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Phishing Attacks: Techniques & Prevention

What is a Phishing Attack?

The most damaging and widespread security attack faced by all organizations is a phishing attack. Phishing attacks are referred to as fraudulent attempts to steal information by sending emails to the target that appear to be from genuine sources. The target is then lured into clicking the malicious link which leads to the installation of the malware.

Types of Phishing Attacks

Email Phishing

This is the most common type of phishing attack. In this method, the hacker sends emails to random email addresses masquerading as a trusted entity. The emails lure the targets into entering their personal details. This is used mainly to steal user data like login credentials and credit card numbers. The hacker often registers a new domain that mimics a trusted entity and sends an email to thousands of people in massive campaigns. These emails contain malware, links or attachments that can capture sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, passwords, phone numbers, account numbers, etc. So, make sure to deploy email security and spam protection, along with antivirus software.

Spear Phishing

Spear Phishing is the same as email phishing, the only difference being that fake emails are targeted towards a single individual, organization or business. This is a targeted phishing technique, where the hacker sends bespoke emails to a well-researched user impersonating themselves as a trusted entity. Cybercriminals first try to gain information about the individual through social networking sites. With the information that is publicly available as the list of friends, email addresses, recent purchase posts, etc., the hacker will be able to send trustworthy messages to the target user. These messages often contain links or attachments that might lead to a spoof website, where the user will be asked to enter sensitive information. Once the hackers receive enough sensitive information, they can access bank accounts and can even create a new identity with the user’s information. Whaling is another type of spear-phishing where the targets are high-profile employees.


Smishing or SMS Phishing uses the same technique as that of Email phishing but with text messages. The cybercriminal sends a text message to the target’s phone number and leverages their trust to get the information. Most people who are particularly careful about emails from unknown numbers do not care much about the text messages from unknown numbers. This has paved the way for criminals to use advanced social engineering techniques to lure the target and get their information, preferably something like a password, social security number or credit card information. It can also trick the user into downloading malware into your mobile device, that spies the device and steals the stored information. So, always be alert of the text messages and links from an unknown source.


Vishing: Vishing or Voice Phishing is the fraudulent usage of telephony to conduct phishing attacks. The attackers manipulate human emotions like greed, sympathy, fear, etc. to trick the victims into giving up their sensitive information. The cybercriminals first harvest telephone numbers from different sources and then they spoof the caller IDs and begin calling the targets. Most often, the caller pretends to be from the government, tax department, target’s bank, etc. and persuades people to give up their private information. Using convincing language, and threats at times these cybercriminals make the target feel as if they have no other option rather than giving up their sensitive information.

Phishing Prevention Techniques

Prevention of these phishing attacks is possible only by proper awareness to the employees on how phishing works. The employees must take extra precautions not to open any suspicious emails or links.

  1. Be cautious:

Always be cautious of all the emails you receive. If you find it suspicious, do not click on buttons, attachments or links in the e-mail.

  1. Don’t enter personal information:

Do not enter sensitive or personal information on popup screens. Legitimate and genuine companies do not ask for information via a pop-up screen.

  1. Deploy firewalls:

Firewalls act as a shield between the network/computer and the hacker.  Deploying a network and desktop firewall together is the best way to prevent external attacks and strengthen your security.

  1. Install phishing filters:

Install spam protection and phishing filters on your email application. This helps to filter and reduce most phishing scams.

  1. Maintain a password policy:

Update your account passwords regularly and also have a strong password to prevent a hacker from accessing the accounts.

  1. Do not turn off updates:

The security patches and updates are released to keep you up to date from a known cyberattack and hence it is important to install them.

  1. Beware of unsecured sites:

Do not enter any information in an unsecured site (the URL which doesn’t have https). All the sites without security certificates may not be a scam, but it is better to be cautious before entering your information on such sites.

  1. Educate your employees:

With increased phishing attacks, it is critical to have up-to-date knowledge of what a phishing scam looks like. So, keep your employees updated with the latest phishing attack techniques and key identifiers.

  1. Check online accounts regularly:

Visit your online accounts regularly even if you do not use them, as an unused account is an easy target for attackers. Prevent phishing and card fraud by getting monthly statements of your financial accounts and make sure no fraudulent transactions are happening without your knowledge.

  1. Verify caller’s identity:

Always make sure to verify the caller’s identity and organization name before giving out your personal information. Most companies never ask for your information via a phone call.

  1. Use Antivirus software:

Antivirus software is critical for every organization as it removes corrupt files and software from the computer/network. Also, most antivirus software has spam protection to filter unwanted emails from reaching your inbox.

If you suspect that your account has been compromised, check for the below signs of a successful phishing attack:

  • Identity theft
  • Locked account
  • Unfamiliar transactions
  • Spam mail from your account

It is advised to have a Phishing Attack Incident Response plan for implementing the preventive controls that include preparation to block phishing attempts, identification of phishing attacks and remediation procedures.