How to Recognise and Avoid Phishing Scams

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Did you know that every 39 seconds hackers attack an online system? On average, this makes 2,244 attacks a day.

That’s quite a scary statistic and one that hopefully makes you realise that online security is extremely important. It’s all too easy to pretend it will never happen to you. Then if you’re unfortunate, one day it does. If that day does come, you will wish you were better prepared.

Attacks on digital security are getting even more frequent. As our lives move more and more online, so do assets that are valuable enough for thieves to go through the effort to steal them. In fact, a study conducted by the Ponemon Institute says that since 2014, security breaches have increased by 67%.

One of the most common cyber attacks is called phishing, this article will go into more detail about phishing, what it is, how to recognise it, and how to avoid phishing scams entirely. Read on below to see if you can apply any of these tips to your online security systems.

What is phishing?

Phishing scams are not a new thing. It was very quick after the beginnings of widespread internet use that phishing scams entered the scene. But what is phishing?

Phishing can take many forms, but it is a cybercrime that aims to get access to sensitive and valuable information. Examples of this are bank details, medical documents, and passwords, to name just a few. The attackers get access to this information by contacting a target by email, telephone, or text, and pose to be a legitimate business or institution. If they are convincing enough, people hand them the information they need to gain access to the valuable data.

How to recognise a phishing scam

Over the years, phishing has evolved to become more and more sophisticated. The attackers are always working to improve their techniques, so you should always be vigilant of anything suspicious when you are contacted online.

Common Elements of Phishing scams to look out for.

  • You have to move quickly
  • The attackers create a sense of urgency, which might make you overlook questionable elements that you’d usually pick up on. Most legitimate organisations will give you a reasonable amount of time to respond to requests.
  • The deal of a lifetime
  • There’s an old saying that stands very true when protecting yourself from phishing attacks. If something’s too good to be true, it is.
  • Look out for links
  • Links from emails, texts, and websites can direct you to other places than what you’d expect.
  • Watch out for attachments
  • Only ever open attachments to emails from a sender you trust. If you weren’t expecting one, or it doesn’t add up with the body of the email, don’t open it. Opening it could download malicious software.
  • Who’s the sender?
  • You should be wary of random emails from people you don’t know. But you should also watch out for emails from people you do know, if something doesn’t seem right, don’t open it.

How to avoid a phishing scam

As mentioned above, hackers are always looking for new ways to steal information. This means you should always be wary, even if following the latest guidance. Below are some of the newest tips to avoid phishing attacks.

  • Use a spam filter
  • Your email provider will most likely provide a spam filter, this is usually on as default. Make sure it is on, but remember that it is not 100% accurate and sometimes legitimate emails will be filtered by it.
  • Block fraudulent websites
  • Make sure the web browser you use is set up to stop fraudulent websites from opening. There are some additional sidebars and addons which can improve security further.
  • Check before clicking links
  • Hover your mouse over links that you suspect could be phishing attempts. This will show you the url the link is actually taking you to.
  • Check a site is secure
  • The site you are on should have ‘https’ at the start of its URL alongside an image of a closed padlock. 
  • Watchout for popups
  • Popups are frequently used as phishing attacks, they can look like part of the website you were just on, but are actually not at all.

By remaining cautious and not giving out any information that you don’t need to online, it is possible to avoid a lot of phishing attacks. If you keep up to date with the latest occurrences, then you’ll be twice as prepared as well. Phishing attacks can happen to anyone, if you are a victim of a crime, seek immediate help.