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What is Phishing and How to Avoid It

Sep - 6 - 2016
azcomputertechs

What is phishing?

Phishing scams are typically fraudulent email messages appearing to come from legitimate enterprises (e.g., your bank, your credit card, etc). These messages usually direct you to a spoofed website or otherwise get you to divulge private information such as your passphrase, credit card or other information about your account. The perpetrators then use this private information to commit identity theft.

One type of phishing attempt is an email message stating that you are receiving it due to fraudulent activity on your account, and asking you to “click here” to verify your information.

Phishing scams are crude social engineering tools designed to induce panic in the reader. These scams attempt to trick recipients into responding or clicking immediately, by claiming they will lose something like their email or bank account. Such a claim is always indicative of a phishing scam, as responsible companies and organizations will never take these types of actions via email.

phishing

Phishing not fishing! Pronounced the same and similar in technique.

Specific types of phishing

Phishing scams vary widely in terms of their complexity, the quality of the forgery, and the attacker’s objective. Several distinct types of phishing have emerged.

Spear phishing

Phishing attacks directed at specific individuals, roles, or organizations are referred to as “spear phishing”. Since these attacks are so pointed, attackers may go to great lengths to gather specific personal or institutional information in the hope of making the attack more believable and increasing the likelihood of its success.

The best defense against spear phishing is to carefully, securely discard information like using a cross-cut shredder that could be used in such an attack. Further, be aware of data that may be relatively easily obtainable like your title at work, your favorite places, or where you bank.  Always think before acting on seemingly random requests via email or phone.

Whaling

The term “whaling” is used to describe phishing attacks (usually spear phishing) directed specifically at executive officers or other high-profile targets within a business, government, or other organization.

Avoiding phishing scams

To guard against phishing scams, consider the following:

  • Reputable organizations will never use email to request that you reply with your password, full Social Security number, or confidential personal information. Be suspicious of any email message that asks you to enter or verify personal information, through a website or by replying to the message itself. Never reply to or click the links in such a message. If you think the message may be legitimate, go directly to the company’s website (i.e., type the real URL into your browser) or contact the company to see if you really do need to take the action described in the email message.
  • The safest practice is to read your email as plain text.Phishing messages often contain clickable images that look legitimate; by reading messages in plain text, you can see the URLs that any images point to. Additionally, when you allow your mail client to read HTML or other non-text-only formatting, attackers can take advantage of your mail client’s ability to execute code, which leaves your computer vulnerable to viruses, worms, and Trojans.
  • If you choose to read your email in HTML format:
    • Hover your mouse over the links in each email message to display the actual URL. Check whether the hover-text link matches what’s in the text, and whether the link looks like a site with which you would normally do business.On an iOS device, tap and hold your finger over a link to display the URL. Unfortunately, Android does not currently support this.
    • Before you click a link, check to see if the message sender used a digital signature when sending the message. A digital signature helps ensure that the message actually came from the sender.For more about recognizing and verifying a digital signature in a file or email message that you’ve received, see Microsoft’s How to tell if a digital signature is trustworthy.

When you recognize a phishing message, delete the email message from your Inbox, and then empty it from the deleted items folder to avoid accidentally accessing the websites it points to.  You can also send the email to the legitimate company letting them know of this phishing attempt.

Warnings

Reading email as plain text is a general best practice that, while avoiding some phishing attempts, won’t avoid them all. Some legitimate sites use redirect scripts that don’t check the redirects. Consequently, phishing perpetrators can use these scripts to redirect from legitimate sites to their fake sites.

Another tactic is to use a homograph attack, which, due to International Domain Name (IDN) support in modern browsers, allows attackers to use different language character sets to produce URLs that look remarkably like the authentic ones. See Don’t Trust Your Eyes or URLs.

Special thanks goes out to my long time friend, Jason Balades, for letting me use his fishing picture!

If you ever never help or more information, do not hesitate to contact AZ Computer Techs.

One Response so far.

  1. […] Read our article “What is Phishing and How to Avoid It”. […]


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