Phishing Attacks- The Biggest Cyber-threat of 2021
In today’s highly digitalized world, both businesses and individuals have become more aware of cybercrimes, and have gotten better at identifying potential cyber threats and navigating around them. However, as awareness about cybercrime is increasing, hackers and cybercriminals are constantly coming up with newer and more sophisticated ways to trap users. It’s thus super important to always stay up to date with the latest popular cyber threats and learn how you can protect yourself from them.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Report of 2020 found phishing attacks to be the most common type of cybercrime of the year, with hackers all around the world taking advantage of the global shift to remote working and increased dependence on technology during COVID-19. This is exactly why your business currently needs to keep an eye out for phishing attacks.
In this article, we’ll be telling you what phishing attacks are and how your business can be targeted, plus some tips and security measures you can take to avoid falling right into their trap.
What Are Phishing Attacks?
Pronounced like the word ‘fishing’, phishing attacks are a type of cyber-attack in which malicious parties disguise themselves as legitimate organizations, individuals or businesses to acquire sensitive information about your company. The most common phishing attacks are conducted through fraudulent emails, but hackers sometimes also use websites and fake phone calls.
They are named such because as with fishing, phishing attacks make use of ‘bait’ (in the form of a disguised email, call or message) to ‘catch prey’ (in this case, you). While most people are usually confident that they can easily identify such phony emails, that is often not the case. Phishing attacks can be highly sophisticated and it is easy to fall victim to them. Hackers can lure you into giving away login data and even important personal information such as credit card or bank account details, and then can use this information to commit fraud, identify theft or even corporate espionage.
Types of Phishing Attacks
To ensure that your business is as protected against a cyber-threat as practically possible, it’s important to not only know what the threat is but also the forms it can take, who it usually targets and how it is delivered.
Let us first break down the types of phishing attacks according to their purpose. Generally, a phishing attack is aiming to accomplish one of two things:
Get The Victim To Download Malware
A majority of phishing emails aim to infect the victim’s system with malware. This is accomplished by attaching Microsoft Office documents or zip files in the email and persuading the receiver to open them to either view an ‘important’ file or enter some personal information. These documents and files are embedded with malicious code, which then worms its way into the victim’s computer.
Gain Sensitive Information
The second reason phishing emails are sent is to trick the user into giving away precious data such as their login credentials, bank account details or other information that the cybercriminal needs to breach an account. Today, these types of phishing emails are very carefully crafted and are usually disguised to look like security alerts, account confirmations or mass emails from a well-known bank or organization. They contain links that lead the victim to a website (which can be designed to imitate the bank’s webpage) where they enter in their login credentials and end up giving the cybercriminals access to their account.
Phishing attacks can further be categorized into four types:
Email Phishing Attacks
As touched upon before in this article, a majority of phishing attacks are carried out through emails. There are three major types of email phishing scams your business must watch out for.
- Tech Support Phishing Attacks
The content of such emails tries to persuade the receiver that they have malware on their computer, posing as a tech support company. The cybercriminal will ask the receiver to install remote access software that they claim will ‘fix’ the problem, but end up installing actual malware instead.
- Spear Phishing Attacks
People generally think of phishing attacks and cyber scams as massive schemes to target as many people and businesses as possible. While this is usually true, there can be phishing attacks that are directed at a specific individual or organization alone. These are known as spear attacks, where the cybercriminal wants to steal intellectual property or private information from a carefully chosen target.
- Clone Phishing Attacks
As evident from the name, clone phishing attacks involve hackers creating ‘clones’ or duplicate copies of emails from legitimate organizations and individuals to trick the user into revealing sensitive information or unknowingly installing malicious software. These duplicate emails are usually almost identical to authentic ones and can be very hard to identify as false.
Apart from using emails, hackers also employ text messages to reach their victims. This type of phishing attack is called smishing- a combination of the words SMS and phishing. These scams aren’t conducted through SMS alone, however, and can be sent through WhatsApp, Messenger and all major messaging platforms.
Phishing attacks conducted through phone calls are called vishing. The caller usually disguises themselves as a bank representative or loan collector that will attempt to convince the victim to hand out personal information or transfer money to avoid ‘going into debt’, having an account shut down or losing a subscription.
Phishing attacks can even be carried out using QR codes, and these attacks are becoming increasingly common in the Covid world. Most people generally don’t expect such schemes to be conducted through QR codes, but it’s extremely important to keep an eye out for them.
How Bad Is It, Really?
While most people believe that they can spot fake emails and phony calls and are smart enough to not fall for them, it’s important to remember that cybercriminals are nearly always two steps ahead of you.
Don’t believe us? Here are some numbers to put things into perspective.
- A study by Inspired eLearning found that an astounding 97% of people cannot identify a sophisticated phishing email.
- There has been a 350% increase in phishing attacks since the start of 2020 alone.
- Proofpoint’s 2020 Phish Report found that 75% of organizations globally experienced a phishing attack in 2020.
- Around 60% of businesses experiencing phishing attacks lost precious data. 18% incurred heavy financial losses while 47% were infected with ransomware.
- RiskIQ estimated that businesses worldwide lose $17,700 every minute due to phishing attacks.
Phishing attacks today are carried out meticulously and with great sophistication. This makes it extremely hard for business owners and regular individuals to identify them as fraudulent and ignore these emails or calls, often leading them to bite right at the bait.
Why Your Business Is Likely To Fall Victim
Crises such as the coronavirus pandemic give cybercriminals and hackers the opportunity they need to lure businesses into falling for their phishing bait, which explains why phishing attacks are currently at an all-time high.
The current surge in phishing attacks can mostly be chalked up to the shift to remote working. With the sudden state of panic that ensued after lockdown, businesses quickly instructed their employers to start working from home, with a majority of workers using domestic internet connections. Since this shift was so fast-paced, a lot of businesses failed to provide their workers with adequate security measures and technical support until well into the pandemic, at which point it was too late.
