains a link. This malicious link redirects user to fake website or may lead to the installation of a malware, stealing user’s financial details or freezing the system as a part of an elaborative ransomware attack.
Phishing attacks has also been used to gain access to corporate or government networks by compromising the employees to give the hacker access to the closed network and trick them into distributing malware or stealing valuable corporate data that can sustain heavy financial losses to the company. Before coming to how to prevent phishing attacks let's have a look at the most common types of phishing attacks.
Types of phishing attacks
Some of the most common phishing techniques include: -
- Email phishing scams: These are fraudulent emails sent to thousands of people at once that mimic actual emails from a spoofed popular organisation to trick people into thinking that it is a message by the company and trust its contents. Email phishing often includes the attacker creating a sense of urgency by placing a timer or deadline to pressure you into complying with the fraudulent instructions given within the email. The main motive behind the email is to deceive you into clicking a fraudulent link in the email that will redirect to a fraudulent website aiming to steal your money or personal details.
Some examples of such phishing attacks include emails appearing to be from Instagram, Netflix, etc and asking user to login to the account using a link and verify with a code. The link will record the login credentials of the user to their social media or Netflix accounts which could be misused by fraudsters.
- Smishing: This is a type of phishing where the attacker will send text messages in bulk trying to trick people into giving out their information. Usually these fraudulent messages can indicate that you have won a contest or lottery, and provide a link or number that will attempt to source your personal information.
In a recent smishing attack, SBI users received text messages requesting them to redeem their SBI credit points worth Rs. 9,870. The link in the messages took users to a fake website where they were asked to share sensitive financial information such as SBI credit number, expiry date, CVV and Mpin.
- Spear phishing: These are targeted attacks aimed at a specific person, enterprise or a specialised group of people that requires the perpetrator to research names and identities of the person or people involved and tailor-make a phishing scam for them. The spear phishing scams are more effective and deadlier than a generalised one as they look more authentic and are often utilised as a first step towards a larger scheme by the attacker to infiltrate a company’s defences. Recent example of spear phishing is phishing scam with TV anchor Nidhi Razdan who was duped into a fake job offer to teach journalism at Harvard University. She had shared some personal information for a ‘work visa’ that could have been used to steal money.
- Vishing: Vishing is one of the most common types of phishing attacks. This is a technique utilized by cyber-attackers to steal personal or financial information through the utilization of the telephone network. The scammer can use a spoofed Caller ID to appear as someone calling from a prominent institution like a bank or the Income Text Department and trick you into giving out your personal or financial data on the phone. Wife of Punjab Chief Minister lost Rs. 23 lakh to a vishing attack. The caller, posing as a bank manager, stole her card details and OTP on the pretext of crediting her salary.
- Whaling: This refers to a phishing attack targeting the elite class “big fish” individuals like a CEO or an owner of a large corporation. The attackers often spend a considerable amount of time in scaling out the target and analyse their schedules to find the appropriate moment and means to unleash the attack and gain their log-in credentials or steal their financial assets.
- Pharming: This form of cyber-attack involves the perpetrator sending users to a fraudulent website that appears to be legitimate and trying to steal personal or bank details through their spoofed webpage. In this form of Phishing, the user doesn’t even have to click a malicious link as the attackers can directly infect the user’s device or the website's DNS server to force users to redirect to their fake site even if the correct URL is typed in by the user.
How to prevent phishing attacks
Some of the ways through which you can prevent yourself from being a victim of a Phishing attack are: -
- Always recheck any email or text message that you receive on your device and ensure that it isn’t a spoofed message or link by a cyber-attacker that will redirect to a fraudulent spoofed version of the real website.
- Check if message contains subtle mistakes that expose its true origin
- Check if link has a slightly changed spelling of a popular website or company
- If links are short urls, better to avoid them.
- Check if the email of the sender has changed spelling of a popular company or government organization.
- To prevent phishing attacks make sure to enable Two-factor authentication for all of your emails and websites to ensure that there is an extra layer of security and in the event that your log-in credentials are exposed, the attacker still can't gain access to your account or personal details.
- Do not enter login details on a popup window. Companies don’t take user credentials on pop-up screens.
- Utilise a secure tool like Finlock that can safeguard you against a phishing attack and prevent huge financial loss or identity theft by a cyber-attacker.
With phishing attacks resulting in hundreds of people losing their savings and personal information regularly, use these tips to detect and prevent phishing attacks. Safeguarding yourself from one of the most widely used and dangerous forms of cyber-attack is paramount to secure your online identity.