What Is Phishing? How To Recognize Scam Attacks & Be Safe

The first lawsuit on Phishing was filed in 2004 against a Californian teenager who created the imitation of the website “America Online”. With this fake website, he was able to gain sensitive information from users and access the credit card details to withdraw money from their accounts.

Perhaps one of the most consequential phishing attacks in history happened in 2016. Especially, when hackers managed to get Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta to offer up his Gmail password. Additionally, the “fappening” attack, in which intimate photos of a number of celebrities were made public.

The attack was originally thought to be a result of insecurity on Apple’s iCloud servers. But, it was, in fact, the product of a number of successful phishing attempts. In 2016, employees at the University of Kansas responded to a phishing email and handed over access to their paycheck deposit information, resulting in them losing pay.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone, or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution. Especially, to lure individuals into providing sensitive data. Such as personally identifiable information, banking, and credit card details, and passwords.

The information is then used to access important accounts and can result in identity theft and financial loss. And as a matter of fact, even Old School Security Awareness Training doesn’t hack it anymore. Today, their employees are frequently exposed to sophisticated phishing and ransomware attacks.

On the contrary, your IT Team is small, usually overloaded, and unable to handle a large number of users who are the source of all kinds of problems. Including, malware infections through email phishing. Therefore, you need a security awareness training program that can be deployed in minutes.

Related Topic: How to Secure Your Website: A Business Owner’s Checklist for E-Commerce Security

Not only that but it should also be able to protect your network and actually save you a lot of time. Not forgetting, other than email and website phishing, there are also more common hacks. Such as ‘vishing’ (Voice Phishing), and ‘smishing’ (SMS Phishing).

There are also several other phishing techniques Cybercriminals are constantly coming up with. But, generally, emails sent by cybercriminals are often masked. In the end, appearing to be sent by a business whose services are used by the recipient.

A bank will not ask for personal information via email or suspend your account if you do not update your personal details within a certain period of time. Most banks and financial institutions also usually provide an account number or other personal details within the email, which ensures it’s coming from a reliable source.

How Do Phishing Attacks Occur?

In reality, phishing emails usually appear to come from a well-known organization and ask for your personal information. Such as credit card number, social security number, account number, or password. And oftentimes, phishing attempts appear to come from sites, services, and companies with which you do not even have an account.

And in order for Internet criminals to successfully “phish” your personal information, they must get you to go from an email to a website. Furthermore, phishing emails will almost always tell you to click a link that takes you to a site where your personal information is requested.

First Generic Bank Phish
A sample of a Phishing website – Source (phishtank.com)

In short, Phishing is a fraudulent attempt, usually made through email, to steal your personal information. The best way to protect yourself from phishing is to learn how to recognize a phish. And as I mentioned, a legitimate organization would never request this information from you via email.

What do you look for in a Website Phish?

First of all, such sites have a very poor resolution. Phishing websites are often poor in quality since they are created with urgency and have a short lifespan. If the resolution on a logo or in text strikes you as poor, be suspicious.

Secondly, you need to note maliciously forged site URLs. Why? Simply, because even if a link has a name you recognize somewhere in it, it doesn’t mean it links to the real organization. Read URLs from right to left — the real domain is at the end of the URL.

Phishing email
An illustration sample of a phishing email – Source (phishtank.com)

Also, websites where it is safe to enter personal information begin with “https” — the “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see “https” do not proceed. Also, look out for URLs that begin with an IP address, such as — these are likely phishes.

OK, so who are these people? It could be a hacker in the USA who is out to do damage or disrupt. It could be a member of an Eastern European cybercrime mafia that is trying to penetrate your network and steal cash from your online bank account. Or, it could be a Chinese hacker that is trying to get into your organization’s network for corporate espionage.

What do you look for in an Email Phish?

By the same token, when it comes to an Email Phish, you should start by looking at the generic greetings. Phishing emails are usually sent in large batches. To save time, Internet criminals use generic names like “First Generic Bank Customer” so they don’t have to type all recipients’ names out and send emails one-by-one.

If you don’t see your name, be suspicious. You also look out for any forged site links. Bearing in mind, even if a link has a name you recognize somewhere in it, it doesn’t mean it links to the real organization. Roll your mouse over the link and see if it matches what appears in the email. If there is a discrepancy, don’t click on the link.

Also, websites where it is safe to enter personal information begin with “https” — the “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see “https” do not proceed. In addition, you should also be on the lookout for those emails that request your personal information. The point of sending phishing emails is to trick you into providing your personal information.

Below are more additional features that make an email phishing accomplish:

Too Good To Be True & Unusual Sender

Lucrative offers and eye-catching or attention-grabbing statements are designed to attract people’s attention immediately.

For instance, many claim that you have won an iPhone, a lottery, or some other lavish prize. Just don’t click on any suspicious emails. Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably not! When in doubt, visit the source directly rather than clicking a link in an email.

Whether it looks like it’s from someone you don’t know or someone you do know, please don’t click on it. And, if anything seems out of the ordinary, unexpected, out of character, or just suspicious in general don’t click on it either!

