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How bad did email-based phishing attacks get in 2021? Let's put it this way: if you weren't a target of one, consider yourself very lucky.
The big issue with phishing remains the same: most people can't spot it. In reality, though, all you need to do is use the SLAM method. SLAM stands for:
With the SLAM method, you can identify a phishing attack simply by scanning through an email. Here's what you need to look out for.
The sender part refers to the address the email is coming from. If you're a target of a phishing attack, the email domain will either be public or misspelled. Here's how to recognize these signs.
No respectable organization will send you an email from an address that ends in "gmail.com." Not even Google will do it!
See, most organizations have their own email domains. For example, Google will use an address ending in "google.com." If the domain name (the bit after the @) matches the sender, the email is more likely to be legitimate.
By comparison, emails ending in "gmail.com" come from personal accounts. Oftentimes, these emails will appear in your inbox as "Account Support." Even if the email contents seem legitimate, the domain is a dead giveaway.
Unfortunately, scammers know that a public domain is a clear sign of phishing. To get ahead of it, they'll buy their own domain from a registrar.
Now, all domain names have to be unique. That said, there are many ways to come up with a name similar to a legitimate address. If you don't read the entire email address, you could end up getting phished.
Let's say you get an email ending in "microsftonline.com." A casual reader could look at that and see the words "Microsoft Online." If that doesn't work, scammers can buy another similar-sounding domain name and try again.
Again, the solution is to read the email address carefully. If you spot a mistake, it's best not to open the email. If you do open it, inform your IT support services right away to reduce potential damage.
The problem here is that it only takes one employee getting phished to put the entire company at risk. Consider investing in managed IT services to keep this threat at bay.
Most phishing emails include links you can click on. You can tell a link is suspicious if its address doesn't match the context of the email.
For example, let's say you get an email from Netflix. You'd expect any links in the email to direct you towards netflix.com, right? But many emails—legitimate or not—use a button to hide the destination address.
If you're a target of phishing, you may receive an email from "Netflix" stating there's an issue with your subscription. Once you click on the link, you're taken to a mock-up of Netflix, where you enter your payment details.
How do you prevent this from happening? Simple: before clicking on the link, hover your mouse over it to see its destination address (URL). Make sure it's legitimate and that there are no misspellings.
When it comes to phishing, attachments work similarly to emails. Once you open the attachment, the malware inside it will infect your computer.
One common phishing attack involves sending a fake invoice. The only way to find out what the invoice pertains to will be to open the attachment. If you open it, you'll discover that it wasn't for you—but it'll be too late.
The solution: never open attachments from someone you don't know. Even then, look for suspicious signs. For instance, if you get a pop-up warning about the attachment's legitimacy, it's better to stay away.
Does the attachment seem important, but you're not sure it's legitimate? If so, contact the sender and ask them to verify the email. Alternatively, have your business IT support services deal with the issue.
Finally, we come to the actual body of the email. Most phishing emails will either be poorly written or try to create a sense of urgency. Here's how these types of attacks work and how to deal with them.
Back in the day, poor spelling and grammar was the most obvious sign of phishing. Even now, many phishing emails contain plenty of errors.
Some people will tell you that the errors are a feature, not a bug. According to them, ignoring these clues makes you a prime phishing target. That said, this is only true for schemes that involve replying, i.e. not phishing.
With phishing, scammers simply send thousands of emails without filtering them. As such, there's no need to reduce the pool of potential victims.
Why are so many phishing emails poorly written, then? The obvious answer is that scammers aren't great at writing. Many are from non-English speaking countries and will use translation machines to craft their emails.
Of course, not every mistake-riddled email is a scam. If you spot a mistake, look at the big picture. Common typos are one thing, but words used in the wrong context can be a clue to something more sinister.
Scammers know that many of us procrastinate. As a result, their phishing attacks will often request you to take action as soon as possible.
In our examples above, we used PayPal and Netflix to illustrate this strategy. Any problems with these services will cause immediate inconveniences. Therefore, you're motivated to interact with these emails.
This manufactured sense of urgency is also effective in workplace scams. Let's say your boss emails you with an "important" request. Many people would drop everything else to do it without stopping to verify the email.
These scams are dangerous since the recipient may be too afraid to report the issue. That's where having access to IT consulting services comes in handy, as they can serve as the buffer between the boss and employees.
All in all, the SLAM method is the perfect defense against phishing. That said, don't forget what we talked about above. For this method to work, your employees need to be aware of it as well.
Interested in providing phishing awareness training to your staff? Not sure how to deal with a particularly vicious phishing attack? Our IT support and services business can help you—contact us here!
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Next Level Technologies was founded to provide a better alternative to traditional computer repair and ‘break/fix’ services. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio since 2009, the company has been helping it’s clients transform their organizations through smart, efficient, and surprisingly cost-effective IT solutions.