Phishing emails come in many different varieties. Some are brief, one- or two-sentence messages, whereas others are longer and consist of text, digital images, and hyperlinks. Given the sheer variety of potential phishing emails—coupled with cunning social engineering tactics—some attempts are bound to slip through the cracks. Thankfully, the best ways to spot a phishing email are all easily grasped.
How Common Are Phishing Attempts?
According to a recent report by Verizon, approximately 25% of modern data breaches begin with a phishing attempt. Since they often fall outside the parameters of antivirus or anti-malware software, they can easily penetrate even the best cyberdefenses.
To identify phishing emails, you’ll need to know:
- The various types of phishing emails
- The single best way to spot a phishing email
- The other common signs of phishing emails
Common Types of Phishing Emails
Because phishing has been a popular tactic for so long, hackers have plenty of time to refine their strategies and create new types of phishing emails. Some of the most common types of phishing attempts include:
- Spear phishing – This is a targeted attack meant to steal login credentials or other information from specific individuals; it’s also known as “whaling” when the target is in a position of authority.
- Vishing – These phishing attacks are launched via telephone or smartphone.
- Clone phishing – This method involves copying the contents of a genuine email that has already been received and re-sending it to an unsuspecting victim.
- Man-in-the-middle – In this scenario, the hacker intercepts the communications of two or more parties in an attempt to steal login credentials or other information.
The Best Way to Spot a Phishing Email
If the sender is asks you to reveal your personal information, either via email or over the telephone, it’s a telltale sign and one of the best ways to spot a phishing email. Legitimate companies will almost never ask for personal or sensitive information in this manner—and most even post warnings to inform their customers of this issue.
If the sender or caller asks for sensitive information and you think they may be legitimate, take the extra few minutes to confirm by contacting the organization they claim to represent.
The only time this shouldn’t be taken as suspicious are scenarios when you’re expecting the sender to contact you. If you’ve previously contacted a service provider for troubleshooting support, for example, you might need to verify your identity via email or telephone. However, some malicious actors will use this scenario to contact you. So, it’s still wise to always double-check and confirm their identity before providing any information.
Other Telltale Signs of Phishing
While requests for personal or sensitive information are some of the best ways to spot a phishing email, there are other common indicators. Because hackers and social engineers aren’t too careful when composing these messages, you’ll often find several of these telltale signs in each phishing attempt.
Frequent Misspellings or Incorrect Grammar
Most phishing emails are rife with misspellings and incorrect grammar. Whether it’s due to the sense of urgency and haste on the part of the hacker or because they’re not natively familiar with your language, scanning these messages for misspellings remains among the best ways to spot a phishing email.
Lack of Personalization
Professional emails tend to include some degree of personalization. Legitimate email marketers and company representatives rely on this personalization to help build an initial bond with the recipient, but hackers and other malicious actors don’t share these same goals.
As a result, they very rarely contain any personalization. This general vagueness serves as a telltale clue that something isn’t quite right.
Mismatched Domains or Sender Addresses
Hackers and malicious actors usually try to mask their true email addresses. This is achieved in several ways, including using public email domains, like Yahoo or Gmail,
- Public email domains – Modern organizations never send emails from public email domains like Yahoo or Gmail.
- Email address spoofing – Addresses are easily spoofed, or faked, by modifying headers to make the email appear as though it was sent from a legitimate address.
Relies on a Sense of Urgency or Panic
Emails designed to instill a false sense of urgency or panic are almost always phishing attempts. In this case, the hacker urges the recipient to act before they’ve had enough time to think about the email. This is often seen in emails that present a doomsday scenario or limited-time offer.
Includes Suspicious Attachments
Viruses, malware, and ransomware can enter your network through many different avenues, but suspicious or unsolicited email attachments are amongst the most popular. As a general rule, you should never open email attachments that you’re not expecting. However, even if you are, it’s still vital to scan attachments for viruses and malware.
It’s Too Good to be True
If an email sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a phishing attempt.
In some cases, hackers try to exploit the recipient’s desire for wealth by offering absurd amounts of cash or prizes in exchange for your personal information. Unfortunately, these scams are designed solely to steal your information. Some of the common signs of phishing emails in this category include:
- Fake lottery announcements
- Inheritance claims from unknown family members
- Tax returns that you aren’t expecting
- Prizes for contests that you’ve never entered
Overcoming the Threat of Phishing Emails
Most of these intrusion attempts are easily thwarted by personnel that know the best ways to spot a phishing email. Still, phishing defenses require an organization-wide approach and periodic training to update your staff.
If your team has difficulty separating phishing attempts from genuine emails, or if you want to learn more about the managed security services we provide, contact RSI Security today.