Raising awareness quickly: A brief overview on phishing

In a series of posts for National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Rapid7 is releasing a set of easily emailed user awareness notes. With permission, and because we fully support the notion of raising awareness when it comes to security topics, CSO has published the letter below.

Phishing is a problem. A type of social engineering, phishing starts on the premise of a lie, and use various methods, such as fear or curiosity, in order to get the target to do something. This something can be as simple as following a link, opening an attachment, sharing information, or sometimes it's all of the above. These types of attacks usually originate in email, but there have been cases as of late where phone calls are used.

[3 steps to identify a potentional phishing email]

What follows is a simple, easily copied primer on the basics of phishing that can be shared with the users in your organization. Plainly written, the message can be augmented in order to fit the organization's policies or to add specific examples that have been seen by the IT team.

What is phishing?

Phishing is basically someone trying to get you to do something or tell them something through email that enables them to compromise you in some way. Much as the name suggests, this typically works by dangling some kind of bait in front of you. One of the most famous examples of phishing is the Nigerian 419 scams which lured people into giving their bank information with the promise of huge riches.

Other kinds of phishing emails try to convince you to open an attachment or click on a link. These can lead to your computer (or whatever device you read the email on) becoming infected with something nasty. Or it could lead you to unknowingly give a criminal your security credentials for a site. For example, say you receive an email from LinkedIn saying someone wants to connect with you. You click on the link and you get the login page for LinkedIn. Pop your password in and land on the page you expected to be sent to. Everything looks normal and you have no idea that you just gave your LinkedIn password to a criminal.

Phishing that specifically targets you is called "spear phishing." This means the attacker used information they had learned about you -- for example from calling the switchboard or looking at your social networking profiles and interactions -- and then created an email specifically designed to look highly plausible to you. These emails can be very sophisticated and hard to spot. Why would someone want to target you in this way? Well, perhaps they're actually targeting the organization you work for and you provide a convenient foot-in-the-door. Or perhaps they're ultimately after someone in your network. You never know how tempting a target you might represent to an attacker, so it's important to be vigilant.

How can you protect yourself?

Try to remember that lurking behind every innocent-looking email could be a giant shark waiting to make its move. This is true whether it's work or personal email, so you must treat every email with a basic level of caution.

Here are some tips to get you started:

-- Protect your information

Do not send sensitive information such as bank details, social security number, etc. over email. If you really need to, make sure you know who you are sending it to and start a new email rather than replying to a thread. Check the email address carefully.

-- Check the address

Be mindful of who is emailing you. Check email addresses for accuracy and look for signs of suspicious activity, for example if an email is not in the format you'd expect or a name appears to be spelt incorrectly. Email addresses made up of seemingly random combinations of letters and numbers may also be suspicious.

[A firsthand look at why user awareness training works]

-- Don't click on links

Hover over links WITHOUT CLICKING -- the destination will show in the bottom left of your screen and you can see whether it looks right. If in doubt, Google the address you need rather than clicking on a link.

-- Don't open attachments

Treat any attachment that you didn't request as highly suspect. Send to IT and security team if you're not sure whether its safe and they will check it out for you.

-- Check with IT / Security

If in doubt, email your IT and security team. They will let you know whether something is safe to open or click on. It's better to be safe than sorry.

This stuff isn't complicated, but it is incredibly easy to get caught out by a well-crafted spear phishing campaign. Given the sheer amount of email we all receive every day, it's tough to remember to be vigilant. So remember that shark lurking behind you!

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags security

More about CSOGoogleRapid7

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Steve Ragan

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place