Suspicious Site Hyperlinks & Attachments

Understanding the different attack vectors for this type of crime is key when it comes to prevention. A classic example is the tech support scam, and it comes in many varieties and levels of sophistication.

A link may not be all it appears to be. Hovering over a link shows you the actual URL where you will be directed upon clicking on it. It could be completely different or it could be a popular website with a misspelling, for instance, www.bankofarnerica.com – the ‘m’ is actually an ‘r’ and an ‘n’, so look carefully.

If you see an attachment in an email you weren’t expecting or that doesn’t make sense, don’t open it! For one thing, they often contain payloads like ransomware or other viruses. The only file type that is always safe to click on is a .txt file.

What about the urgency sense?

Hereby, Internet criminals would now want you to provide your personal information as quickly as possible. By making you think something has happened that requires you to act fast. The faster they get your information, the faster they can move on to another victim.

A favorite tactic amongst cybercriminals is to ask you to act fast because the super deals are only for a limited time. Some of them will even tell you that you have only a few minutes to respond. When you come across these kinds of emails, it’s best to just ignore them.

Sometimes, they will tell you that your account will be suspended unless you update your personal details immediately. Most reliable organizations give ample time before they terminate an account and they never ask patrons to update personal details over the Internet.

If you receive an email requesting your personal information, it is probably a phishing attempt.

How do you Prevent Phishing Attacks?

Over the past few years, online service providers have been proactively messaging customers when they detect unusual activity on their users’ accounts. Not surprisingly, the bad guys have used this trend to their advantage. Many of the emails are designed poorly with bad grammar, etc.

But at the same time, others look legitimate enough for someone to click if they weren’t paying close attention. Before I let you know how to prevent phishing attacks, it’s also important you know what are social engineering attacks? Yet, another piece that is very important to the hacker world.

What is Social Engineering?

In simple terms, Social Engineering is the art of manipulating, influencing, or deceiving you in order to gain control over your computer system. The hacker might use the phone, email, snail mail, or direct contact to gain illegal access.

And as an example, the above is a great KnowBe4 resource that outlines 22 social engineering red flags commonly seen in phishing emails. And having said that, I recommend printing out this PDF to pass along to family, friends, and coworkers. Below are some methods to use:

A. Spam Filters

To protect against spam emails, spam filters can be used. Generally, the filters assess the origin of the message, the software used to send the message, and the appearance of the message to determine if it’s spam.

Occasionally, spam filters may even block emails from legitimate sources, so it isn’t always 100% accurate. If there is a link in an email, hover over the URL first. Secure websites with a valid Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate begin with “https”.

Eventually, all sites will be required to have a valid SSL such as the jmexclusives website. There are many spam filtering solutions available. They can be hosted in the “cloud,” on computer servers, or integrated into email software such as Microsoft Outlook.

B. Limiting Browsers

The browser settings should be changed to prevent fraudulent websites from opening.

Browsers keep a list of fake websites and when you try to access the website, the address is blocked or an alert message is shown. So, the settings of the browser should only allow reliable websites to open up.

C. Login Passwords

Many websites require users to enter login information while the user image is displayed. This type of system may be open to security attacks.

One way to ensure security is to change passwords on a regular basis, and never use the same password for multiple accounts. It’s also a good idea for websites to use a CAPTCHA system, especially, through the Google reCAPTCHA Keys for added security.

D. Phishing Monitors

Banks and financial organizations use monitoring systems to prevent phishing.

Individuals can report phishing to industry groups where legal actions can be taken against these fraudulent websites. Organizations should provide security awareness training to employees to recognize the risks. Read more about How this cyber attack works and how to prevent it.

You can also Prevent cyber hacking with Mimecast.

E. Phishing Kits 

Notwithstanding, the availability of phishing kits makes it easy for cybercriminals, even those with minimal technical skills, to launch phishing campaigns.

A phishing kit bundles phishing website resources and tools that need only be installed on a server. Once installed, all the attacker needs to do is send out emails to potential victims. Phishing kits, as well as mailing lists, are available on the dark web. A couple of sites, Phishtank and OpenPhish, keep crowd-sourced lists of known phishing kits.

The Duo Labs report, Phish in a Barrel, includes an analysis of phishing kit reuse.


Many IT pros don’t exactly know where to start. Especially, when it comes to creating a security awareness program that will work for their organization. Each day, hackers are constantly coming up with new techniques. But, there are some things that you can do to protect yourself and your organization. Use the list above as a reference.

In other words, the best way to protect yourself from phishing is to learn how to recognize a phish. According to KnowBe4.com, different sizes, organizations cope with different problems, but all have employees as the weak link in their IT security.

Related Topic: Phishing & Social Engineering Attacks Preventive Measures

The challenges of creating and running an awareness program vary depending on the number of employees. KnowBe4 is the world’s most popular integrated platform for security awareness training combined with simulated phishing attacks.

You can Join their more than 28,000 customers to manage the continuing problem of social engineering. And then, all in all, I hope you have gathered enough information in regards to the above-revised guide about Emails & Website Phishing.

But, if you’ll have additional information, contributions, or even suggestions, please Contact Us and let us know how we can help. You can also share some or more of your thoughts and questions in the comments section.

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