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What is Phishing?

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Cybercrime is defined in simple words as a crime that is done online. Here, the medium used to commit crime digitally is the computer, network, internet, or any electronic device. The main targets of cybercrime are users of the system, websites, company defamation, gaining money, etc. The activities of cybercriminals are:

  • Spread viruses and malware to cause harm to computers and sensitive data.
  • Attacks a computer to reach the target or victim’s computer via network.
  • Hack the victim’s system and steals confidential information from the user’s data.
  • Gaining unauthorized access to user accounts.
  • Paving ways for online scams and frauds.
  • Generate profit by selling or locking crucial data.

As newer technologies are rolling out, cyber crimes are also increasing. Cybercrime covers attacks like illegal downloading, credit card fraud,  cyberbullying,  phishing, creation, and distribution of viruses, spam, etc. 

 Cyber Crime Phishing

Phishing is one type of cyber attack. Phishing got its name from “phish” meaning fish. It’s a common phenomenon to put bait for the fish to get trapped. Similarly, phishing works. It is an unethical way to dupe the user or victim to click on harmful sites. The attacker crafts the harmful site in such a way that the victim feels it to be an authentic site, thus falling prey to it. The most common mode of phishing is by sending spam emails that appear to be authentic and thus, taking away all credentials from the victim. The main motive of the attacker behind phishing is to gain confidential information like 

  • Password
  • Credit card details
  • Social security numbers
  • Date of birth

The attacker uses these information to further target the user and impersonate the user and cause data theft. The most common type of phishing attack happens through email. Phishing victims are tricked into revealing information that they think should be kept private. The original logo of the email is used to make the user believe that it is indeed the original email. But if we carefully look into the details, we will find that the URL or web address is not authentic. Let’s understand this concept with the help of an example:

In this example, most people believe it’s YouTube just by looking at the red icon. So, thinking of YouTube as a secure platform, the users click on the extension without being suspicious about it. But if we look carefully, we can see the URL is supertube.com and not youtube.com. Secondly, YouTube never asks to add extensions for watching any video. The third thing is the extension name itself is weird enough to raise doubt about its credibility.

Types of Phishing Attacks

There are several types of phishing attacks that are listed below:

  1. Email Phishing: The most common type where users are tricked into clicking unverified spam emails and leaking secret data. Hackers impersonate a legitimate identity and send emails to mass victims. Generally, the goal of the attacker is to get personal details like bank details, credit card numbers, user IDs, and passwords of any online shopping website, installing malware, etc. After getting the personal information, they use this information to steal money from the user’s account or harm the target system, etc.
  2. Spear Phishing: In this type of phishing attack, a particular user(organization or individual) is targeted. In this method, the attacker first gets the full information of the target and then sends malicious emails to his/her inbox to trap him into typing confidential data. For example, the attacker targets someone(let’s assume an employee from the finance department of some organization), and then the attacker pretends to be like the manager of that employee and then requests personal information or transfers a large sum of money. It is the most successful attack.
  3. Whaling: Whaling is just like spear-phishing but the main target is the head of the company, like the CEO, CFO, etc. a pressurized email is sent to such executives so that they don’t have much time to think, therefore falling prey to phishing.
  4. Smishing: In this type of phishing attack, the medium of phishing attack is SMS. It works similarly to email phishing. SMS texts are sent to victims containing links to phished websites or invite the victims to call a phone number or to contact the sender using the given email. The victim is then invited to enter their personal information like bank details, credit card information, user id/ password, etc. then using this information the attacker harms the victim.
  5. Vishing: It is also known as voice phishing. In this method, the attacker calls the victim using modern caller id spoofing to convince the victim that the call is from a trusted source. Attackers also use IVR to make it difficult for legal authorities to trace the attacker. It is generally used to steal credit card numbers or some confidential data from the victim.
  6. Clone Phishing: in this type of phishing attack, the attacker copies the email messages that were sent from a trusted source and then alters the information by adding a link that redirects the victim to a malicious or fake website. Now the attacker sends this mail to a larger number of users and then waits to watch who clicks on the attachment that was sent in the email. It spreads through the contacts of the user who has clicked on the attachment.

How Does Phishing Occur?

The most common phishing attacks include:

  • Clicking on an unknown file or attachment: Here, the attacker deliberately sends a mysterious file to the victim, as the victim opens the file, either malware is injected into his system or it prompts the user to enter confidential data.
  • Using an open or free wifi hotspot: This is a very simple way to get confidential information from the user by luring him by giving him free wifi. The wifi owner can control the user’s data without the user being aware of it.
  • Responding to social media requests: This commonly includes social engineering. Accepting unknown friend requests and then, by mistake, leaking secret data are the most common mistake made by naive users.
  • Clicking on unauthenticated links or ads: Unauthenticated links have been deliberately crafted that lead to a phished website that tricks the user into typing confidential data.

How To Distinguish between a Fake Website and a Real Website?

