Phishing, whether spear phishing attempts or just generalized emails, are by far the most pressing cybersecurity risk that companies have to deal with on a daily basis. Throughout 2021 and onward into 2022, phishing attacks have continued to become more prominent, with over 80% of IT professionals seeing a rising risk during this period.
While the vast majority of individuals know what to look for when it comes to phishing emails and understand the risk, all it takes is one singular slip-up to fall prey. In fact, 41% of employees that are trained in cybersecurity fail to notice the signs of a phishing email just because they’re tired.
That’s not to mention the 33% of employees that are deemed a high-risk to cybersecurity due to being likely to click on phishing emails. Whether you’re a cybersecurity pro or are completely new to the risks of phishing, it’s always good to brush up on your skills. In this article, we’ll go through the most prominent signs that you’re dealing with a phishing email.
By understanding each of these elements, you’ll be in a much better position to recognize the threat and put a stop to it before you accidentally expose your data, or your company’s data. Let’s get right into it.
What Are the Four Major Signs of a Phishing Email?
The average inbox is inundated with between 100-120 emails every single day, making the ease of one well-timed phishing email fairly difficult to spot from the masses. Considering the vast majority of email platforms already have a range of security features that prevent phishing emails, only the very best will make it through the initial defenses.
However, just because they managed to fool a specific security tool doesn’t mean they’ll slip by you as well. All phishing emails show their signs of falsity, and most will completely fall apart if you inspect them closely. When an email arrives in your inbox, there are a few core things that you should always check first:
Sense of Urgency
Let’s break these fundamental four down.
Often, an attacker will clone a business email that they’ve received to ensure that the company header and logo are all in the right place. They can even do this with the copy of the email, quite literally making a near-perfect forgery. However, there is one thing that they can never directly copy – the email domain name.
Every email account has a personalized email domain name, their particular @name being individual to them. This is done to ensure that when we send a certain email to someone, it arrives to them and not to anyone else. With this in mind, there are never any duplicate domain names.
With this in mind, you should always closely inspect the email address that has sent you the email. If it seems like Netflix has emailed you talking about needing to reset your billing information, but the email is NFlx@Gmail.com, alarm bells should be ringing. Companies aren’t in the habit of using strange domains precisely for this reason.
If you’re unsure whether the domain is real or not, do a quick Google search for the company and their support email. This is publicly available information that you’ll be able to find in a few seconds. By comparing the online registered name to the one that landed in your inbox, you’re usually able to filter out the real emails from the fake ones.
Sense of Urgency
A huge number of phishing emails work due to a human psychological response known as action bias. This is where humans want to instantly respond to a risk if they’re notified of one. Attackers will often frame phishing emails with a call to action, such as your passwords being breached or your financial data being leaked.
When someone reads this, the panic they feel will cause them to throw caution to the wind and respond instantly. This moment of forgetting their training is all it takes to accidentally give account information to an attacker. With this in mind, always look for signs of hackers relying on your action bias. Take a second, think about it, then come to a conclusion.
We’ll keep this one short and sweet. If you don’t know the person that’s emailing you, do not open attachments on your computer without scanning them for malware first.
Opening an attachment without checking can lead to huge problems down the line. Once again, it only takes one small mistake to cause a massive issue. Take your time to verify what’s inside the file and understand who you’re talking to before you go about opening them.
Phishing scams, unless they’re specifically targeted, are often fairly generic. If the email has an impersonalized feel, with no mention of your name or any other information, it may be a fake email. This is especially the case if the email contains any errors, especially in spelling and grammar.
Most of the time, if an email is riddled with errors, you’ve run into a clear sign that the person on the other end might be launching a phishing email at you. Always take the time to carefully read through the email and verify its validity.
Phishing is incredibly prevalent, and unfortunately fairly successful. As it only takes one mistake for a phishing event to turn into a company-wide security risk, this is always something you should bear in mind when checking your emails. By learning about the most common signs that phishing emails will accidentally leave behind, you’re able to then prepare yourself to a greater extent.
When it comes to phishing, preparation is the number one factor you can have to lessen the risk. Even with leading cybersecurity platforms, it’s nearly impossible to stop the occasional phishing email from landing in your inbox. To counter this, you should always know the signs so you, yourself, can recognize the email as spam and report it to your IT provider.