Dissecting a Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks are on the rise in the era of remote work, and today’s businesses need to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves from corporate damage. 

With the rise of many new communication platforms built for the modern workplace, it’s natural to wonder if emails have become outdated — and whether you still need to worry about email-borne threats. The truth is that email is a more popular form of communication than ever. At the start of 2019, there were an estimated 3.8 billion email accounts around the world, with half of the global population using email. In fact, millennials spend more time scrolling through their inbox than any generation before them. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerating the rise of remote work, email security is more important than ever. As employees become more reliant on virtual communications, hackers will find more opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities wherever they find them. To better protect employees and data, it’s critical for modern companies to take the time to understand how phishing scams work — and the steps they can take to reduce risk.

The Basics of a Phishing Attack

Of the many different cyber attacks and scams that run rampant on the internet, phishing remains the most popular. In a phishing attack, a bad actor falsely takes on the identity of a trustworthy sender in an attempt to dupe the victim into providing sensitive information like passwords or bank information. 

While most people use the term “phishing” to describe a number of online cyber threats, phishing is actually just one of several similar types of attacks. The three most commonly discussed types are: 

  • Phishing: Regular phishing schemes involve cyber attackers throwing out a wide net in hopes that someone will fall for their scam. These attacks don’t have a specific target, and recipients may be able to spot them by looking for spelling errors, strange links, and unusual sender addresses.
  • Spear Phishing: Spear phishing schemes are more personalized, and involve a cybercriminal choosing a specific victim in order to launch a targeted attack. For example, an employee might receive an email that looks to be from their boss. With spear phishing, criminals take the identity of a known source in order to trick the victim into acting before they think. Employees should be wary of emails that involve uncharacteristic requests or attempts to create a sense of urgency.
  • Whaling: Whaling attacks are spear phishing attacks that are specifically aimed at high-profile targets within an organization. A cybercriminal might spend weeks researching a CEO in order to truly understand the best way to get the victim to let their guard down. 

 

How Does a Phishing Attack Work?

A standard phishing attack has three basic stages: hook, line, and sinker. 

Hook: A phishing attack begins with an unsolicited email that contains convincing content and a malicious link — all from a seemingly familiar address arriving in the target’s inbox. If the target clicks the link instead of deleting the email, the phishing attack moves to the next stage. 

Line: Once clicked, the link opens to a seemingly legitimate website that asks the user for their credentials. The use of these realistic-looking websites is called “spoofing.” When a website is spoofed, sometimes the only way to catch its inauthenticity is through the URL. It is also common for malware to automatically start downloading when the user clicks the email link.

Sinker: The target submits sensitive information and then gets redirected to the legitimate, non-spoofed website. Meanwhile, the attacker makes off with the stolen info and can begin using it for whatever purposes they have planned.

 

The Corporate Damage of a Phishing Attack

So far, we’ve been discussing phishing attacks in the context of a single victim. But the reality is that if an employee falls victim to a phishing attack, the entire corporate network and the company’s brand could be at serious risk. At the most basic level, there is a significant financial cost to a phishing attack in the form of fines levied by regulatory bodies. Companies will also often have to offer costly identity protection or compensation to customers and employees who have their data stolen as a result of the initial breach. 

However, those are only the direct costs — there are many other indirect costs that companies will need to consider. Because successful brands are built on trust, a phishing attack that results in a breach can easily erode the brand’s reputation. Beyond the potentially irreparable damage to a company’s brand, the data loss that many organizations experience following a phishing attack can be costly in itself. It can also cause a serious drop in productivity when employees are unable to perform their normal responsibilities and are instead scrambling to minimize the attack’s damage. In total, the result is that phishing attacks can often end up costing companies millions of dollars.

 

Protecting Your Organization in an Era of Heightened Risk

As cybercriminals ramp up their attacks in order to exploit potential vulnerabilities in an era of remote work, it’s up to companies across industries to take proactive preventative measures. The difficulty of preventing successful phishing attacks is that it requires you to rely on your employees to help you spot potential threats and social engineering attempts. To make sure your employees are vigilant, measures like staff security awareness training can teach everyone how to identify key signs of suspicious emails. 

The best way to cover all your bases and stay secure in the face of an increasing number of phishing attacks is to work with a trusted partner. Experts can work with you to implement effective cybersecurity measures and train your employees to adhere to best practices — all of which can help you avoid the devastating effects of a successful attack. By taking advantage of Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI)’s managed services, you can get personalized help so you’re better equipped to avoid expensive attacks. 

Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you prevent the corporate damage of a phishing attack.

By Tony Pugielli

November 24, 2020

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