Everything You Need to Know About Phishing Attacks & Ways to Prevent it

Phishing scams have emerged as one of the most prominent forms of cyberattacks today. In the first quarter of 2021, 637,302 unique phishing websites were identified, increasing 4% from the preceding quarter. This number continued to rise in the fourth quarter. 


With daily activities shifting online due to the pandemic, cybercrime has risen in many parts of the world. Phishing was reported as the most common cybercrime in 2021, with 324K individuals affected. Research shows that 91% of all cyberattacks start with phishing. 


While it is easy to fall victim to a phishing attack, there are also ways to prevent it as much as possible. In this article, we will discuss phishing and its common types, the five most significant phishing attacks of all time, and steps to prevent phishing scams in your organization. 


What is Phishing?


Phishing is a type of social engineering in which cybercriminals often use emails or social media messages to lure victims and mislead them to a carefully constructed phishing website. These sites pose as a login page or online form from a legitimate company and then capture users’ sensitive information, which is used to commit identity theft or online fraud. 


Moreover, phishing links present in those disguised messages often create a gateway for malware to make its way into the system. In 2020, the most common cause of ransomware infection was phishing emails, contributing to up to 54% of digital vulnerabilities. Also, poor user practices or lack of cybersecurity awareness training were significant contributors. 


Types of Phishing


There are various types of phishing scams, out of which the most common are given below. 


  • Spear phishing: Spear phishing attacks are more targeted, unlike other common phishing attacks. Cybercriminals executing spear phishing target members of a specific group and do proper research about them. Spear phishing emails include information known to the target to induce them to reveal sensitive information.


  • Whale phishing: Whaling or whale phishing is a type of spear phishing that attacks high-value and larger targets. Whale phishing attackers pretend to be C-suite executives demanding personal or company information from an employee in an email. 


  • Smishing: Smishing, also known as SMS phishing, is a phishing scam that uses mobile text messaging to carry out an attack. In this form of phishing, an attacker sends phishing content in the form of SMS or MMS instead of email.


  • Vishing: Vishing, also known as voice phishing, uses phone calls to conduct phishing attacks. Attackers use conventional phone systems or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems to deceive victims and get their sensitive information over the phone.


  • Email Phishing: Email phishing is the most common type of phishing that uses emails to direct you to phishing sites and manipulate you to reveal your personal information, including credit card numbers, financial details, etc. 


How to Recognize Phishing Emails? 



Recognizing a phishing email is not easy. However, phishing emails possess some common features that you can identify by examining them closely. These include:


Showing a Sense of Urgency


Cybercriminals use one of their favorite tactics to ask you to act fast in a phishing email. They will ask you to respond in a few minutes, and if you don’t click on the link immediately and change your login credentials, your account may get hacked.


Another thing they can say is that your account will be suspended if you don’t update your details. Don’t get fooled by such emails. Many organizations never suspend an account before providing enough time to the employee. If this happens to you, reach out to the source directly. 


Suspicious Hyperlinks


If you hover the cursor over a link, you can see the name of the original website the link may take you to. Cybercriminals use the misspelled names of authentic websites as malicious links. For example, www.bankofarnerica.com might look like America, but it is not; ‘r’ and ‘n’ are combined to make it look like ‘m’.


Unexpected Attachments


If you find attachments you weren’t expecting in your email or never asked anyone to send, don’t open them! It might contain payloads like ransomware or viruses. 


Unusual Sender


If you receive an email from a sender, you don’t know, or even if you know but it seems suspicious, don’t open the email. Just ignore it.


Too Good to be True


Hackers use many lucrative offers to fool you. For instance, they will tell you that you have won an iPhone or a lottery. Click on the link to claim your prize or enter your details. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 


Impact of Phishing Attacks on Businesses 


Phishing attacks can significantly damage businesses of any size. Not only can they cause data breaches, but also loss of company reputation and value, financial loss, data compromise, etc. Phishing can affect businesses in the following ways:


  • Data Loss: The primary purpose of phishing scams is to get access to the data and systems of an organization so that hackers can further do whatever they want with that data, including identity theft, online fraud, data corruption, and deletion. Data loss is the most severe impact of phishing.


