Phishing Attacks – 10 Ways to Spot One

by | Security, Tips and Tricks

Would you know if you were the subject of a phishing attack?

Many people claim that they’d be able to tell right away if they received an email from an illegitimate source. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be 1.5 million new phishing sites every month, a 65% increase in attacks in the last year, and hackers would have moved on to their next idea for swindling people out of their identities and money. How do you spot a phishing attack and avoid falling victim yourself?

Here are 10 sure fire ways to spot a phishing attack:

1. Sender Email Address

Always check to make sure that the email address is legitimate. Amateur hackers will send things from Gmail or Hotmail accounts and hope you don’t notice. More sophisticated hackers will closely mimic an actual email domain, like rather than Double check the email address before responding, clicking, or opening, even if the from name appears correct.

2. Discrepancies in Writing Format

If the attack is coming from overseas, you’re likely to notice some small issues in writing format, like writing a date as 4th April, 2018 rather than April 4, 2018. While this is subtle, it should be a red flag.

3. Grammar Issues

We all fall victim to the occasional typo, but if you receive an email riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes, consider the source. It’s likely a phishing email, especially if the email supposedly comes from a major organization.

4. Sender Name

This one is also difficult to track, but phishing emails will typically close with a very generic name to avoid raising suspicion. You should recognize the people that send you emails, or at the very least, clearly understand their role at the organization.

5. Invoices and Actionable Documents

Closely related to 1, 4, and 7, a known sender with a known email address (spoofed) sends a request for an invoice payment, a change to their direct deposit or copy of W-2’s.  These are spear phishing as they are going to a specific person that handles that type of request.

6. Link Destination

Before you click on any link in an email, hover over it. The destination URL should pop up. Check out the domain name of this URL. Similar to the sender email address, make sure that this address is legitimate before clicking.

7. Attachments

Is it realistic to expect an attachment from this sender? Rule of thumb, don’t open any attachment you don’t expect to receive, whether it’s a Zip file, PDF or otherwise. The payload for a ransomware attack, or a phish for banking credentials often hides inside.

8. Email Design

A cooky font like Comic Sans should immediately raise red flags if you don’t clearly recognize the sender.

9. Links to Verify Information

Never, ever click on a link to verify information. Instead, if you think the information does need updating, go directly to the website. Type in your email and password, and update your information from the Account tab. Always go directly to the source.

10. Odd Logo Use

Hackers try their best to mimic the site’s look and feel. Oftentimes, they get very close; but they won’t be perfect. If something feels off, it probably is.

While there is no fool-proof method for avoiding falling victim to a phishing attack, knowing how to spot likely culprits is one step in the right direction.