A Guide to What Phishing Is and Its Potential Implications

The growth in the number of cyberattacks can be attributed to several factors, ranging from inadequate network security to sophisticated hacking methods. Among all the variants, phishing attacks have been prevailing since the dawn of the internet era. In this tutorial on what is phishing, you will learn about how phishing can cause irreparable damage to an organization and consumers alike.

Let’s start by learning what is phishing from scratch.

What Is Phishing?

To better understand phishing, let us take up a story.

Jane was relaxing at home when she received an email from her bank asking her to update her credit card pin within the next 24 hours. Not wasting any time, she followed the link present in the mail and was greeted by a web page familiar to her bank’s website. On submitting her current credit card PIN and moving on, the website seemed to crash, forcing her to try again later. After a couple of hours, she noticed a significant purchase charged to her credit card, which she never authorized. On checking with the bank, she realized the email was a counterfeit, and hackers designed the webpage, which asked for her credit card pin. This is a classic example of a phishing attack.

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A phishing attack is a category of cyber attack in which malicious actors send messages pretending to be a trusted person or entity. Phishing messages manipulate users, causing them to perform actions like installing malicious files, clicking harmful links, or divulging sensitive information such as account credentials. This message can be sent to the target via emails, messaging applications, or even SMS services. In the image below, you can see an example of a phishing email.

phishing_example

Phishing is the most common variant of social engineering, which describes attempts to manipulate innocent users. Social engineering is an increasingly common threat used in almost all security incidents. Social engineering attacks, like phishing, are often combined with other threats, such as network attacks and malware injection.

Now that you explored the ‘what is phishing’ bit, let us learn more about how a phishing attack works.

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How Does a Phishing Attack Work?

A phishing attack is usually a part of a large campaign, aiming to capture as many victims as possible in a big sample space of targets. Starting from its place of origin to the successful retrieval of credentials, a phishing attack consists of four independent phases that need to be executed. Let us learn more about each individual phase in detail, as denoted in the image below.

phishing_working_2-What_Is_Phishing

Phase 1: A malicious hacker sends an email or a message to the target, acting as a reputed source. More often than not, it asks the target to follow a third-party link for a security inspection or a simple feature update.

Phase 2: The target thinks the email came from the mentioned sender, be it a bank or a company, and follows the malicious link to a counterfeit web page designed to look as similar as possible to an authentic website.

Phase 3: On the fake website, the user is asked to submit some private information, like account credentials for a specific website. Once the details are submitted, all the information is sent to the hacker who designed the website and malicious email.

Phase 4: On receiving the account credentials, the hacker is free to use them by logging in or selling consequent information retrieved on the internet to the highest bidder.

Now that you are aware of the different phases of a phishing attack. Let us learn about the various categories of phishing in our lesson on what is fishing.

What Are the Types of Phishing Attacks?

phishing_types-

There are four types of phishing attacks:

  • Deceptive Phishing

In this category, a single phishing email is sent to a host of people, sometimes thousands, without much prior research. The hacker hopes for a small percentage of people to click on the malicious link and divulge their private information on the fake website. 

  • Spear Phishing

In some cases, the hackers conduct a minor amount of research to increase the chance of success in phishing attacks. If a person is known to order from Dominos pizzeria frequently, a phishing attack that acts as if it came from Dominos is more likely to be opened by the target instead of a random survey or newsletter.

  • Whaling

People of power like CEOs and administrative managers are often a target of phishing attacks that are meticulously planned and set up to guarantee a lapse in security. An extensive amount of research is done by the hacker to decide on the manner and the appropriate time for these attacks.

  • Pharming

In pharming attacks, hackers buy domain names adjacent to popular websites like www.gogle.com or www.facebuk.com, hoping that a target will type such a URL in a hurry. When they reach the website, they see an identical web page to the original, submitting their login credentials without cross-checking the address.

Now that you learned about the different types of phishing attacks, look at the possible reasons why phishing attacks are likely to occur.

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How to Prevent Phishing Attacks?

phishing_prevention

  • Email Authenticity: One must always cross-check the sender and contents of a sensitive email that asks for private information. Whether from the bank or a shopping website, checking the sender’s address is the first step in protecting oneself.
  • HTTPS Webpages: Users must try their best to stick to websites that have an HTTPS certification. Not only are they less likely to be phishing web pages, running network attacks on such secured websites is more challenging than usual.
  • Avoid Pop-Ups: One must avoid following random pop-ups that advertise games or enticing monetary rewards for clicking on them. Designed to dupe innocent users, these pop-ups are primarily used to inject malware into a target system or steal important credentials.
  • Password Rotation: You must change our passwords every few months to maintain the maximum security of our data. For example, even if some website successfully gets some credentials in a phishing attack, there is a solid chance the target must have already changed the compromised password.
  • Anti-Phishing Extensions: Many free anti-phishing extensions like Cloudphish and Netcraft scan your emails to check for known vulnerabilities that may lead to phishing attacks. Using such addons makes it easy to filter out most phishing emails without doing any manual work.

With this, you have reached the end of this tutorial on what is phishing.

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How Can Simplilearn Help You?

Phishing attacks are only a small percentage of cyber attacks that have taken the internet by storm in the past decade. Starting from ransomware to malware campaigns, a comprehensive study into cybersecurity is essential to safeguard our data against such regulated cyber crimes.

Simplilearn offers a “Cyber Security Expert course”, which covers all the topics necessary to master the world of cyber security. Initially designed to help cyber security analysts enter the job market, the course serves as a learning experience to freshers and seasoned professionals alike in the world of cyber security and the necessary skills needed to protect our personal information on the internet.

Conclusion

This tutorial on what is phishing, helped you learn about the basics of a phishing attack, how it works, the various types of phishing attacks, and some preventive measures that can be taken to prevent such attacks.

Do you have any more questions related to this tutorial on phishing attacks? Please let us know in the comment section, and we will get back to you as soon as possible with an answer.

About the Author

Baivab Kumar JenaBaivab Kumar Jena

Baivab Kumar Jena is currently working as a research analyst for Simplilearn while being the in-house expert on all things cyber security and online privacy. A computer science engineering graduate, he is well versed with multiple coding languages such as C/C++, Java and Python.

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