Although the worst of the pandemic has hopefully now passed, many businesses are switching to long-term remote work, which means that the vulnerabilities caused by domestic connections and insecure personal devices are still very much present. In times like these, it is even more important for businesses to tighten up their security measures and educate themselves and their workers on how to avoid falling for such schemes.
How You Can Avoid Phishing Attacks
Now that we’ve established what phishing attacks are, how serious their consequences can be, and why your business must watch out for them, it’s time to answer the big question- How can your business avoid falling victim to these attacks?
Below are some security measures you can implement to ensure that you are safeguarded against most common phishing attacks.
Enforce Password Policies
Set up an effective password policy plan and educate your employees about it. Make sure that every single worker in your company is well aware of rules that govern allowable passwords, such as password length, minimum characteristics and what to avoid when choosing a password. You can encourage the use of online password strength testers to ensure that all worker accounts are well-protected with unique and complex passwords. It’s also good practice to never use the same password for multiple accounts or devices. This way, even if a hacker manages to crack one password, your other accounts are still protected.
Analyze Your Web Traffic
If your employees are repeatedly switching between their professional and private emails and social media accounts, they are more likely to be exposed to phishing scams and suspicious links at the workplace. To help counter this problem, you can implement a security solution that analyzes all traffic coming towards your website in real-time, giving you security alerts whenever suspicious activity is observed and preventing phishing scams from reaching your system in the first place.
You can set up the most infallible and sophisticated security plan in your organization, but if it doesn’t get regularly updated, it cannot protect you. Keeping your software updated with the latest security patches is extremely important, and can help greatly decrease your chances of falling victim to phishing attacks. Software and tech companies are always coming up with newer security measures to respond to the latest threats, and you’ll miss out on these additional measures if you aren’t updating your system. You should update your security software, internet browsers and applications and operating system software, while also monitoring their security status closely. If you aren’t a fan of manual updates, you can set up automatic updates in your software that will regularly update the solutions you use.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication
While it’s always good to have a complex password that is difficult to crack, sometimes hackers can get the best of you. In case they do get their hands on any of your workers’ login credentials, a two-factor authentication system can go a long way in protecting you. This prevents hackers from gaining access to your system even if they have managed to compromise your login credentials, as they are unlikely to also have access to the external device you are using to authenticate your account.
Establish Strict Security Protocol
If you don’t already have an employee protocol for handing out company information, now is a good time to establish one. Come up with a detailed and thorough security protocol and make sure your employees fully understand it. The security protocol can emphasize practices like double-checking before handing out company information. Encourage your employees to never directly hit ‘reply’ and hand out contacts, emails, or any other data that might compromise your business’s security, and instead establish a second means of communication to first verify that the request for information is coming from an authentic party.
Learn To Spot Suspicious Activity
While phishing attacks are sophisticated in their execution, sometimes there are clear indicators of fraudulent emails that employees can spot if they’ve been educated about them. Often, foreign hackers and cybercriminals are running such schemes, which means that their emails will sometimes have grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes or use images and links that don’t feel quite right. You can organize workshops in your company to educate your employees about spotting these signs, as this will make it less likely for them to fall for such schemes.
Educate Your Team
Security in the workplace is a combined effort. Even if you as a business owner are incredibly tech-savvy and educated about cybercrimes, most of your day-to-day activity will be carried out by employees who might not have the same expertise.
It is extremely vital to regular communicate security plans, precautions and measures with your team. Let them know that if they ever doubt the authenticity of an email or phone call, they should reach out to the IT department or response team before responding to it. Keep them in the loop whenever you are updating your systems, regularly educate them about the latest threats and trends in security and train new employees on security protocol as an essential part of their orientation. When it comes to cyber security, knowledge and awareness is always your best defense.
Install Only Trusted Software
Whenever you are installing new software or making use of the latest technology, remember to keep an eye out for malicious software designed by hackers to look similar to authentic ones. Always check the number of active installations, and read user reviews and ratings before installing any new software to ensure you are not accidentally downloading malicious look-alikes.
Use An Anti-Phishing Toolbar
Anti-phishing toolbars are web browser extensions that can protect against potential phishing attacks in case you accidentally visit a malicious website. These browsers check everything that you click on and every page that you visit, and will give you in-time security alerts and block any possible threats or suspicious activity. These extensions are highly beneficial for company owners who are not too well-versed in cyber-security systems but still want to stay on top of their security game.
Schedule Regular Backups
When talking about cybersecurity, the importance of regular updates and backups cannot be stressed enough. If you don’t remember the last time your company backed up important data and tested your recovery plan, chances are you’re long overdue.
While the above-listed security measures can help minimize the risk of phishing attacks, the chances cannot ever be fully eliminated. This makes it extremely important to have an efficient data recovery and backup plan in case emergency strikes, so that your company’s important data can be recovered as soon as possible.
Staying Informed and Alert
Security is not a destination, but a journey- and a long and tiring one at that. No amount of security measures can give you a one hundred per cent secure system, but that is no excuse to not try. According to a study from the Ponemon Institute, the financial impact of phishing attacks quadrupled over the past six years, with the average cost rising to $14.8 million per year for U.S. companies in 2021, compared with $3.8 million in 2015.
This shows that phishing attacks are not only dangerous but also expensive, which is all the more reason for your business to put on its best defense.
A BDO study found that 66% of business owners are worried about being targeted by cyberattacks in 2021. Are you one of them? Let Mpire help!
With our years of industry experience, Mpire can offer you a wide range of highly customized cloud solutions, IT support and professional consulting. Drop us a line at (617) 804-0539 for a free consultation now!
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