How to Handle Phishing Attacks

phishing attacks

Today, a large percentage of our lives take place online. Between our smartphones, tablets, and computers, it seems as though we’re constantly connected to a digital world.

While most of the applications we use daily enhance our lives, we need to be careful. More time on the internet means more opportunities for hackers. Things like phishing attacks and malware are in the news more often than we’d like to think about.

Companies and individuals alike can have their safety threatened or their life savings drained. All from a successful hacking attempt.

But, we can’t live in fear. The internet does us so much good that we can’t let the evil-doers of the world prevent us from moving forward. So, how do we keep these attacks on our personal lives at bay?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article. We’re going to dive deep on the topic of phishing attacks. You’re going to learn what they are, how they happen, and how to prevent them.

There’s a lot of information to cover to make you a phishing attack guru. So, we need to get going!

What Are Phishing Attacks?

A phishing attack is an online attempt by a hacker to gain your personal information. Usually, it’s an attempt to gain access information like usernames and passwords. Once hackers have this data in hand, they can turn around and use it to access sensitive information.

financial data, network systems, and other forms of sensitive data are all susceptible to phishing attacks.

How do they do this? Well, the most popular method is by infiltrating your email. A lot of people feel that email is “safe” because it’s been around for a while.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. The number of spam emails is multiplying every year. The emails that hackers use, and the hackers themselves, are getting more intelligent every year.

As a result, your defenses against phishing attacks need to do the same.

Any effective plan to defend against phishing has three key phases: detection, prevention, and response. Let’s take a look at each one.

It Starts With Detection

The emails that hackers are using are getting better and better by the day. When you open your inbox, an email a hacker is using to collect your sensitive data will look no different than a normal email. This is why the detection part of your plan needs to be airtight.

Good detection means you can get out in front of phishing attacks before they start.

Check Hyperlinks

One of the first things your employees can do to prevent a phishing attack is to check hyperlinks in your emails. A company may email them asking them to reset a password or “verify your account information” by clicking a link. If you show them how to hover their cursor over that link, the link’s destination URL will pop up.

Phishing emails will have minor changes in those links. For example, if the link is to a phishing email might have it as “”.

Most people aren’t checking the URLs attached to these links. And, even if they did, a change that small might be unnoticeable as they’re sifting through dozens of emails per day.

Once they get to the site, it will look like a normal Wells Fargo login page, as well. They may start handling their financial accounts like nothing’s wrong. When, all the while, a hacker is gaining their personal information and infiltrating the company’s system on the other end.

Keep in mind this is an elementary example. But, it’s a good illustration of how far hackers will go to obtain sensitive information.

The challenge is that you can’t just content block email services. Employees need to access email daily to do their job. And your employees are even more likely to receive spam emails in a corporate setting than at home.

Training your team on awareness and prevention is one of the best things you can do to keep your company’s IT estate safe.

Read Emails

With so many emails coming in on a daily basis, it’s easy to get in the habit of “skimming” inboxes. Taking the time to actually read the emails we receive can go a long way toward preventing phishing.

Once your employees start to read the contents of their emails, they’ll start to see trends. They’ll be able to spot emails that come through with a lot of spelling and grammar errors or look strange.

These emails are a red flag. These types of grammar and spelling errors are tell-tale signs of a phishing attack. If an employee sees one, there should be a protocol in place for what they’re supposed to do or who they’re supposed to contact.

But, this doesn’t mean that all phishing emails contain errors. A lot of the time they do, but phishing emails can also look identical to a normal email you’d receive. Hackers can copy greetings, company logos, and more to make their emails look potentially harmless.

Hackers can close these emails exactly. That’s why teams need to be aware of what emails they normally receive. Employees should get a “feel” for their inbox after working on your team for a while.

But all it takes is one wrong click. It’s better to have them trained and aware than the alternative.

Report Suspicious Activity

If an email comes through that is asking for personal information, or information important to the company, it should be reported. If a major company needs personal information from you or the managers in your organization, they will most likely ask for verification.

Companies handling important data will rarely ask for sensitive data via email. Companies like banks, credit card companies, and other important businesses will always ask for some sort of verification. They will text you with a code or ask you to go through some other sort of security measure.

If an email is asking you to simply “reply” with sensitive information, it should be reported to your IT staff.

