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How To Identify And Stop Phishing Attempts

Imagine receiving an email that appears to be from your bank, urging you to verify your account details before clicking a link to an important communication– or seeing a social media post from a seemingly familiar friend, offering a discount code that seems too good to be true. These are just a few examples of phishing attempts, a growing online threat that can target anyone, regardless of age or technical expertise.

The cybersecurity experts here at Speros are prepared to equip you with the knowledge you need to vet links in emails and texts, identify potential phishing attempts, and protect your personal information.

What is phishing? What is hacking?

Phishing emails or texts attempt to trick you into revealing sensitive information, like passwords, credit card details, or Social Security numbers. They often mimic legitimate sources like banks, social media accounts, or even government agencies. These attempts might be aided by a false sense of urgency, claiming that you need to enter sensitive information to avoid a problem.

Hacking involves unauthorized access to a computer system, network, or account. Hackers can use various methods, including phishing or exploiting software vulnerabilities, to gain access and steal data, install malware, or disrupt operations– which can have potentially costly results.

Seeing through phishing attempts

Distinguishing between legitimate emails and phishing attempts can be challenging. Phishers have become increasingly sophisticated, mimicking real company email layouts and logos. They may even use your name and personal details gleaned from data breaches to personalize messages, making them appear more trustworthy.

Additionally, they often create a sense of urgency, encouraging you to take immediate action by clicking a link or opening an attachment.

Red flags to watch out for

Suspicious sender addresses: Be wary of emails or texts from senders with unusual addresses or misspellings of legitimate companies. Legitimate companies will typically use domain names that match their brand, so take a look at the email address!

Generic greeting: Phishing emails often use generic greetings like “Dear Customer” instead of your specific name.

Poor grammar and spelling: Look for grammatical errors and typos. Legitimate companies invest in professional communication and proofreading.

Unrealistic offers or threats: Be skeptical of emails or texts promising incredible deals or threatening dire consequences if you don’t act immediately.

Sense of urgency: Phishing attempts often pressure you to click on a link or open an attachment before you have time to think critically. A phishing scam that’s currently popular is one claiming to be sent by a law firm, informing the recipient that they’ve violated copyright law and that their account or site is in danger of being taken down– making people fear loss of revenue or a loss of access to their accounts to get them to act quickly.

Suspicious attachments: A good rule of thumb is just to never open attachments from unknown senders.

Best practices for staying safe

Don’t click on links in emails or texts. We’d always recommend navigating directly to a website by typing the legitimate URL into your browser. This way helps you to avoid being directed to a malicious site.

Hover over links (on desktop). Before clicking on a link, hover your mouse over it. A preview of the actual destination URL will usually appear in the bottom left corner of your browser window. Be wary of links that don’t match the displayed text.

Verify information independently. If an email or text claims to be from a legitimate source, contact the company directly through a phone number or website listed on their official channels– not the ones provided in the email or text– to verify its authenticity.

Beware of downloading attachments. Only download attachments from trusted senders. If you’re unsure, always err on the side of caution and don’t download it.

Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. Use strong, unique passwords for all of your online accounts. Consider using a password manager to help you create and manage complex passwords. Additionally, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA, also sometimes referred to as 2FA) whenever available. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a verification code in addition to your password.

Keep software updated. Regularly update your operating system, web browser, and other software applications. Updates often include security patches that address newly-discovered vulnerabilities.

Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Avoid conducting sensitive transactions or entering personal information on public Wi-Fi networks. If you must use public Wi-Fi, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your connection. 

Report phishing attempts. If you receive a suspicious email or text, report it to the sender’s legitimate email address or the platform you received it on (e.g. your email provider). Reporting helps service providers track and block malicious behavior.

Phishing attempts: beyond email and text

Phishing attempts can also occur through social media, fake websites, or even phone calls. Remain vigilant and apply the same principles of caution across all online interactions.

On social media, phishers can create fake social media profiles that mimic legitimate accounts of friends, family members, businesses, or even public figures. These profiles may use stolen photos and personal details. They then send friend requests or direct messages to unsuspecting users. Once trust is established, they begin the phishing attempt.

Phishers may also offer fake help with account issues. If you’ve recently posted about a social media problem, a phisher might send a direct message to you, pretending to offer assistance. Clicking the provided link could lead to a site that steals your login credentials.

How to stay secure: building a multi-layered defense

Always be skeptical online– don’t click on links or open attachments from unknown senders. Verify information independently before taking action. 

Be sure to maintain strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Complex, unique passwords are much more difficult for phishers to crack.

Keep your devices and software updated to address security vulnerabilities, and be wary of public Wi-Fi– don’t make sensitive transactions or enter personal information on unsecured networks.

How an MSSP like Speros can help protect you from phishing attempts

While these practices are essential, staying ahead of ever-evolving phishing tactics can be challenging. A Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) can be a valuable partner in your online security strategy. Here’s how an MSSP can help:

Advanced email filtering: MSSPs can deploy sophisticated filtering solutions that detect and block phishing attempts with a high degree of accuracy.

Endpoint security: We can provide endpoint security solutions that monitor your devices for suspicious activity and malware associated with phishing attacks.

Security awareness training: MSSPs like Speros offer security awareness training programs that educate employees about phishing tactics and best practices for protecting themselves online.

By partnering with an MSSP, you gain access to the expertise of our highly educated IT and cybersecurity professionals, advanced security tools, and the constant vigilance that comes along with 24/7/365 support.

Cybersecurity is an ongoing process. Adopting a cautious approach, staying informed, and partnering with an MSSP like Speros, you can create a highly effective shield against phishing attempts and protect your valuable information online. Got questions about how to keep your information safe, or about working with an MSSP? Reach out to us today!


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