Phishing

  • Fabian Sinner
  • June 23, 2023

Table of content

    Phishing

    What is Phishing?

    Phishing is a cyberattack in which fraudsters use fake communications, such as e-mails, text messages, or websites, to steal personal information from bona fide users. The main goal of phishing is to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other confidential data. 

    The perpetrators often disguise themselves as trusted institutions or companies, such as banks, online payment platforms, government agencies, or popular online services. Fake communications are often designed to be extremely convincing and usually contain plausible reasons or urgency to get victims to divulge their personal information. 

    What forms can phishing be?

    E-mail phishing, spear phishing, smishing, and vishing are all examples of phishing. The main difference is the technical medium used to attempt fraud. 

    • In e-mail phishing, fraudsters send fake e-mails that look like legitimate communications from known companies or individuals. These e-mails often contain links to fake websites where users are supposed to enter their personal information. This is probably the most well-known and common type of phishing. 
    • Spear phishing involves specifically targeting a person or organization. The attackers conduct advance research on their target to increase the likelihood of a successful scam. 
    • Smishing occurs via text messages on mobile devices. The fraudulent messages request that the recipient click a link or reveal personal information. 
    • In contrast, in vishing, attackers use phone calls to obtain personal information from victims. They pose as employees of companies or organizations and ask victims to divulge confidential information such as bank account numbers or passwords. 

    How can phishing emails be distinguished from legitimate emails?

    Distinguishing malicious e-mails from legitimate e-mails requires much attention, mindfulness, and, in some cases, practice. However, some characteristics can help reliably identify phishing e-mails.  

    First, carefully check the sender’s e-mail address, as phishing e-mails often use spoofed or slightly modified addresses. Furthermore, look out for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or unusual sentence structures. These are common in phishing e-mails and are an obvious sign of a possible scam attempt.  

    Also, be suspicious of e-mails that require urgent action, as reputable companies usually give enough time to make informed decisions. If there is a link in the e-mail, you can safely check it by hovering over it to see the actual destination URL. However, never click on unknown links. 

    Furthermore, do not disclose personal information if asked to do so unexpectedly. Also, suspicious formatting, fake logos, unusual fonts, or color variations can indicate a phishing attempt.  

    In conclusion, be careful never to open attachments unless you expect them and are sure they come from a trustworthy source. If in doubt, contact the company or organization the e-mail came from to verify its authenticity. 

    What to do if someone becomes a phishing attack victim?

    If someone has fallen victim to a phishing attack and has mistakenly disclosed personal data, it is important to act immediately to avoid further damage. The faster appropriate measures are taken, the better one can protect personal data and accounts and minimize further possible effects of the attack.  

    The first step is to report the phishing e-mail to the affected e-mail service provider or impersonated company so that other users are warned. 

    Next, the password for the affected account should be changed immediately, especially if the same password is used for other accounts. In this case, it is advisable to carefully check all affected accounts for any suspicious activity or unknown transactions. In case of suspicious incidents, the relevant bank or credit card company should be notified immediately, as well as the customer service of the affected account. 

    If you haven’t already, enable two-factor authentication for all relevant accounts to be even more secure against unauthorized access. In addition, you should check the computer or device for any malware infections the phishing attack might have caused. 

    Also, feel free to share the incident in conversation with others to educate them about the threat of phishing attacks. By raising awareness and educating others about common phishing methods and how to recognize them, you can help prevent future attacks yourself. 

    What precautions should be taken to prevent such a situation?

    Several protective measures are possible and recommended to protect yourself from such attacks. These include being vigilant when opening e-mails or messages from unknown senders. In addition, avoid suspicious links and carefully check the authenticity of websites. In addition, never disclose personal information to questionable recipients.  

    It is also advisable to use anti-virus and anti-phishing software and perform regular security updates for all devices and applications. These often contain security patches that make it harder for fraudsters to get personal information. 

    Good to know: Google Phishing Quiz

    Are you sure that you can always recognize phishing mails yourself? A small tool from Google helps you do just that: in the form of a quiz, you can playfully check whether genuine mails can be distinguished from dangerous fake mails.

    Google’s Phishing quiz is completely free and helps to sharpen your senses in a simple way.

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