First Column IT blog
Tip of the Week: 5 Warning Signs of a Phishing Attack
Phishing attacks are a very common threat nowadays. Between the classic message from a supposed Nigerian Prince to a sudden and urgent email from the bank with attachment in tow, we’ve all seen our share of them. That’s the trick to stopping them—being able to spot them. Let’s go over five signals that a message may be a phishing attempt.
If a message is written in such a way that it intentionally makes you panic, it’s more likely that it’s a phishing attack. While email has proven its worth to millions of individual users and businesses, it isn’t the first method of communication one would try with an urgent message if another mode of communication were available.
Regardless of how the message comes in, any message that raises your blood pressure should (ironically) be taken with a grain of salt and verified through another means.
Email really is a remarkable tool, especially considering what can be sent through it as an attachment. An attacker, for instance, can send an entire malware payload along with their phishing email for you to open!
This is precisely why you should never click on an unanticipated email attachment, and even then, carefully consider whether or not you trust the anticipated ones. Keep in mind, most financial institutions (a favorite disguise of phishing attacks) would prefer you to call them, and likely wouldn’t send an attachment through email unprompted, as they have dedicated solutions for these needs. It is better to not download attachments at all unless you know what the contents are.
Spelling and Grammar Errors
This one is just common sense. Which “email” looks more legitimate to you?
“I would also like to discuss the services you are currently receiving from my company, and if we could perhaps figure out a way for you to put them to better use.”
“I would also like to diskcuss the services you am currently receiving my company from, and if we could figure out a way for you too put them to better use.”
I hope you answered that the first option looked more legitimate.
While this may be a crude and oversimplified example, the point stands: legitimate business messages are most likely reviewed and edited before being sent out. Phishing attacks, designed to take advantage of someone who isn’t paying close attention, are less likely to be. Your bank isn’t going to send you a message riddled with spelling errors, so keep an eye out. It might just pay to be a stickler.
Requests for Your Personal Information
Here’s another question for you: why would a business that likely already has your information (they are contacting you, after all) need you to give them sensitive information over an email?
Want a hint? They wouldn’t… at least, not very often at all.
Generally, scammers are the only ones who will ask for sensitive information, like credit card details or your social security number, over email. Legitimate businesses will have other, secure means of obtaining that information—they must remain compliant to their own requirements, after all.
Finally, we have to address the fact that links to other pages are remarkably easy for an attacker to mess with. If a link appears in an email you receive, you should always check where it goes before you click through to it. You can do this by hovering your cursor over it, which should cause an address to pop up.
If it’s an email message, make sure that you count how many periods there are in the web address. Any more than one, and you can typically start to get suspicious.
For your convenience, here’s a quick guide for you and your team:
- Everyone handles their domains a little differently, but use this as a general rule of thumb:
- a. paypal.com - Safe
- b. paypal.com/activatecard - Safe
- c. business.paypal.com - Safe
- d. business.paypal.com/retail - Safe
- e. paypal.com.activatecard.net - Suspicious! (notice the dot immediately after PayPal’s domain name)
- f. paypal.com.activatecard.net/secure - Suspicious!
- paypal.com/activatecard/tinyurl.com/retail - Suspicious! Don’t trust dots after the domain!
- Check the email in the header. An email from Amazon wouldn’t come in as [email protected] Do a quick Google search for the email address to see if it is legitimate.
- Always be careful opening attachments. If there is an attachment or link on the email, be extra cautious.
- Be skeptical of password alerts. If the email mentions passwords, such as “your password has been stolen,” be suspicious.
Hopefully, this helps. For more help training your team to protect your business, or more IT advice and assistance in general, give First Column IT a call at 703-880-6683.