Stop the Phish – Tips to Stay Safe Online


Security / Saturday, December 14th, 2019

When Phishing Strikes

Everyone would have received an email before from somebody claiming to be someone we trust or a service we trust. While many of us will delete it and get on with our day, other may click on the link or attachment inside of the email.  These are known as phishing emails which have a much bigger impact on people and organisations than we think.

Unfortunately, engaging with these emails can have a knock on affect on the user, especially if the user decided to give away their precious credentials or execute a dangerous attachment. In some cases, this can lead to financial loss to the user or the users accounts being compromised.  

Alternatively, if the user is part of an organisation, this could lead to the user passing on a dangerous file, which in turn can have a big impact, such as spreading ransomware. If you look back on incidents like the WannaCry ransomware attack that hit the NHS, you can see how risky phishing emails can be if the right kind of file or link is in the email.

Stopping Phishing is a Responsibility for Everyone

We must all be responsible for security even when it comes to simple things like phishing emails. It can be so easy for things to go wrong, which is why this post today will go through some tips on how you can stop the phishing emails having their way with you. 

Phishing Attack Example

So how does a phishing email work and what does a typical successful phising email attack look like? Well, in this section we will be covering this.

Phishing Email Creation

First of all the attacker will create an email. Phishing emails can be of different difficulty depending on who they want to attack. Typically attackers will go for the weakest link (most vulnerable users) for more targeted attacks but in this example, the user has sent out an email to a variety of people.

Sending the Phishing Email

Once the email has been created, it will be sent out and received by the user. Some users will delete the email although one unlucky user may end up receiving and opening the email.

Falling for the Phishing Email

After opening the email, the user may click on the link, attachment or respond to the email. Any of these actions will benefit the user. The link might lead to a malicious page where the user can enter their credentials or financial details; lead to the user installing a virus on their device and in the case or responding, giving the attacker the chance to sell it on to other attackers – information is power afterall!  

Attacker Wins

The end result of any phishing email is usually motivated by financial gain, disruption to service or due to a disagreement with a service / company / person as a whole.

Successful Phishing Poster

For a more simplified version of how a phishing attack works, I have created a short poster timeline below, detailing how a successful phishing attack might go.

Image of a successful phishing attack via timeline
Successful Phishing Attack Timeline

Stop the Phish Tips

Now that we have gone through the attack timeline, it is time to go through some of the tips. If you have any of your own which isn’t included below, please feel free to share your own tips by commenting below this post. Alternatively, you can share them via our contact form, found here.

Check the Sender

First of all, check the sender. Sometimes you can tell if the email is from a trusted source based on whether the email is directly from a trusted email address. In most cases, you may find the phishing email to come from an address that is almost spelt like the real thing and emails that aren’t even spelt the same to the real email. If this is the case, it is very likely a phishing email.

Obviously, this does not always mean the email is still safe, other factors such as if the senders email has been compromised or if the email has been spoffed can make it difficult to determine this. But don’t worry, the other points below will help you determine if the email can be trusted.

Links and Attachments

Any links or attachments should be managed with caution. When this is coupled with urgency, it can make it so much easier for you to click on the link or open the attachment in panic. However, clicking on links and opening attachments can be dangerous like mentioned earlier in the post.

If you get a link, ensure the website link doesn’t lead to a malicious website and avoid clicking on the link. Please do NOT click on a link unless you are 100% sure it is a trusted attachment.

In addition, if you get an attachment be careful and think before opening and avoid allowing / enabling any macros of features in the file. Similarly, if the file is unrecognised do not open it on your machine. Please do NOT open an attachment unless you are 100% sure it is a trusted attachment.

Urgency – Check the Language!

Language is another tool that attackers will use in their emailing methods. Urgency is always a way in which they can get the user to react with the link or attachment in the email. Some of the language they use are as follows:

  • “Immediately”
  • “Urgently”
  • “Now”
  • “ASAP”

Attackers may also use this with time limits to respond or to complete something and sometimes with authority. This can encourage the user to prioritise providing their details or to engage with the dangerous attachment files.

Spelling and Grammar

Similarly, the use of bad spelling and grammar might be seen in the email. This includes, misspelling words, not structuring sentences properly and using puntuation or common grammar incorrectly. If these are spotted in an email you have received, it is quite possibly a phishing email in your inbox.

Avoid Responding

Another tip is to avoid responding to the email. Attackers may only be looking for a respond to know if your email is live so that they can use in it more complicated attacks. They may also pass this information on to other people for a price, which is a potential win-win for them and other attackers.

So if you do receive an email that looks odd, don’t reply unless you’re absolutely sure it is safe to do so. Although, by using the other tips in this list, you should be able to determine if the email is actually safe to respond to.

Avoid Forwarding

In addition to avoiding to respond, you should avoid forwarding it on to others. By forwarding the phishing email, you are allowing it to spread to other people’s computers which will eventually lead to somebody falling for the email down the line.

If you do want the email looking at as a second opinion, you should contact someone you trust to take a look for you, they will then be able to give advice on the best way this can be done.

You Won!

Offers and competitions are commonly used in some phishing emails. These emails aim to lead people into thinking they will win a large prize in return for providing personal details. This can be used with both emails and attachments to encourage the user to click or open the attachment.

Make sure you look out for offers that seem too good to be true. The best way is to remember the rule of: “If something seems too good to be true, it probably definitely is.” when you receive a tempting offer, especially with emails.

Ask For a Second Opinion

Sometimes looking at the email yourself isn’t enough, so why not ask somebody else you trust for a second look? Go talk to someone about the email and if possible somebody who knows how to deal with phishing emails.

Enable An Extra Layer of Security

Want to protect yourself in case you fall for a credential stealing based phishing email? Activate two factor or multi factor authentication. This will provide an added layer of security to your accounts. This will stop attackers from accessing your account if you fall for a phshing email.

Similarly, by keeping your anti-virus and devices updated and up-to-date, this will provide an extra layer of security. These will provided added security for if you open a dangerous file or go to a dangerous website. This does not mean you are completely safe but this does stop some dangerous attachments.

Contact the Sender Seperate from the Email

Finally, if you are still ensure on if the email is real, ask the person who the email is suggested to come from seperate from the email. This means to call them via their known contact details to double-check if the email is from them. Please do not contact the user through the contact details on the suspected email.

Hopefully these tips will be useful in helping you stay safer online. If you prefer a more visual version of these tips, you can find a top 10 phishing tips poster below.  

Poster Containing 10 Phishing Tips
Top 10 Phishing Tips

Phishing Averted

Through this post, I have discussed how a phishing email attack works with some of the ways in which you can protect yourself against phishing while online. With this in mind you should be able to help those around you too by going through these steps with them.

As always be sure to check some of the other posts we have on our blog.

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