  • Monetary Loss: Recovering from a data breach is not easy. It can cause direct monetary losses to an organization as extra funds are needed to manage identity theft or compensate customers or employees whose data was stolen. As of 2022, the average data breach cost is $9.44 million in the US.


  • Compromised Brand Reputation: Businesses’ brand reputation is compromised due to a data breach conducted through a phishing attack. Data breach announcement leads to a loss of trust in the company. Data breaches have a very negative impact on a business’s reputation.


  • Loss of Customers’ Trust: Decreased brand reputation results in a loss of customers’ trust in your organization. People are less likely to work with a company that faces data breaches more often and can’t do anything to prevent them.


  • Financial Penalties: Businesses are held responsible for losing customers’ sensitive data. In addition to the monetary losses, companies have to face heavy regulatory fines for mishandling user data. 


Biggest Phishing Scams of all Time & Their Consequences


Phishing attacks easily target employees. Five of the biggest phishing scams happened due to human error and negligence. Let’s check out the five biggest phishing scams of all time (so far) and how much they cost businesses. 


Google & Facebook


Facebook and Google faced the costliest phishing attacks, fetching over $100 million from the two companies. Between 2013 and 2015, the attacker sent fake invoices to Facebook and Google impersonating to be from Quanta, a Taiwan-based vendor, which both companies paid. 


Sony Pictures


A series of spear phishing emails were sent to Sony employees, to which they became victims. Hackers researched the company’s employees and sent emails having malware posing as company colleagues. Consequently, more than 100TB of data was stolen from the company records. 


Upsher-Smith Laboratories


In 2014, cybercriminals executed a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam against a Minnesotan drug company, costing the company a loss of over $39 million, decreasing from $50 million. Attackers posed as the company’s CEO and sent emails to the account payable coordinator instructing him to send particular wire transfers.


Ubiquiti Networks


In 2015, a group of hackers conducted another BEC attack on Ubiquiti Networks, a US-based computer networking company. The attacks cost the company $46.7 million. In 17 days, the attacker manipulated the company’s Chief Accounting Officer to make 14 wire transfers to accounts in China, Poland, Russia, and Hungary.


Crelan Bank


Crelan Bank became a victim of a BEC attack that cost the company almost $75.8 million in Belgium. An internal audit helped discover this attack, enabling the organization to absorb the loss.


How to Prevent Phishing Scams in Your Organization? 


Here are some tips to prevent phishing scams in your organization:


Educate Employees


Companies will have the most robust security defenses but still become victims of phishing scams due to human negligence. Cybercriminals know the tactics to trick employees into revealing sensitive information. Therefore, it is essential to educate staff and provide regular training about phishing attacks so that they play their part in preventing such attacks.


Never Click on Suspicious Links


As mentioned above, the most common type of phishing is email phishing, in which attackers trick people into opening suspicious attachments or clicking links. However, remember that legitimate companies never send you emails requiring personal information. So, it’s better to ignore such emails.


Install Antivirus and Firewalls 


Install antivirus software and firewalls to protect against external attacks, as they act as the first line of defense in detecting threats. Also, it is essential to keep them updated so that hackers can’t gain access to your system through outdated programs or security vulnerabilities.


Verify Website Security


Before you provide your personal information to any website, ensure the site is secure and safe. You can do this by examining the website’s URL. URLs beginning with “https” are considered secure as they use an SSL certificate which ensures the privacy of your data. Also, a small padlock icon indicates the security of the site.


Rotate Passwords Regularly


Those having online accounts should change passwords regularly to prevent attackers from gaining access to their accounts. Encryption methods such as Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) add an extra layer of security to your accounts and help lock out potential hackers.


Final Words 


Identity theft or data breaches resulting from phishing scams can damage the reputation of any size of business. Organizations must understand the consequences phishing attacks can have for them. With phishing scams becoming more common, it is essential to stay aware of them. 


A cybersecurity specialist like CyberArrow can help organizations simulate phishing attack campaigns to train employees and provide them with awareness training. Our phishing module identifies the weak links and monitors results based on the teams most exposed to simulated phishing scams.  


Enhance awareness among staff members and implement preventive measures to protect against phishing attacks with CyberArrow’s Phishing Module. Book a free demo and start with our employee training program today! 

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Amar Basic


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