How to Avoid Phishing Scams? 5 Tips for Staying Safe

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Cybercrime and phishing has skyrocketed since the worldwide pandemic happened. As individuals and businesses moved online, hackers and other sorts of criminals tried to seize the opportunity.

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Unfortunately, phishing is an inevitable part of being online, especially if you work with any sort of sensitive data or personal information. You’ll receive various phishing attacks on the daily. While most of them will be fairly dumb and easy to notice, falling victim to a phishing attempt just once can cause enormous issues.

What is phishing?

Phishing is a social hacking attempt that relies on tricking people into thinking something is legitimate and asking them to share sensitive information. A common vector for phishing attacks is to create fake websites and send links to them through email messages.

 

If a phishing attack victim opens the link, various things can happen. Most commonly, phishing sites pretend to be that of a legitimate bank, online payment website, credit card company, or government institution. In general, any website where someone would put in login credentials, bank account number, credit card can be utilized.

 

Visitors are inched towards inputting all the necessary information under the guise of some potential error. For example, the phishing email might have urged the user to log on to their bank account because suspicious activity has been detected or that they have some outstanding payment that needs to be finished.

 

A phishing site will be built to look as legitimate as possible. They’ll look like the regular secure website with only a few differences, some of which are just human errors. Logos might be misplaced or links may lead to unexpected places. Other than that, scammers will do their best to replicate the original website.

 

Once a user inputs their personal information or anything else, phishing scammers record those details. They will then do various things to get some financial gain from the personal information such as using the credit card details for purchases or selling the data to third parties.

 

As phishing scams are one of the most popular types of attacks online, there are many methods they employ. They may send phishing emails, text messages, conduct calls, impersonate companies, etc.

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What are the types of phishing attacks?

Email phishing

Likely the most common type of phishing scam. Emails that impersonate popular brands or legitimate institutions are sent to unsuspecting victims. Usually, these will include phishing links to websites or include attachments with malicious code that will steal credentials from users.

 

As it’s one of the most popular phishing scams, lots of email providers have implemented measures that filter out these security threats. For example, many phishing emails can get caught by spam filters. Even if they don’t trigger spam filters, providers such as Gmail can label suspicious emails, informing the user that it might be a phishing attack.

HTTPS phishing

It’s sometimes considered a separate method, although it piggybacks off of others. HTTPS over HTTP was implemented as a way to increase security, improve legitimacy, and avoid phishing scams.

 

Whenever something gets the trust of users online, phishing scam perpetrators will jump the gun to find a way to abuse it. HTTPS links are now sometimes included in phishing emails as they look more trustworthy.

Spear phishing

Another popular way of conducting a phishing scam is to craft an incredibly carefully crafted plan that targets a single or just several people. Usually, the targets are highly successful people on whom conducting identity theft is profitable and worthwhile.

 

Scammers will start by collecting information from a social networking site or even several. They will then pretend to be someone close to the target and start requesting that they do some steps that eventually lead to the scammers stealing the personal information of the target.

Vishing and smishing

These are two closely related methods that do not involve phishing emails. Vishing is conducted through phone calls that lead the user to perform some actions that would compromise their information. 

 

For example, someone might pretend to be the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or a closely related family member. Vishing is one of the harder to avoid phishing scams as it has a ton of urgency and immediacy.

 

Smishing is sending a phishing text message instead of a phishing email. Other than that these text messages work a lot like a phishing email as they usually have links or other security threats that intend to steal user data.

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5 tips for beating phishing attempts

1. Force multi factor authentication

Multi factor authentication is a great answer to any attempt at phishing. Scammers can only steal the data users input while 2FA usually provides an ever-changing token that is stored on a secondary device.

 

While there are ways to bypass 2FA and similar methods, 99% of phishers won’t be able to bypass them. Additionally, you will always be informed when data is compromised as you’ll be prompted to use 2FA by someone else.

2. Use a password manager

While password managers cannot prevent attacks, they help set up the necessary security infrastructure for other security solutions. A user that repeats his password and other credentials across different websites will have significantly greater issues when data is compromised.

 

Phishing attackers will be able to use the same credentials to get data from every website and steal much more information. If a different password is used for many websites, attackers will only get a small subset of the possible information.

3. Check the address bar and hover information

It may sound overly simple, but nearly every phishing email will have all of the links pointing to a single address. Additionally, if you hover over the proposed links, they will often be shortened and lead to suspicious websites. Finally, even if you have clicked on the link, double check the address bar as it may hold valuable information.

 

All of the above goes for text messages and web browsers. While it may not completely prevent phishing, being sure you’re at the right website can go a long way.

4. Use a proxy server

Datacenter proxies are frequently used to automate security by using different IPs and virtual machines to check all URLs and attachments in emails. As long as a proxy server is set up and a VM is used, any malicious code executed will fail, no data will be leaked (unless manually inputted by the user).

 

A virtual private network can sometimes be used for the same reason. They, however, are heavily limited as they have few IPs, are slow, and not intended for any sort of automation.

5. Install a firewall and antivirus

Some phishing methods include the installation of malicious code such as keyloggers, viruses, and other types of malware. Attackers will then attempt to abuse the vulnerable system to steal data from the user.

 

Firewalls and antivirus software go a long way protecting from run-of-the-mill malware. Highly advanced malware might be able to bypass it, but you’re highly unlikely to meet such unless you’re being spear phished.

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