What is Phishing and How does it Work? 

What is Phishing and How does it Work? 

What is phishing? How does phishing work? Such questions are important for anyone who uses the internet.  

Cybercriminals use phishing attacks to steal your sensitive details, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers, by masking themselves as trusted entities. Digital predators lurking in the shadows of the online world, waiting to pounce on your personal information. 

But how to detect phishing attacks and stay protected? 

Let’s navigate the world of phishing so you are well prepared for attacks. 

What is a Phishing Attack? 

It is a type of cybercrime in which attackers impersonate a legitimate entity to trick individuals into sharing sensitive information such as credit card numbers or pin, passwords, or other personal data.  

These attacks often use emails or instant messages that appear to be from trusted sources, such as banks, social media platforms, or government agencies. The messages may contain urgent requests or offers that entice victims to click on malicious links or attachments, leading to data theft or other harmful consequences.  

Phishing attacks can vary in complexity, from simple deceptive emails to more sophisticated schemes that involve multiple steps and technologies. 

Types of Phishing Attacks 

Have you ever received an email that seemed a little too good to be true, or perhaps a message urging you to act immediately? These are classic signs of phishing attempts, designed to lure you into their trap. 

Phishing attacks come in various forms, each with unique characteristics: 

1. Spear Phishing:

This type of phishing attack is highly targeted, focusing on specific individuals or organizations. The attackers gather personal information about their target to make their messages more convincing and increase the likelihood of the victim taking the bait. For example, they might use details from social media profiles to personalize the email and make it appear as though it’s from a colleague or friend​​. 

2. Whaling:

Similar to spear phishing, but aimed at bigger targets – often high-ranking executives or important individuals within an organization. These attacks are called whaling because they go after the big fish. The content of these messages is usually crafted to demand the attention of the target, such as fake legal subpoenas or urgent business matters​​. 

3. BEC (Business Email Compromise):

A sophisticated form of phishing that targets businesses, typically involving a hacker impersonating a senior executive and instructing employees to transfer funds or share sensitive information. These attacks rely on social engineering techniques to deceive employees into believing the request is legitimate​​. 

4. Clone Phishing:

In this scenario, attackers create a replica of a legitimate email that the recipient has previously received, but with malicious links or attachments. The email might appear to be a resend or an updated version of the original, tricking the victim into clicking on the harmful content​​. 

5. Voice Phishing (Vishing):

Instead of using email, vishing attacks are conducted over the phone. The attacker might impersonate a trusted authority, such as a bank representative or a government official, and create a sense of urgency to coerce the victim into providing personal information or making financial transactions​​. 

6. Snowshoeing:

This technique involves distributing phishing messages across multiple domains and IP addresses to avoid detection by spam filters. By spreading the attack thinly, like a snowshoe spreads weight over a larger area, the attackers can evade blacklists and other security measures​​. 

How Does Phishing Work? 

Phishing attacks use psychological tricks and technical methods to deceive people into compromising their own or their organization’s security. 

Here are two known ways how phishing attack works. 

1. Manipulating Human Psychology: 

Urgent or Enticing Language:

Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency or offer something enticing to prompt immediate action. For example, they might claim that your account will be locked unless you update your information immediately, or they might offer a reward for completing a survey. 

Mimicking Reputable Sources:

Attackers impersonate trusted entities, such as banks, government agencies, or popular websites, to gain the victim’s trust. The email might look like it’s from a legitimate source, complete with logos and branding. 

2. Exploiting Technical Vulnerabilities: 

Malicious Links:

Phishing emails often contain links that lead to fake websites designed to steal your information. These websites might look identical to the legitimate ones, tricking you into entering your username, password, or other sensitive data. 

Malicious Attachments:

Some phishing emails include attachments that, when opened, can install malware on your computer. This malware can then be used to steal data, monitor your activities, or gain control of your device. 

How to Identify a Phishing Attack? 

Identifying phishing attacks involves recognizing common red flags. It’s crucial to verify the sender’s legitimacy and exercise caution when interacting with suspicious emails or messages​​. 

Here’s how to detect phishing attacks: 

1. Unexpected Requests for Sensitive Information:

Be wary of emails or messages that suddenly ask for personal details like passwords, bank account numbers, or Social Security numbers, especially if the request seems out of context or unwarranted. 

2. Generic Greetings:

Phishing emails often use generic salutations like Dear Customer or Dear User instead of addressing you by name, which is a sign that the message may not be legitimate. 

3. Spelling Errors:

Look out for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or awkward phrasing in the message. Reputable organizations typically have strict editorial standards and are less likely to send out communications with such errors. 

4. Mismatched URLs:

Hover over any links in the email to see the actual URL. If the displayed link text doesn’t match the URL or if the URL looks suspicious (e.g., it uses a variation of a well-known domain name), it’s likely a phishing attempt. 

5. Verify the Sender’s Legitimacy:

If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of an email, contact the supposed sender directly using a known, trusted contact method (e.g., their official website or phone number) rather than replying to the email or clicking any links. 

6. Exercise Caution with Suspicious Emails:

If an email or message seems suspicious, don’t interact with it. Don’t click on any links, don’t open any attachments, and don’t reply to the sender. Instead, report it as phishing or mark it as spam. 

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing? 

To protect yourself from phishing attacks, it’s important to stay vigilant and adopt certain best practices. 

1. Do Not Share Personal Information via Email:

Be cautious about sharing sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers over email, especially if the request seems unexpected or suspicious. 

2. Use Spam Filters:

Enable spam filters in your email settings to help detect and block phishing emails before they reach your inbox. 

3. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA):

This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to your password. 

4. Regularly Update Your Software:

Keep your operating system, antivirus software, and other applications up to date to protect against known vulnerabilities that phishing attacks might exploit. 

5. Educate Yourself and Your Organization:

Learn about common phishing tactics and how to recognize them. Organizations should provide regular training to employees on how to spot and respond to phishing attempts. 

6. Choose Reputable Digital Services:

By using secure and reliable digital services, you can implement robust security measures and regular security audits to safeguard your website and your users’ data from phishing attempts. 

BigRock offers SiteLock as a security service to protect websites from threats. SiteLock provides features such as malware detection and removal, vulnerability scanning, a web application firewall (WAF), and blacklist monitoring to safeguard websites from various cyber threats, including phishing attacks 

Phishing attacks pose a significant threat to individuals and organizations alike. By understanding how to detect phishing attacks and knowing the types, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to these malicious schemes 

We hope this information helped you understand what phishing is. 





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