Social engineering threats like phishing are common in today’s cybersecurity landscape. If unattended, these threats can develop into full-blown attacks that result in data breaches. So, what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? Read our blog to find out the top indicators and how you can stop attacks or minimize their impact if and when they do happen.
What is a Common Indicator of a Phishing Attempt? Phishing 101
The prevalence of phishing attacks calls for fast, reliable cyberdefenses against these threats. Keeping your organization safe from phishing attacks starts with asking: what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? To answer this question, this blog will explore:
- An overview of phishing as a social engineering attack
- The various types of phishing attacks
- How to protect your organization from phishing
Identifying the common indicators of phishing attempts will help your organization stay ahead of them and other social engineering attacks. Working with a threat and vulnerability management partner will help you deploy the most appropriate data security controls against these threats.
What is a Phishing Attack?
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack.
By definition, social engineering is the art of psychological manipulation in which cybercriminals pretext individuals into performing an action that potentially compromises an organization’s data security. As the most common form of social engineering, phishing involves these psychological tactics to convince individuals to provide unauthorized access to digital assets.
Phishing attacks are typically well-planned, sophisticated threats that can exploit vulnerabilities present in your cybersecurity infrastructure to compromise any asset within your broader IT environment. Whether it’s web applications, networks, or physical data storage locations, perpetrators of phishing attacks are interested in illegally gaining access to sensitive data environments in any way possible.
Types of Phishing Attacks
The term phishing originates from “fishing.” Like its namesake, where an individual baits fish to catch them, phishing sets bait for an unsuspecting target, who then provides a cybercriminal with access to a sensitive data environment.
When comparing the types of phishing attacks your organization might face, you will find that some are more sophisticated than others. However, they are similar because they all attempt to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data environments and digital assets.
Let’s break down the various types of phishing and their common indicators:
Email phishing is considered the most common form of phishing. Cybercriminals tend to use email phishing to target employees within an organization, especially when these employees rely on email for day-to-day communication.
Common indicators of email phishing include:
- Emails urging recipients to act on an unusual sense of urgency
- Potentially malicious links within an email
- Unusual spelling and grammatical errors in emails
Some phishing emails may be more elaborate and sophisticated if they target high-ranking individuals within an organization.
For instance, a phishing email targeting several employees in the organization may have more grammatical errors than one targeting senior executives. And, in some cases, there may be minimal differences between these emails.
Also called voice phishing, vishing uses psychological tactics to pretext targets over voice calls. Here, a perpetrator may call an individual, pretext them, and attempt to gain access to sensitive data environments.
Common indicators of vishing attacks include:
- Calls from unknown individuals stressing an unusual sense of urgency
- Masqueraders pretending to call from authoritative bodies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) with urgent requests
- Unexpected calls from individuals in trusted organizations (e.g., a doctor’s office)
- Calls from authoritative bodies requesting personal information like:
- Social security numbers
- Bank account information
Well-orchestrated vishing attacks can be challenging to distinguish from regular phone calls. But understanding the common indicators of phishing will help you identify these attacks early in their lifecycle.
Similar to vishing, smishing is the use of text messages to pretext unsuspecting targets into divulging sensitive information to cybercriminals. Smishing attacks can also be just as sophisticated as vishing and other social engineering attacks.
Common indicators of smishing attacks include:
- Text messages with unusual demands from “trusted individuals” (e.g., a high-ranking executive at an organization supposedly texting a new low-ranking employee)
- Text messages that appeal to a target’s emotions (e.g., an individual winning a prize)
The individuals most likely to fall prey to smishing attacks are those who are unaware of how they work. Perpetrators exploit the emotional nature of their victims, making it easier to breach access controls and access sensitive data environments.
As the name suggests, spear phishing attacks are targeted toward specific individuals in an organization. For instance, high-ranking executives who have access to sensitive data in an organization may be targeted by perpetrators using spear phishing.
Unlike other phishing attacks, spear phishing is designed to be sophisticated and appeal to the specific victim’s emotions. The most common indicator of spear phishing is the level of detail that goes into engineering the attack. A spear phishing email may seem personal and not raise any red flags for the victim. This makes it challenging to distinguish between a genuine email and one perpetrated by cybercriminals.
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Whaling is somewhat similar to spear phishing, except it uses more advanced techniques and is exclusively targeted toward high-ranking members of an organization. Whaling exploits require significant planning because they are designed to appear as regular emails.
To successfully deploy a whaling attack, perpetrators research possible angles to communicate with their victims so the email sounds legitimate. When implemented, the whaling attack seems natural to the unsuspecting victim, who may divulge sensitive information to a perpetrator.
All social engineering attacks are considered high-impact threats because they could compromise your entire IT infrastructure and put sensitive data at risk for breaches. Regardless of the type of phishing attacks on your organization, you must be prepared to protect yourself from these threats.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Social Engineering?
Protecting yourself and your organization from social engineering starts with security awareness training. Every social engineering threat exploits elements of human psychology, meaning no amount of security controls can prevent these threats from impacting your organization.
However, investing in security awareness training will minimize the chances of employees being unaware of how these threats work and how to identify the common indicators of social engineering attempts. With the right knowledge and training, your employees are more likely to pinpoint common indicators of phishing attempts.
Strategies to mitigate social engineering work hand-in-hand with other cybersecurity controls. For instance, without a well-designed and orchestrated cybersecurity infrastructure, you will likely be unable to map out assets at risk for social engineering threats.
Likewise, social engineering threat management will require robust firewall security to minimize the risks of malicious external traffic impacting the rest of your assets. Working with a threat and vulnerability management specialist will help you optimize all aspects of threat management within the context of social engineering.
Mitigate Phishing Attacks Today
Regardless of your experience managing social engineering threats, it helps to know what phishing attempts look like. One question to ask is: what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? Partnering with a threat and vulnerability management services provider will help you answer these questions and protect your sensitive assets from phishing attempts.
Contact RSI Security today to learn more.