Over the years, emails have become an indispensable business communication tool. This popularity in use has made them an attractive source for fraudsters and criminals to prey on innocent victims.
As a result, email phishing has been steadily rising and now contributes to 65% of cyberattacks. And the pandemic has given them an extra boost. In the UK, for instance, email phishing attacks rose by 73% within just the first 6 months of facing the COVID-19 outbreak.
Today, phishing emails are a very real threat for organizations, both large and small, regardless of industry or geographic location. And in this article, we’ll explore the impact this could have on you and your business and how you could safeguard yourself from these malicious attacks.
So, what exactly are phishing emails?
Email phishing scams target individuals and organizations to access confidential data. They could phish for social security numbers, login credentials, bank account numbers, credit card details, or even sensitive company information such as customer databases, supplier details, financial data, and product blueprints.
But how can they gain access to all these data?
Phishing emails could be highly persuasive and hard to distinguish from genuine ones. Studies show that 30% of emails sent as part of phishing scams get opened. Yet only a very few people report phishing email attacks, significantly diminishing the chances of mitigating risks. And there are many ways a criminal could extract personal, identifiable, or confidential information from you. Their techniques are increasingly sophisticated and designed to gain trust, so you would let your guards down and willingly share the required data.
Here are a few possible methods they could use.
- They could hack into the mailbox of someone known to you and use an old email chain to strike a conversation with you.
- By using social engineering, they could mimic the email addresses of a reputed organization such as a bank, the IRS, or a supplier.
- A breach at a popular retailer could give them access to customer email addresses and sales data. Criminals could then use this information to communicate with you by, for example, referring to a recent purchase you’ve made.
- A security breach at a well-known organization such as a bank or a supplier could lead them to similar information.
Now, cybercriminals may not always request information outright in an email. Sometimes, they may direct you to a spoof website with an email link. These malicious sites are designed to collect your login credentials and other personal information. They could often look identical to the original websites they are mimicking, making it hard for innocent victims to suspect that something’s amiss.
Malware-infected email attachments are equally prevalent. These could download spyware that monitors your activities and extracts sensitive data from your devices.
How much of a risk can they pose?
Your personal data left in the hands of a criminal could lead to significant risks. It could expose you to identity theft, financial fraud, tax fraud, and even medical scams. A company data breach could have severe implications, too, from reputational damage to hefty financial costs. And recovering from these could take years.
How can you protect yourself against email phishing?
Modern-day work practices such as remote working and BYOD policies are making cybersecurity increasingly complex. To be effective against email phishing attacks, you need a 360-degree approach.
Here are the critical steps for you to adopt.
- Verify the sender’s email address even when it seems familiar. A fake email address could be remarkably similar to a genuine one. But if you examine them closely, you might notice a slight difference, usually with one or two characters.
- Avoid responding to emails that request personal or confidential information. Contact the sender via phone to verify that the request originated from them.
- Avoid downloading attachments without verifying the credibility of their source.
- Inspect any links before clicking. Hover the cursor over the link to verify that you’re not being redirected to a different site.
- Set up spam filters. It will help block many of the suspicious or malware-infected emails.
- Watch out for any warning signs when dealing with someone familiar via email. It could be an unusual way of greeting, a slight difference in the email signature, or a sudden change in the writing style. Sometimes, it could be a language error or an unusual date format.
- Follow security protocols to protect your data and accounts. For example, use two-factor authentication, one-time passwords, and biometrics. These could prevent cybercriminals from accessing data, even when your login passwords are compromised.
- Secure all your devices with malware protection. Follow strict security guidelines to ensure device safety.
- Educate yourself and your employees on potential threats and the importance of guarding against email phishing attacks. This might require periodic training and staying updated on cybersecurity news.
- Encourage employees to report potential phishing emails, regardless of whether they have fallen victim to a scam. It will allow your IT team to strengthen security and warn other stakeholders to minimize possible risks.
- Make cybersecurity a topic of regular conversation at your workplace.
- Set up policies to tackle email phishing. Outline how employees should deal with and respond to suspicious emails. Ensure you cover data sharing protocols, too.
Build awareness to fight email phishing
Data security is often a confusing domain for many non-tech professionals. But the threats hidden beneath the digital environment around you are now making it essential to build cyber awareness. The cost of ignoring these could be incredibly high and diverse.
And today, email phishing attacks are remarkably sophisticated, complex, and persistent. Sometimes, they could be the result of an earlier breach that you’re unaware of. And often, their consequences may not be so obvious or straightforward. In an age where data can yield tremendous economic value, your compromised data could give way to countless criminal ventures far into the future.