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Phishing Awareness Training: How to Spot Phishing Emails

How to Spot Phishing Emails

The digital age that we’re currently in has made our email inboxes battlegrounds in the war against cybercrime. After all, most cyberthreats exploit emails. They do this through phishing attacks. According to a report by AAG, phishing is the most common form of cyber crime, with an estimated 3.4 billion spam emails sent every day. Additionally, over 48% of emails sent in 2022 were spam.

Consequently, phishing emails, often designed to deceive and manipulate, pose a significant threat to individuals and organizations alike. Awareness training has therefore become crucial in defending against these attacks. But firstly, what is phishing and how can we spot them? Let’s dive in and find out.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of cybercrime in which malicious actors, commonly referred to as “phishers,” impersonate trustworthy entities or individuals to deceive and manipulate recipients into revealing sensitive information, such as login credentials, personal details, financial information, or other confidential data. It’s typically carried out through various electronic communication channels, with email being the most common method.

The term “phishing” is derived from the word “fishing” because, much like fishing, it involves luring and baiting targets to reel them in. Phishers craft fraudulent messages that appear to be from reputable sources, such as banks, government agencies, social media platforms or well-known companies. These messages often contain urgent or enticing language, designed to pressure the recipient into taking specific actions.

Forms of Phishing Attacks

1. Email Phishing. This is the most common form of phishing. Emails are sent to individuals or organizations, often with links or attachments that when clicked or opened, can lead to malicious actions.

2. Spear Phishing. A more targeted form, where the attacker customizes the message for a specific individual or organization, using information gathered about the target.

How to Spot Phishing Emails

3. Vishing (Voice Phishing). This is phishing carried out over the phone, with the phisher pretending to be from a trusted organization to extract sensitive information.

4. Smishing (SMS Phishing). It’s conducted through text messages, where recipients are encouraged to click on links or respond with personal information.

Phishing attacks are designed to exploit human psychology, often playing on emotions like fear, curiosity or greed. They are a widespread threat, and individuals and organizations are encouraged to be vigilant and take steps to educate themselves and their employees on how to recognize and defend against phishing attempts.

How to Spot Phishing Emails

Check the Sender’s Email Address

One of the most common tactics employed by phishers is to use email addresses that look similar to legitimate ones. This is so that they can dupe their victims into believing their authenticity. For instance, they might use “[email protected]” instead of “[email protected].” At first glance it would seem totally legitimate. On closer inspection however, there is an extra character ‘1’. This therefore makes the email address highly suspicious. Crucially,always verify the sender’s email address. If it looks suspicious or unfamiliar, proceed with caution.

Look for Spelling and Grammar Errors

Phishing emails often contain language errors and awkward phrasing. These mistakes can be a clear indicator of a scam. As a result, you should examine emails closely for grammar and spelling issues, as legitimate organizations typically maintain high writing standards.

Assess the Urgency and Threats

Phishers often use urgency and threats to pressure victims into taking quick action. They may claim your account will be suspended or that you’ll face legal consequences if you don’t act immediately. This is usually so that they can create panic in their victims and force them to take an action. Be skeptical of emails that demand urgent action and verify their claims independently. This will help protect you from phishers.

Inspect Hyperlinks and URLs

For the most part, phishers insert urls or hyerlinks in their email body so that you can click them. When you do so, they gain access to your device. Thankfully though, you can prevent this. Hover your mouse cursor over any links in the email without clicking. The URL displayed should match the legitimate website’s domain. Cruciall therefore, you should always check where a link is leading before you click it.

How to Spot Phishing Emails

Examine the Greeting

Interestingly, you can identify a phishing email based on greetings. Generic greetings like “Dear User” or “Hello Customer” are common in phishing emails. Legitimate organizations often use your name when addressing you. Therefore, you should pay attention to how you are addressed in the email, and be cautious if it seems impersonal.

Be Wary of Attachments

Phishing emails may contain malicious attachments. Even seemingly harmless files like PDFs or Word documents can carry malware. Consequently, you need to avoid downloading attachments from unknown or unexpected sources, and always scan them for viruses before opening.

Upskill, Upskill and Upskill

Phishing attacks continue to evolve, therby becoming increasingly sophisticated and convincing. Individuals and organizations must therefore stay ahead of cybercriminals by enhancing their ability to spot these deceptive emails. With the right training and knowledge, you can become the first line of defense, detecting and reporting phishing emails before they can wreak havoc. Moreover, organizations like IRES can help you bridge any cybersecurity skills gap through tailor-made training workshops to enhance your capacities.

Read Also: How to Bridge the Data Protection Skills Gap in Your Organization

Spotting phishing emails is the first step, but reporting them is equally important. Most email providers and organizations have reporting mechanisms in place. Training tip: Always report phishing attempts to your email service provider or IT department.

Read Also: The Power of Cybersecurity Training for Employees

Key Take-Aways

Phishing attacks continue to evolve, making it essential to keep your phishing awareness training up-to-date. By understanding the tactics used by cybercriminals and practicing your skills through training exercises, you can become a vigilant defender of your digital world. Remember, the key to combating phishing is a combination of knowledge, skepticism, and swift action. Stay informed, stay alert, and stay safe in the digital landscape.

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