How to stay safe from phishing attacks

Phishing attack: Understanding the Tricks of Cybercriminals

We all know cybercrimes are increasingly becoming more rampant today. The internet has become a place where we do much of our transactions, access vital information, and communicate with loved ones. Unfortunately, it has also become the perfect hideout for cybercriminals, who work tirelessly to exploit users’ vulnerabilities and steal their sensitive and valuable data. Phishing attacks are one way these bad actors are achieving their nefarious goals.

In this article, we will get a deeper understanding of what phishing attacks entail, how they are executed, and how to avoid falling victim to them.

##What is a Phishing Attack?

Phishing attacks are a type of cybercrime that leverages social engineering tactics to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information like credit card details, email passwords, online banking login credentials, social security numbers, or any other valuable information that could be used to defraud them.

Phishing attacks are typically carried out via electronic communications such as email, text messages, social media channels, or instant messaging software. These communications usually appear to originate from trusted entities or individuals; therefore, tricking users into believing that they are legitimate.

##How Does a Phishing Attack Work?

Phishing attacks employ various techniques to trick unsuspecting individuals into voluntarily sharing sensitive information without suspecting what's happening. The following are some phishing attack tactics:

###Email Spoofing

Email spoofing involves creating fake emails that appear legitimate. The emails typically appear to be from trusted sources like banks or financial institutions, e-commerce stores, or job networks. In these emails, the cybercriminals deceptively inform the victim that there has been a problem with their account, prompting them to share sensitive information to rectify the supposed issue.

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###Spear Phishing

Spear Phishing is a more targeted phishing attack method where cybercriminals carry out detailed research on a specific individual, learning about their habits and interests, and using the information gathered to make the phishing email as convincing as possible. The email usually appears to be from a friend or a trusted individual known to the target.

###Smishing

Smishing, or SMS phishing, is a type of phishing attack carried out via text messages instead of emails. It often includes a link to a website designed to look like the legitimate website of a reputable company.

###Voice Phishing or Vishing

Voice phishing or vishing refers to using a phone call to deceive someone into giving away confidential information. This technique involves an automated message asking the target to call a phone number or replying with personal information to rectify a problem.

###Clone Phishing

Clone phishing attacks happen when an attacker creates an email that appears to originate from a real sender, often using the same subject line and sender name. The cybercriminal then replaces the attachment or link in the original email with a malicious one containing malware or a scam site.

##Examples of Successful Phishing Attacks

Examples of successful phishing attacks are pretty much in the news each passing day. One of the most notable phishing attacks is the 2016 US presidential election. Russian hackers used spear-phishing tactics to get access to private emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta, and the Democratic National Committee. The tens of thousands of emails were subsequently leaked, leading to an enormous controversy and trust deficit worldwide.

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Another example is the WannaCry ransomware attack that occurred in May 2017. The ransomware affected millions of computers in over 150 countries worldwide. The attack was carried out using a phishing email that contained a link that, when clicked, would lead to the installation of malware onto the user's computer, subsequently encrypting files and asking for payment in exchange for the decryption key.

##How to Avoid Phishing

The following tips will ensure that you minimize your vulnerability to phishing:

- Always scrutinize messages claiming to be from banks, online payment networks, e-commerce establishments, or other organizations that you transact with, and ask for sensitive information.
- Never open links or download attachments in emails from unknown or suspicious sources.
- Don't give away personal information, such as your Social Security number or password, to anyone.
- Implement strong anti-spam and antivirus software on your computer.
- Be cautious of text messages containing web links or phone numbers asking for your sensitive information.

##Conclusion

Phishing attacks are one of the most significant cybersecurity threats today. These attacks subject millions of people to potential danger daily. It is, therefore, crucial that we adequately educate ourselves on how phishing attacks work, the strategies that cybercriminals use to execute these attacks, and steps to avoid falling victim to their schemes. Staying vigilant and cautious when receiving communications from unknown sources could save you from being another statistic in the ever-growing list of phishing victims.

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