Phishing emails have long been an effective tool for cyber attacks. But they have taken a new turn for the worse with the spread of the pandemic. According to one report, one in four Americans has received a phishing email related to COVID-19 last year. Now that’s a remarkable development, especially when security measures have not kept up at a similar pace.
This makes phishing a critical topic to explore for both consumers and organizations. So, in this article, we’re going to help you understand this growing threat. More specifically, we’ll address what is phishing email, its prevalence, and how you can detect these threats without falling prey.
Phishing emails explained
The term phishing has crept into common usage in recent years, mainly because of the escalating attacks widely covered by the media. But many people still lack knowledge of what exactly it stands for and its potential implications. Broadly speaking, phishing is a common scam that targets personal or sensitive information. Often, it could involve stealing data or even money.
Now, criminals could use various strategies, from phone calls to in-person meetings, to launch this type of fraud. But emails are the most frequently used vehicle for many such attacks. It’s because they are faster and more cost-effective. Besides, with half the global population using emails, they are undoubtedly an easier method to launch mass-scale scams.
But how significant a threat is email phishing? Let’s look at a few statistics to put things in perspective.
• One in three data breaches involves a phishing scam.
• 96% of all phishing attacks use emails.
• With the onset of the pandemic, Google blocked 18 million COVID-related scam emails each day.
Evidently, phishing emails are a widespread threat for email users. So, detecting these malicious attacks and protecting yourself against them demands more attention.
How can you recognize phishing emails?
Understanding how to recognize phishing emails is crucial to keep your data and financial wealth safe. Here are five critical elements that could reveal a scam.
1. Email address
When launching a phishing campaign, most cybercriminals will imitate authentic organizations by creating remarkably similar email addresses. But these could often contain slight differences, especially when it comes to the domain name and suffix. For example, instead of the firstname.lastname@example.org email address, a phishing email could contain email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. So, if you notice even the slightest difference, take it as a warning and act with caution.
Having said that, spoofing an email address to achieve a perfect match is also possible with today’s technology. But in instances like that, you can still detect a phishing email by examining other elements. Read on to understand how.
2. Email signature
The signature in a phishing email might also reveal minor differences when comparing it with its genuine counterpart. For example, you might notice a dissimilarity in the font type, size, and colors or the signature formatting. Even details like the phone number could be different. A criminal could use a hoax number, especially when they expect you to call back. So, look out for any suspicious details in the email signature that might signal deviations from the norm.
3. Writing style
Taking note of the writing style is particularly essential when the email address resembles what’s typically used by an individual or organization you know. Sometimes, a criminal could hack into an email account of a friend or colleague and use an old email conversation to communicate with you. As a result, you will likely drop your guard and be more willing to accommodate any requests they make.
But if you examine the writing style, you might quickly notice a few red flags. For example, does the greeting sound unusual? Are there any strange grammar mistakes? Do you see any specific words or phrases that seem atypical, considering how they usually converse? All these could be essential signs of a scam.
Malicious links often turn up in phishing emails. They could take you to phishing websites or those infected with malware. So, avoiding them is essential to keep your data safe.
Checking the web address given as a link could often help you identify a dubious site. But the web address you see on the email might not be the site that it’s actually linked to. If you hover the cursor above it, you can examine whether they are the same. Any mismatches should set off alarms.
5. Unexpected requests
Sudden and unusual requests are the cornerstone of a phishing email, although they could seem pretty convincing. For example, you might get an email from a close friend explaining how they’ve been robbed while traveling abroad. They may request urgent financial help with a wire transfer, so they could get back to America. Or, you could receive a sudden email from the IRS informing you of an overdue tax. Unless you pay up within the next couple of hours, they may need to get law enforcement involved.
Many of these may seem like unexpected yet legitimate emails. These requests could logically make sense, although you may think they are somewhat unusual. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to verify their authenticity with a quick call to the relevant person.
The bottom line
Phishing emails are prevalent and could pose significant threats to email users. Yet many individuals remain oblivious to the importance of guarding against such attacks. Falling prey to a phishing scam could mean exposing your identity-related data to criminals or becoming a victim of financial fraud.
But you can easily protect yourself by understanding some of the common red flags that could give away a fraudulent email. For example, discrepancies in the email address, signature, and writing style could often reveal imposters. Unexpected requests and links could also hint at an impending threat to your safety. So, heeding these warning signs is crucial to remain safe and protect your data.