Phishing is hardly anything new and has been the most common attack vector for cybercriminals for a long time. Despite being so common, many believe that only the technologically ignorant would fall victim to phishing attacks.
However, the progressively increasing complexity of phishing scams means even those who are on guard against them can still become victims. Therefore, learning to spot phishing emails reliably is becoming more critical than ever.
In today’s cyberwar climate, anyone can be a target. As phishing attacks continue to grow in number and severity, investing in detection technology like AI email security with Malware protection can have a significant impact on the security of your organization’s assets.
Educating your workforce on the methods to detect phishing attempts and deal with them appropriately helps turn them into a robust primary line of defense for your organization.
Spotting phishing emails starts with knowing what they are
Identifying whether an email is a phishing email or not starts with understanding what phishing emails are first. Phishing emails are emails sent to one or more recipients to prompt them to do a specific action.
The attackers leverage social engineering techniques to make their emails seem genuine and trustworthy to lower the victims' guard and get them to click on a malicious link, download an attachment, or disclose sensitive information.
These types crafted with social engineering techniques are significantly more dangerous since they are nearly indistinguishable from the real deal. Therefore, if recipients follow their instructions, attackers can enter an organization's network undetected.
4 things to look out for in phishing emails
Phishing emails made with social engineering techniques typically go under the radar of email filters because of their sophistication, such as having the proper SMTP controls and Sender Policy Frameworks to pass the email filter's front-end tests.
Additionally, they are rarely sent en masse from blacklisted IP addresses, so they do not get caught by Realtime Blackhole Lists.
Despite that, phishing emails typically share a few things in common: they are usually crafted in such a way that evokes emotions in the recipient, such as sympathy, curiosity, greed, and fear.
Training your workforce to spot and be aware of these characteristics with an automated phishing tool can prevent attacks and attackers from attempting to infiltrate your network.
1. The email uses a public email domain
Apart from minimal operations, most businesses will have unique email domains and company accounts. For instance, legitimate emails from Google will have the ‘@google.com' domain handle. No legitimate organization will use a public email domain handle such as ‘@gmail.com' in their emails, not even Google.
If the domain name matches the email's sender, it is most likely legitimate. Otherwise, it is almost certainly fraudulent if it is not affiliated with the apparent sender.
Even if the attacker ensures that other parts of the email are realistic, such as the content message and title, using a public email domain is one of the biggest giveaways of a phishing scam.
Attackers may try to get around this issue and use a more sophisticated approach by having the organization's name that they are purporting to be in the email address, like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org'.
Simply glancing at this email and seeing the word PayPal may lead one to assume its legitimacy. However, remember that the most crucial part comes after the @ symbol since it dictates that the email comes from an actual organization, not a personal account.
2. Misspellings in the domain name
Another aspect that can clue you into phishing emails also involves the email domain name, but it complicates the previous clue. The issue lies in that anyone can purchase a domain name from a registrar and create addresses nearly identical to the one spoofed while still being unique and accepted.
For instance, some scammers registered microsfrtonline.com, which may dupe casual readers into thinking they received an email from Microsoft support and fall victim to changing their account's 'expired password' and disclosing their current active one as a result.
3. The email contains suspicious attachments or links
Given that phishing emails are increasingly becoming more sophisticated by the day, judging whether an attachment or external is suspicious or not is no longer as simple as before. For example, infected attachments today are often disguised as benign documents (like invoices or bills) that contain malware.
The malicious payloads they deliver can steal sensitive information like credit card details, login credentials, phone numbers, addresses, account numbers, and more.
It does not matter whether the victim expects to receive these emails at the time of sending as long as they are relevant to their online activities, like e-commerce shopping, and may pass them off as simply being late. Moreover, they may be forced to open the attachment to verify its message, which will be too late by the time they realize something is wrong.
Similarly, suspicious links are hidden from the average user through novel approaches such as incorporating them into a button. When recipients are then prompted to update their billing information on their streaming subscription, they may not think twice about clicking the button link and being redirected to a bogus website created by the attacker.
It is important to scrutinize and check where links go before clicking on them. For button links, an easy way to determine if it matches the context with the rest of the email is to hover your mouse over the button and check the destination address at the bottom of the browser tab.
4. The message creates a sense of urgency
Scammers know that the more time people have to think about something, such as the contents of an email, the more likely they will realize something is amiss. Hence, they manufacture a sense of urgency in their phishing emails to prevent their victims from learning essential facts. For example, that organization or colleague does not usually contact them through that address.
When emails prompt you to act immediately upon opening its contents before it is too late, that should already put you on guard that it may be a phishing scam.
Whenever you encounter these situations and yet remain unsure of the sender's legitimacy, it is always best to stop and think first and try to contact the apparent sender, even if it is from your superior, through other means for confirmation.
It is better to be safe than sorry in these situations, and organizations that value cybersecurity would not criticize this level of caution but rather promote it.
Continually educating employees about the evolving threat of phishing is the best way to defend against this cyber threat. Regular staff awareness training ensures that the workforce learns about the new techniques and approaches used by attackers and how to recognize them to keep up with their increasing sophistication.
To further improve your organization's security against phishing attacks, consider investing in SEMNet's automated phishing tool and training to achieve full-circle protection through technology and your workforce. Altneratively, you can also consider our AI email security to ward off these pesky emails. Contact us for more details.