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Phishing Definition : “The fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.”


Phishing is a process where business and personal accounts are compromised, and hundreds of millions of dollars are lost! A 2014 study done for CNN Money by the Ponemon Institute found that half of the American adults had been hacked that year alone. Hundreds of millions of accounts had been compromised. Bank accounts, social media, and even corporate logins. In a world of increasingly complex networks, we have internet-connected devices all over our households and workplaces: televisions, video game consoles, phones, and even refrigerators. The hacker of today has so many options to look at. Hence, so many avenues of attack exist for them to assess and eventually target.

But no matter how many internet-connected devices we use and will use in the future, there will always be one vulnerability to trump them all. A human being. Why go through all the trouble of breaking into a system if someone lets me in? No need to learn the intricacies of every device if you tell me your password. Enter the art of phishing. 

What is Phishing

Phishing is a technique that tries to get a user to give up their login, password and other sensitive information from them. Through spoofed websites, phone calls, emails, and text messages, attackers try to get you to release your credentials without realizing it.

Almost all received a phishing email at some point in our lives. So let’s paint the scene. You get an email from your bank institution. It’s called the suitable logo, the right colors, the proper wording, and everything in between. The email could contain any message. Possibly about your expiring password, account issue, or even the latest interest rates you could be receiving. But almost certainly, there will be a link. Nothing you’ve seen so far has led you to believe anything is out of the ordinary, so you click the link. Now you’ve opened up a fake clone of your bank’s website. It looks and feels exactly like your bank website.

It even takes you to the login prompt. Subsequently, you put in your information, and bam. They now have access to your bank account.

Target Hack

In these cases, the attacker doesn’t even need you to give up your information. Just getting you to the website is enough. During the holiday season of 2013, Target was the victim of one of the most significant corporate data breaches in US history. Credit card data from 40 million accounts and personal data from 70 million accounts were stolen. And what started it all?

A phishing email. Fazio Mechanical, an HVAC company based out of Pennsylvania, was one of Target’s vendors that were allowed access to Target’s vendor portal. Fazio Mechanical was the phishing email victim, not Target itself. After the hackers gained access to Fazio’s credentials, it was only a matter of time before they gained access to Target’s network. Following this, the intruders could install malware on the point-of-sale devices and collect data on millions of credit cards.

The hackers were never caught, and there is a debate on whether Fazio was the victim of a spear-phishing attack. Spear phishing is when specific people or organizations are targeted. It could have just been blind luck. A Fazio employee could’ve just clicked a link on a run-of-the-mill phishing email and grew from there. The jury is still out on this. Target paid back $18.5 million to affected customers as part of the settlement. This figure is nothing compared to the $202 million that Target spent fighting the lawsuit.

Current Impact

One type of phishing attack on the rise is BEC scams. These are targeted attacks against a business that deals with wire transfers. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2017, “the BEC scam continues to grow, evolve, and target businesses of million.” Wombat Security publishes an annual State of the Phish report in which they survey 1000 infosec professionals in the US, UK, and Germany for a total of 3000 people. In their report, they found that 76 percent had experienced phishing attacks in 2017. Fifty-three percent were the target of spear phishing. They look at the type of emails people were susceptible to. Since January 2015, there has been a 1,300 percent increase in identified exposed losses totaling over $3 billion.” clicking.

Online shopping security updates had an 86 percent click rate, a corporate voicemail from an unknown caller was also at 86 percent, and corporate email improvements were 89 percent. They also found a close to 100 click-through rate on database password reset alert emails. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, 78 percent of people didn’t click on a single phish all year. But that is still an alarmingly low number. All a hacker needs are one person to make their way into a company network.

How to Prevent Phishing

Be careful about clicking links | Always call back | Use two-factor authentication if given the option

Always call back

Never give out your personal information if you did not initiate the call. When it revolves around banking, never trust someone who says who they are. Take the time to look up your bank’s number and call them back. Also, try to verify that it was, in fact, your bank that was trying to contact you. Even if your friend calls you, call them back before giving out sensitive information. With the rise of Caller ID spoofing, you can’t trust that your friend is actually calling.

Be careful about clicking links

It seems counter-intuitive to the way most people surf the web. Almost everything we do revolves around clicking links and buttons to take us to other web pages or someone’s profile. Even clicking that not too good to be true marketing deal link can cause major headaches. Be especially careful of links sent in emails or chat from people or organizations you don’t know. If you get an email requesting a password reset from a service you use, navigate to that service’s website and request a password reset.  If you still find yourself compelled to click a link you know you shouldn’t, don’t put your login or personal information in. Phishing websites can fool even the best of us.


Use two-factor authentication if given the option

Two-factor authentication requires that you have two pieces of information to log in. Services like Gmail or most banking institutions will send you a temporary code through an SMS message that you must use and your password. Even if your login information is compromised, the hacker will not have access to your phone. Hence, such protection will give you some security.

Final Thoughts on Phishing

New bugs are found every day. Hence, new vulnerabilities for the would-be hacker to learn about and eventually exploit are inevitable. Some websites and software get patched quickly, and some may take years. But you can’t simply patch a human being. Even if every security hole gets plugged in, there will always be a way in, and there will probably never be a way to stop phishing. Hence, protecting websites from malicious exploits must be a top priority.

Billions of Dollars Lost

Billions of dollars are lost yearly due to phishing, and there’s no sign of slowing down. And as more people learn and use the internet, that number will continue to rise. Businesses should also think about how they can keep themselves safe. Sure, they can hire security experts and engineers to protect their network and data, but it might be better to train their employees on what not to do. The web is only as strong as the weakest link; the most vulnerable link will always be people. logo - (425)-336-0069

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Article on Phishing 

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