Did you know that in 2022, more than 300,000 Americans were victims of phishing? And the problem is only getting worse — the study found that phishing attacks increased by a whopping 67% between 2019 and 2021 alone. Given these numbers, it’s clear that we all need to educate ourselves about this threat and learn how to protect ourselves from it.
In this quick guide, we’ll explain what phishing is, how it works, and what you can do to keep yourself safe from these attacks.
What is phishing?
In its simplest form, phishing is a type of online scam where criminals pose as trustworthy entities in order to trick victims into giving them sensitive information. This information can include login credentials, financial data, or other types of personal information that can be used to commit fraud or steal the victim’s identity.
Phishing attacks can take many different forms, but they all have one goal: to trick the victim into giving up their personal information. The attacker may pose as a trusted website, a financial institution, or even a government agency. They will then use this false identity to try and trick the victim into clicking on a malicious link, downloading a malicious attachment, or entering their personal information into a fake website.
How does phishing work?
A phishing attack usually begins with an email, although it can also come in the form of a text message, instant message, or even a phone call. The attacker will pose as a trusted entity and trick the victim into clicking on a malicious link or attachment. Once the victim clicks on the link or opens the attachment, their device will be infected with malware (malicious software). This malware can then be used to steal the victim’s personal information or commit other types of fraud.
It’s important to note that phishing attacks can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of technical expertise. These attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and even the most tech-savvy individuals can be fooled by a well-crafted phishing email.
What makes phishing so dangerous is that it preys on our natural tendency to trust. We are hardwired to trust the people and institutions that we know and recognize, making us vulnerable to these attacks.
How to protect yourself from a phishing attack
Now that we know what phishing is and how it works, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to protect yourself from these attacks.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to protect yourself from phishing attacks. If anything else, it all boils down to being aware of the threat and being cautious about the emails, text messages, and phone calls that you receive. By following a few simple tips, you can make it much harder for criminals to steal your personal information.
The first step is to learn to recognize the tell-tale signs of a phishing email. Only then can you take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
How to spot a phishing email
Phishing can come in many forms, but there are some common characteristics that can help you spot a phishing email. Here are some things to look out for:
- The message is urgent or contains threatening language
- The sender is spoofed or impersonates someone you know or trust
- The message may look like a service you use but the email address might not be 100% correct. For example, instead of [email protected], the email might be [email protected]
- The email contains typos or grammatical errors
- The email contains strange or unexpected attachments
- The email requests personal information or login credentials
If you see any of these red flags, be very suspicious and exercise caution before clicking on any links or opening any attachments. If you’re not sure whether an email is legitimate, the best thing to do is to contact the person or company directly to confirm.
Below is a classic example of a phishing email designed to access someone’s Shopify account.
Notice how the sender is disguised to look like Shopify, and how the message uses urgent language to try and trick the victim into clicking on the malicious link. In the email above, the user did not request a password change or anything. This is a very common tactic that phishers use, so it’s important to be aware of it.
Phishing attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated, so it’s important to be vigilant. By being aware of the signs of a phishing email, you can protect yourself and your organization from falling victim to these scams.
If you think that you’ve been the victim of a phishing attack, it’s important to take action immediately and change your passwords. You should also contact your bank or credit card company to let them know what happened.
How to avoid phishing attempts that are not via email
Another important thing to keep in mind is that phishing attacks can come in other forms and are not only limited to emails (although that’s the most common). Here are some other ways that phishers can try to get your personal information:
- Text messages: You may receive a text message from what appears to be a trusted sender, but the message contains a link that leads to a fake website. This kind of phishing even has it’s own name, it’s called Smishing.
- Phone calls: You may receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from a trusted organization, such as your bank. They may try to trick you into giving them your personal information or login credentials.
- Instant messages: You may receive an instant message from someone claiming to be a friend or colleague. The message may contain a link that leads to a malicious website.
- Social media messages: Group chats are notorious for passing on suspicious links especially if the members are not aware of phishing attacks. You might be sent a message encouraging you to “enter a draw to win $5000 worth of groceries” from a well-known store.
Just like with phishing emails, it’s important to be suspicious of any unsolicited messages that you receive. If you’re not sure whether a message is legitimate, the best thing to do is to contact the person or company directly to confirm.
How to prevent phishing
Now that you know what phishing is and how to spot a phishing email, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to prevent these attacks.
1. Set a spam filter on your inbox settings
One of the best things you can do is to use a strong spam filter. This will help to block most phishing emails from reaching your inbox. The process may vary depending on your email provider, but in general, you’ll want to look for an option to enable “spam filtering” or “junk mail filtering.”
In the case of Gmail (the most popular email service), spam filtering is enabled by default. However, you can further customize your spam filters by going to the “Settings” menu and selecting the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” option. From here, you can add specific words or phrases that you want to block.
2. Enable two-factor authentication
You should also make sure to enable two-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification) whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to enter a code that is sent to your phone in addition to your password when logging into an account.
Most major online services, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, offer two-factor authentication. To enable it, you’ll usually need to go to the “Security” or “Settings” menu and look for an option to enable two-factor authentication.
3. Encrypt your info by using a VPN
Another good way to prevent phishing attacks is to encrypt your internet traffic so that your personal information can’t be intercepted by hackers. You can do this with ClearVPN, which encrypts your traffic and routes it through a secure server. That way, even if you do click on a malicious link, your personal information will be protected.
To use ClearVPN, simply download ClearVPN and connect to one of our secure servers. We have servers in over 40 countries, so you can always find one that’s close to you for the best connection speeds.
Last but not least, one of the best ways to protect yourself from phishing attacks is to educate yourself and others about these threats. The more people who are aware of phishing scams, the harder it will be for attackers to succeed.