Phishing is one of the oldest cyberthreats in the book, and yet still one of the most effective. As people across the globe find themselves taking to the internet more than ever before, criminals see this as an opportunity to release phishing attacks on unsuspecting users. In fact, Security Boulevard found a 600% rise in phishing campaigns in the last month. So, as users leverage the World Wide Web to stay connected with friends and loved ones, it’s imperative that they remain wary of scammers looking to exploit our need to virtually communicate. With that, let’s take a look at why phishing is so effective even in 2020 and explore what actions users can take to stay protected.
What is Phishing?
Phishing attacks occur when scammers attempt to trick users out of money or personal information, usually by email, phone, or text. With so many avenues for criminals to hook victims, phishing is one of the most prevalent threats we see today. As part of their phishing schemes, scammers often use something called social engineering to manipulate users into trusting them for fraudulent purposes, often by pretending to be a legitimate person or business. Through these phishing attacks, criminals can spread malware and other malicious content.
The Evolution of Phishing
As new technology and circumstances arise, scammers find new ways to evolve the age-old technique of phishing. What originated as email and instant messages attempting to steal users’ credentials has since taken on new forms like SMiShing or adapted its content to hook the victim with a shocking subject line.
Why has this technique continued to plague users since its inception? Hackernoon argues that it’s because phishing doesn’t require in-depth networking knowledge or even basic programming skills. It simply relies on human error and the lack of online security awareness, manipulating human psychology just as much as technological tools.
Phishing Capitalizes on Emotion
Let’s face it – we’re all human. Our inherent psychology makes us quick to act on emotion. However, this is much of the reason why phishing has forged on as a favorite among hackers. Unfortunately, criminals tend to capitalize on bad or shocking news to grasp the victim’s attention, leading them to click on malicious links or give up personal data all too eagerly. Take today’s environment, for example. As businesses are faced with budget cuts and organizational restructuring, many users might be uncertain about their job security – an opportunity that scammers are eager to exploit. In fact, some organizations have recently observed phishing emails with subject lines reading “HR Termination List.” Through these malicious attempts, fraudsters use fear tactics to tempt recipients into clicking on links in emails or downloading dangerous content.
With millions of users suddenly out of work, a lot of people have found themselves desperately looking for new job opportunities or seeking financial help. However, users should not let their guard down while job hunting, as this could prevent them from noticing the tell-tale signs of phishing. According to The Motley Fool, some phishing emails and text messages claim to offer work-from-home job opportunities, information about health insurance or Medicare, or loans or other forms of financial relief. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that many Americans have received texts from the “FCC Financial Care Center” offering $30,000 in relief for those who have recently been laid off or furloughed. While this might appear to be a saving grace, it’s a stealthy demise to trick users into giving up their credentials.
Act Now to Stay Protected
So, whether you’re working from home, participating in distance learning to complete college courses, or video chatting with loved ones, there will always be fraudsters looking to exploit your online activity. However, there are proactive measures you can take to help ensure your security. First and foremost is using comprehensive security software. If you’ve never been targeted by a phishing scam, it might be difficult to envision the benefit of installing a security solution. You might even be convinced that if you haven’t been targeted yet, then you won’t be in the future. However, there’s no off-season when it comes to security. As fraudsters continue to evolve their techniques, employing the help of security software will act as an added safety net in the event that a phishing email appears in your inbox.
Aside from using comprehensive security software, here are some other tips to help protect your online security.
Go directly to the source
Be skeptical of emails or text messages claiming to be from organizations with peculiar asks or with information that seems too good to be true. Instead of clicking on a link within the email or text, it’s best to go straight to the organization’s website or contact customer service.
Be cautious of emails asking you to act
If you receive an email or text asking you to take a certain action or download software, don’t click on anything within the message. Instead, go straight to the organization’s website. This will prevent you from downloading malicious content from phishing links.
Hover over links to see and verify the URL
If someone sends you a message with a link, hover over the link without actually clicking on it. This will allow you to see a link preview. If the URL looks suspicious, don’t interact with it and delete the message altogether.