To distinguish between a fake website and a real website always remember the following points:

  1. Check the URL of the website: A good and legal website always uses a secure medium to protect yourself from online threats. So, when you first see a website link, always check the beginning of the website. That means if a website is started with https:// then the website is secure because in https:// s denotes secure, which means the website uses encryption to transfer data, protecting it from hackers. If a website uses http:// then the website is not guaranteed to be safe. So, it is advised not to visit HTTP websites as they are not secure.
  2. Check the domain name of the website: The attackers generally create a website whose address is the mimic of large brands or companies like www.amazon.com/order_id=23. If we look closely, we can see that it’s a fake website as the spelling of Amazon is wrong, that is amazon is written. So it’s a phished website. So be careful with such types of websites.
  3. Look for site design: If you open a website from the link, then pay attention to the design of the site. Although the attacker tries to imitate the original one as much as possible, they still lack in some places. So, if you see something off, then that might be a sign of a fake website. For example, www.sugarcube.com/facebook, when we open this URL the page open is cloned to the actual Facebook page but it is a fake website. The original link to Facebook is www.facebook.com.
  4. Check for the available web pages: A fake website does not contain the entire web pages that are present in the original website. So when you encounter fake websites, then open the option(links) present on that website. If they only display a login page, then the website is fake.

Impact

Here are some of the most common impacts of phishing includes:

  • Financial Loss: Phishing attacks often target financial information, such as credit card numbers and bank account login credentials. This information can be used to steal money or make unauthorized purchases, leading to significant financial losses.
  • Identity Theft: Phishing attacks can also steal personal information, such as Social Security numbers and date of birth, which can be used to steal an individual’s identity and cause long-term harm.
  • Damage to Reputation: Organizations that fall victim to phishing attacks can suffer damage to their reputation, as customers and clients may lose trust in the company’s ability to protect their information.
  • Disruption to Business Operations: Phishing attacks can also cause significant disruption to business operations, as employees may have their email accounts or computers compromised, leading to lost productivity and data.
  • Spread of Malware: Phishing attacks often use attachments or links to deliver malware, which can infect a victim’s computer or network and cause further harm.

Signs of Phishing 

It is important to be able to identify the signs of a phishing attack in order to protect against its harmful effects. Here are some signs to look out for include:

  • Suspicious email addresses: Phishing emails often use fake email addresses that appear to be from a trusted source, but are actually controlled by the attacker. Check the email address carefully and look for slight variations or misspellings that may indicate a fake address.
  • Urgent requests for personal information: Phishing attacks often try to create a sense of urgency in order to trick victims into providing personal information quickly. Be cautious of emails or messages that ask for personal information and make sure to verify the authenticity of the request before providing any information.
  • Poor grammar and spelling: Phishing attacks are often created quickly and carelessly, and may contain poor grammar and spelling errors. These mistakes can indicate that the email or message is not legitimate.
  • Requests for sensitive information: Phishing attacks often try to steal sensitive information, such as login credentials and financial information. Be cautious of emails or messages that ask for sensitive information and make sure to verify the authenticity of the request before providing any information.
  • Unusual links or attachments: Phishing attacks often use links or attachments to deliver malware or redirect victims to fake websites. Be cautious of links or attachments in emails or messages, especially if they come from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • Strange URLs: Phishing attacks often use fake websites that look similar to the real ones, but have slightly different URLs. Look for strange URLs or slight variations in the URL that may indicate a fake website.

Anti-Phishing Tools

Well, it’s essential to use Anti-Phishing tools to detect phishing attacks. Here are some of the most popular and effective anti-phishing tools available:

  • Anti-Phishing Domain Advisor (APDA): A browser extension that warns users when they visit a phishing website. It uses a database of known phishing sites and provides real-time protection against new threats.
  • PhishTank: A community-driven website that collects and verifies reports of phishing attacks. Users can submit phishing reports and check the status of suspicious websites.
  • Webroot Anti-Phishing: A browser extension that uses machine learning algorithms to identify and block phishing websites. It provides real-time protection and integrates with other security tools.
  • Malwarebytes Anti-Phishing: A security tool that protects against phishing attacks by detecting and blocking suspicious websites. It uses a combination of machine learning and signature-based detection to provide real-time protection.
  • Kaspersky Anti-Phishing: A browser extension that provides real-time protection against phishing attacks. It uses a database of known phishing sites and integrates with other security tools to provide comprehensive protection.

Note: These anti-phishing tools can provide an additional layer of protection against phishing attacks, but it is important to remember that they are not a complete solution. Users should also be cautious of suspicious emails and messages and practice safe browsing habits to minimize their risk of falling victim to phishing attacks.

How To Stay Protected Against Phishing?

Until now, we have seen how a user becomes so vulnerable due to phishing. But with proper precautions, one can avoid such scams. Below are the ways listed to protect users against phishing attacks:

  1. Download software from authorized sources only.
  2. Never share your private details with unknown links.
  3. Always check the URL of websites to prevent any such attack.
  4. If you receive an email from a known source but that email looks suspicious, then contact the source with a new email rather than using the reply option.
  5. Try to avoid posting your personal information like phone numbers, addresses, etc on social media.
  6. Use phishing-detecting tools to monitor the websites that are crafted and contain unauthentic content.
  7. Try to avoid free wifi.
  8. Keep your system updated.
  9. Keep the firewall of the system ON.

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Last Updated : 03 Mar, 2023
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