Chances are you’re familiar with phishing - the prominent email attack that deceives recipients to gain access to their confidential information, often resulting in significant downtime, data theft, loss of revenue and severe reputational harm.

That being said, understanding how phishing works, how to recognize a phishing email, and some tips and best practices you can implement to prevent attacks is critical in securing business email against this notorious threat that accounts for over 90% of all cyberattacks. Here’s what you need to know about phishing and phishing protection to secure your users and key business assets against this dangerous scam.

What Is Email Phishing & How Does This Email Scam Work?

Phishing is a type of digital attack frequently carried out via email in which threat actors use either a spoofed email address or an account compromised in a previous attack to send malicious emails designed to trick users into falling for a scam. The motive behind a phishing campaign is typically to get people to reveal financial information, credentials or other sensitive data. While sending out spam email in bulk is a tactic that is commonly used by cybercriminals in generic, large-scale campaigns, phishers are now shifting in favor of targeted, well-researched attacks. Modern phishing campaigns often employ social engineering, or techniques used to manipulate psychology. These deceptive tactics encourage recipients to act rapidly without stopping to think. 

Phishing is a very popular method of attack because it is cheap, easy and effective.  Phishing scams are virtually free for attackers to carry out, but carry hefty costs for their targets. Victims frequently end up with data loss, identity theft or malware infections - resulting in significant recovery costs and damaged reputations.

What Are Some Common Types of Phishing Attacks?

Digital threats are rapidly evolving - and phishing is no exception. Since phishing was first described in 1987, attackers have developed various highly specialized tactics to deceive victims and gain access to sensitive data that can be monetized for personal gain. Some of the most pervasive types of modern phishing attacks include:

  • Standard Email Phishing: Arguably the most notorious form of phishing, this attack is an attempt to steal sensitive information via an email that appears to be from a legitimate, trusted source. Standard email phishing is not a targeted attack, and is often conducted en masse.
  • Spear Phishing: Spear phishing is a highly targeted version of phishing that involves sending fraudulent emails that appear to be from a known or trusted sender in order to obtain sensitive information. Spear phishing is becoming increasingly common because it is generally even more successful than conventional phishing in deceiving recipients. As opposed to sending hundreds of thousands of relatively generic emails out at a time, spear phishing campaigns involve researching victims and using advanced intelligence strategies to compose just a thousand or so convincing messages.
  • Malware Phishing: This attack utilizes the same techniques as email phishing; however, the aim of malware phishing is to trick targets into clicking a link or downloading an attachment so malware can be installed on their devices. Malware phishing is currently the most pervasive form of phishing attack.
  • Business email compromise (BEC): The BEC scam involves an attacker obtaining access to a corporate email account and sending fraudulent emails under the identity of the account owner in order to steal money from the company or its employees, partners or customers.
  • Clone Phishing: Clone phishing involves a malicious actor compromising someone’s email account, making changes to an existing email by swapping a legitimate link, attachment or other element with a malicious one, and sending the malicious email to the person’s contacts to spread the infection.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attack: A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack describes a scenario in which an eavesdropper monitors correspondence between two unsuspecting parties. These attacks are often carried out by creating phony public WiFi networks. Once joined, the “man in the middle” can phish for valuable data or infect devices with malware.

What damage can phishing cause to your business?

Phishing can cause a lot of damage to your business. It can harm your company's reputation, compromise your confidential data, and cost you money.

Phishing is a type of cyberattack that uses fraudulent emails or text messages to trick people into revealing their personal information. Cybercriminals use phishing attacks to steal login credentials, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.

Phishing can also infect your computer with malware or ransomware. Malware is a type of software that can damage or disable your computer. Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to your computer or files until you pay a ransom.

If you fall for a phishing attack, you could lose money, have your confidential data stolen, and experience identity theft. It's important to be aware of It can result in the theft of your confidential data, which can be used to steal your customers' information or to hack into your systems. Phishing can also lead to financial losses as a result of fraudulent activities. In addition, phishing can damage your company's reputation and could even lead to legal action.

Tips & Best Practices for Recognizing and Avoiding Phishing Emails

Education and awareness are critical when it comes to phishing protection. Although phishing messages can be highly deceptive and difficult to detect, there are various best practices that you should implement to avoid taking the bait in a phishing attack. They include:

  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors which can indicate that an email is fraudulent or malicious.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious subject lines and signatures.
  • Don’t trust the display name. Just because an email says it’s from a known and trusted sender doesn’t necessarily mean it really is. Even if the email address is legitimate, the message could be coming from a compromised account.
  • Be cautious of nonspecific language. Phishers typically use vague language in their campaigns to evade spam filters.
  • If an email appears strange in any way, make a phone call to the sender to confirm the legitimacy of the email.
  • If you receive an email from a source you know but it seems suspicious, contact that source with a new email, rather than just hitting reply.
  • Beware of urgency. Phishing emails often try to convince recipients to act quickly, without thinking things through.
  • Scan all attachments for viruses or dangerous code.
  • Verify shared links to ensure that they do not lead to fraudulent websites or malicious code.
  • Provide or take part in security awareness training designed to educate employees on how to identify spear phishing emails and how to proceed if they feel that they have received a malicious email.
  • Think before you act! Take time to evaluate each email you receive before clicking on links or downloading attachments. For example, ask yourself: Does an order confirmation email you’ve received correspond to a recent purchase you have made? Do the sender and recipient addresses make sense?

Can You Spot the Phish?

The image below is a spear phishing email that was identified and quarantined by Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security. It mimics a legitimate FedEx shipment confirmation email very closely. Can you spot the phish?

Some indications that this is a fraudulent email include: 

  1. An invalid “From” email address
  2. Invalid tracking information which differs in the subject and in the body of the email
  3. A malicious attachment in the bottom left corner - FedEx does not send tracking information in the form of an attachment

Safeguard against Human Error with a Comprehensive, Adaptive Email Security Solution

User education can help reduce the likelihood of a successful phishing attack; however, human behavior is ultimately unpredictable. Thus, to effectively protect against phishing, a safeguarded environment must be built around the user. This can be achieved through a comprehensive, intuitive email security solution that is capable of identifying and blocking the most stealthy spear phishing attempts in real-time.

Email security expert and Guardian Digital CEO Dave Wreski states, “Engaging in email security best practices is important, but this alone will not prevent a successful phishing attack. To effectively safeguard business email accounts, a fully integrated email security solution that delivers total end-to-end control is critical. An effective solution must provide real-time protection against phishing and other advanced email threats, while continuously adapting to a changing business and security environment.” 

Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security provides multi-layered real-time protection against the most targeted and sophisticated phishing scams, coupled with the expert system monitoring, maintenance and support required to keep your users and key assets safe. Key features and functionalities of EnGarde’s phishing protection include:

  • Spoofing and impersonation protection
  • Malware and ransomware protection
  • Zero-day attack protection
  • Multi-layered design powered by open-source technology - the same technology that powers the Internet itself
  • Dynamic link and file analysis
  • Heuristics-based spam and virus protection
  • SPF, DKIM and DMARC checking
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Comprehensive management and support services

Want to learn more about phishing and how to protect your business? Download Our Free Phishing eBook>>

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