Don’t Take the Bait

Another way hackers will attempt phishing attacks is through dangling “bait” in front of email users. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the “Nigerian Prince” email by now. Millions of people received an email from a Nigerian prince telling them he had money available for them.

All they needed to do was give him their account information and he’d wire it over. It’s easy for users to fall for this type of scam because the emails look legitimate. Emails can also contain long, heartfelt sob stories about someone who’s fallen on hard times.

Tugging on someone’s heartstrings is an effective way to get them to give money. There are also emails that tell users they’ve won prizes. But, when they go to “claim” their prize, they’re lead to a site that captures their info.

Phishing Prevention

Now, we know the lengths hackers will go to to “hook” your team with phishing attacks. The next step is putting measures in place to prevent these attacks.

You and your team should be going through proper security training whenever necessary. Employees need to be made aware of all of the techniques mentioned above. They should also be on the lookout for any suspicious email attachments, as well as URL redirects and embedded links.

Do your research. Have resources available for your team to study so they can hone their skills for detecting phishing attacks. This training should be scheduled at regular intervals. And, any time a new phishing technique makes it to the news, articles and other reading material should be circulated to educate your team.

Several online platforms allow you to run phishing attack simulations within your organization. Phishd, Phishproof, and Phishme are all available platforms to help you run phishing tests.

You can send these fake phishing attacks to your team and monitor their reaction. This way, you know what your team does well and what they need to work on.

Software Solutions

In addition to training and education, you can also implement software solutions to prevent phishing attacks in your business. We talked earlier about content-blocking email services. Unfortunately, that’s not an option if you still want to conduct business.

What you and your team can do, however, is install an email security software platform. Once you implement the email security software, you can teach it to discard phishing emails before they reach your inbox.

If you spot a phishing email, flag it as junk or spam. Over time, the email security software will recognize those particular emails by itself and filter them accordingly.

Protecting your email is only one phishing prevention measure. You and your team should also consider installing endpoint security or antivirus software. These types of security will help prevent malware from entering your company’s system before it’s downloaded.

This type of security is a good form of backup prevention. If for some reason, an employee clicks a link or downloads a file they shouldn’t, your endpoint security or antivirus will come through and save the day.

Phishing Response

All of the education, training, and security software mentioned above are there to help your team handle emails cautiously. That’s the number one way to prevent phishing attacks.

But, people are human and hackers are crafty. As a result, a phishing attack may slip by your defenses. If that happens, speed is your friend.

You and your team need to work quickly to see who in your organization has been targeted. Identify the malicious email and identify which area of your network it’s targeting.

Larger companies should hold a company-wide review after attacks take place. The purpose of this review is to assess the damage and limit it from going further. It’s also a great opportunity to train staff on what went wrong and help them to prevent future mistakes.

You Opened A Bad Link…

If you opened a link that’s harmful to your company’s IT network, it’s not the end of the world. There are still steps you can take to minimize the damage.

The first step is to disconnect your computer from the company’s network. The sooner you disconnect, the better. This helps to prevent the malware or phishing virus from spreading further through the system.

Next, you’ll want to perform a virus scan on your computer. This will be done with your company’s antivirus software. You should be able to conduct this scan offline.

If any sort of pop-up or notification tells you to connect to the internet, ignore it. Once the scan is done, the antivirus software will give you instructions on how to remove any malicious files or malware from your machine.

The final step would be to change your information. Work with your company’s IT department to change any important username or password information on sensitive company accounts.

If it’s an attack on your personal computer, you may want to change passwords and banking information. If you think that the attack reached your financial information, you may want to notify your bank. They can instruct you on the proper steps to take to minimize the damage to your account.

Phish Out of Water

Phishing attacks are a part of our modern society. There is no way to prevent them entirely. Hackers are getting smarter and smarter by the day.

The best thing you can do is remain educated and educate your team. Regular training, smart internet practices, and quick response are the best ways to minimize the harmful effects of phishing attacks.

If you’re looking to have IT professionals handle your cybersecurity and monitoring, contact Be Structured today. Our friendly staff is here to help answer any questions and find the internet security solution that’s right for you.

About Chad Lauterbach

CEO at Be Structured Technology Group, Inc. a Los Angeles based provider of Managed IT Services for small business. I desire to help small businesses better utilize technology by assisting in high level planning to make sure that new systems will benefit them both operationally and financially. I am careful to implement and support systems using industry best practices.