Phishing is a social engineering attack that relies on deception and manipulation to get the target to complete an action such as offering sensitive information, following a link to a fake site, or downloading malware.
To effectively defend against phishing attacks, you need to have sufficient awareness of the nature and type of attacks, your vulnerabilities, the characteristics of the attack, and the available security measures.
The nature and types of phishing attacks
The essence of phishing attacks is that they always have a message, which contains urgent information.
The goal of the message is to increase your sense of urgency, forcing you to throw away caution and make reckless decisions.
However, although the nature of the attack is straightforward, there are still various ways to classify the types of attacks.
The first type of phishing attacks is classified by the means through which the attack is delivered and includes phishing emails, phishing calls, and phishing websites.
The second classification is by considering the goal of the attack through which we get attacks to get the target to download malware and attacks to get the target to provide sensitive information to the hackers.
The third classification is by the evaluating the target of the attack from which we get regular phishing that targets people at random, spear phishing that targets a single individual but hoping to obtain something other than finances, and whale phishing that targets high-value targets – usually as single targets – for financial gain.
The characteristics of phishing attacks
Before you can defend against phishing attacks, you need to know the ways of identifying phishing attacks.
These characteristics are those that remain unchanged regardless of the type of attack chosen by the hacker and include:
The use of generic language – Since the message is neither official nor personal, it tends to involve the use of a lot of generic language.
For instance, you would get “Hello Customer” in the greetings.
As you know, official messages always include the name that you use on your accounts, especially for financial emails.
Too much urgency – Since the aim of the message is to get you to take immediate action, the level of urgency in the messages tends to be exaggerated.
The content of such messages places too much emphasis on the situation and you need to take immediate action.
Of course, the situation described in the messages is always an emergency but not so much that you can’t afford a minute to verify the content of the message before clicking on a link or downloading a document.
Encouraging you to take a specific action – The message focuses too much on encouraging you to take a specific action.
The usual actions require you to follow a link or to download a document.
Although the message describes an emergency, the message shifts heavy focuses on encouraging you to take action as intended by the hacker.
Vulnerabilities and how to defend against phishing attacks
Human behavior is predictable to a certain extent, which is what hackers rely on when they initiate phishing attacks. Therefore, one of the most significant weaknesses you have is your psychology.
Defending against psychological attacks is not that easy, especially when it comes to people we care about.
For instance, if you receive a message that your child is in the emergency room, it would be almost impossible to calm down before clicking on the link or downloading the provided documents.
However, you need to learn how to make calm decisions and not let your emotions control you, which is very effective against phishing attacks.
Poor awareness is yet another reason why phishing attacks are so successful.
Most people don’t understand the nature of phishing attacks and end up falling for the trap.
You should always maintain a high awareness of cyber-attacks. Even without in-depth technical knowledge, at least, you should be able to identify the attacks.
Nevertheless, it is always better to have more information at your fingertips.
However, you should beware that hackers constantly evolve their attacks for better efficiency or to work around the existing countermeasures.
Therefore, you should make an effort to keep your information updated.
Lack of verification capabilities
The lack of means to verify the identity of the sender of a message is a contributing factor to the success of phishing attacks.
Authenticating a person’s identity in the digital world has always been a challenge, and hackers take advantage of that to initiate phishing attacks.
In case you didn’t know, both your caller ID and the email sender’s address can all be hidden or cloned.
Therefore, to protect yourself from phishing attacks, you need the means to authenticate the identity of the sender.
One of the best options is to use PGP to validate people’s identities. However, few people use PGP, so it could be quite challenging.
Your device, account, and network are all vulnerable to phishing attacks. Therefore, digital security should be one of your main areas of focus.
For device security, you should install antivirus and encryption software to protect against malware and password theft.
You should also tweak the settings to guarantee your privacy.
Account security relies mostly on password security.
However, there are numerous challenges when dealing with password security such as weak passwords, the need for manual password entry and using one password across multiple accounts.
To protect against phishing, you need ways to verify your login credentials without the need for manual input.
For instance, you should use password managers, which allows automatic password entry on registered sites.
You should also use bookmarks or manual link input instead of following links attached in messages.
Your network security protects you from surveillance activities.
Clicking on phishing links or visiting phishing websites exposes you to hacking attacks through your network.
Installing a VPN should help protect you from network cyber-attacks.
Protecting yourself against phishing requires ample preparation even when you know you may never be a target – which is the essence of cybersecurity.
You should always find ways to improve your security and protect yourself and those close to you from falling prey to phishing scams.
Hopefully, the tips provided in this article could give you an idea of what you need to defend against phishing attacks.
Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies.
A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on topics such as whistleblowing and cybersecurity tools.