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Much of the world has transitioned to digital, presenting many opportunities for fraudsters to benefit from the lax cybersecurity of unaware digital residents. 

One of the most common types of online scams is phishing, or the use of social engineering to pose as a legitimate entity to gain access to sensitive information or private systems. As of October 2022, Security Magazine reported over 255 million phishing attacks that year alone; many of these cases came in the form of phishing emails.

What is a Phishing Email?

A phishing email is a message sent by cybercriminals posing as a legitimate body, such as a banking institution or a company, to get the recipient to take action that benefits the perpetrator.

For example, a phishing email disguised as an unpaid bank fee can trick you into providing your credit card information or bank login credentials. Another potential strategy is posing as a member of your own company—an email that looks like it’s from your IT department might get you to unknowingly download malicious software that can give access to your servers and scrape information.

Targeted phishing attacks like these are called spear phishing. They’re much more challenging to detect due to the attacker’s ability to customize the email to seem more legitimate than the broader attacks that target many people. These perpetrators might know their target’s full name or the name of their coworkers or family members and therefore be very convincing.

How to Identify a Phishing Email: 5 Threat Detection Tactics

With the increased sophistication and volume of phishing emails, staying weary is essential because one mistake leads to severe data breaches for you or your company.

1. Ensure that the sender is who they say they are

Most large companies and banks have their own email domain and domain name, so you should be wary of people claiming to represent a company or bank while using a public email domain.

If the sender used a public email domain to send you an email, even if it looks legitimate, you need to double-check with the actual bank or organization to ensure that the email is really from them.

2. Check if the email requires you to input sensitive information

A common strategy for phishers is to ask for sensitive information like login credentials or credit card information. Most banks don’t require you to respond with that data over an unsecured channel, and many official emails even warn against giving your information over email.

If unsure, you should contact the bank or company via a trusted channel to confirm if they’re asking for the data requested in the email. If they aren’t, report the suspicious email and block them immediately.

3. Look for inconsistencies in the email’s wording

An easy way to detect a phishing email is to take note of the language and vocabulary used. It’s very rare for a large company or bank to have spelling or grammatical errors, so those are red flags for someone attempting to steal your data.

Another thing to look out for is if any of the information in an email is wrong or contradicts other parts of the email. For example, if an email from the bank informs you of an unpaid fine, they wouldn’t need to ask you for your account information.

4. Keep your eyes open for suspicious links

While many emails can contain links to other websites, phishing emails use links that might not hold up to close observation. For example, attackers might swap out or change some letters to make the malicious link appear official. Others may use link-shortening tools to hide the fact that the link leads to a completely different website.

Some browser extensions and anti-malware software come with the ability to stop your connection to suspicious websites. However, it’s still best to double-check any suspicious link you come across before you click.

5. Watch out for attachments

Attackers can program attachments to launch automatically upon downloading, so they can easily infect your system. A simple way they trick you is to change the label of the attached malware to a different, less concerning file type, such as a PDF.

If you’re suspicious of the email, confirm with the sender through a trusted channel before downloading any attachments. While some antiviruses warn you if a downloaded file is potentially harmful, it’s always better to be cautious.

Don’t Get Hooked by Phishing Emails

With the regularity of all kinds of phishing attacks, it’s vital for you and your employees to know how to identify a fraudulent email. Getting “hooked” by one can lead to devastating effects on your company, requiring expensive solutions.

To reduce the worry caused by phishing attacks, consider using Q5id’s proven authentication system to improve your cybersecurity without the hassle!

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