According to the 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), phishing contributed to around 20% of security breaches in 2021. Phishing emails provide an entry point for cybercriminals to carry out broader malware or credential theft against a business. This technique’s unwavering popularity among hackers can be attributed to a low risk, high reward factor.

Through phishing emails, hackers can make direct contact with a target and perform an attack at scale to improve the chances of a successful breach. Since human error plays a big role in the success of social engineering attacks – such as phishing – businesses should ensure that employees are trained to detect common red flags of phishing emails. In this blog post, we discuss the top 3 red flags of phishing.

What is phishing?

Phishing is a cyberattack that uses social engineering tactics to manipulate individuals, ultimately leading to credential theft, malware attacks, or other security breaches. Email is the most common medium for phishing. Hackers send fraudulent emails that appear to come from a trustworthy source or create a sense of urgency to exploit human emotions and extract sensitive data from their targets.

What are the red flags of phishing?

While phishing emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated, there are some key red flags that employees should be aware of to recognize a threat and prevent a successful cyberattack.

Sender/Receipt email addresses

Check the sender’s email address to evaluate the legitimacy of an email. If you receive an email from an unknown sender or someone outside your organization, verify the domain to ensure it is trustworthy. Hackers often try to mask a false domain by including additional letters, characters, or misspellings.

If the domain looks authentic, consider your business relationship with the sender. If the email communication seems out of character or unexpected, that is a phishing red flag.

Along with the sender’s email address, it’s also important to scan the recipient section of the email. If the sender has cc’d a random or unfamiliar group of people, it is likely a mass phishing attempt.

Stressor subject and content

Creating a sense of urgency or fear is one of the most used tactics that social engineers use to spark an immediate, irrational reaction from employees. Stressor email subject lines or content are important phishing red flags. Hackers use stressor language to get unsuspecting employees to share sensitive information, make a payment, or engage with links or attachments that contain malware.

For instance, hackers may spoof communication from your business’ CEO asking an employee to quickly make a payment or provide their login credentials to facilitate an urgent business transaction.

Social engineers may also use other forms of stressor content to deceive employees, such as warning of an account shutdown if a payment is not received. These urgent requests for action are specifically designed to manipulate employees’ emotions so they make rushed decisions.

Besides stressor language, another potential red flag of phishing is content with poor spelling or grammatical errors.

Suspicious hyperlinks and attachments

Hackers will often send out phishing emails with malicious links. Social engineers create the illusion of an authentic website domain by including subtle misspellings or additional characters to trick email recipients into clicking on a dangerous link.

Another major phishing red flag is when the hyperlink displayed in the email is different from the website that it is linked to. Employees should hover over hyperlinks to ensure the destination aligns with the displayed text.

Cyber criminals may also use email attachments to distribute malware. If the attachment does not make sense in the context of the email’s subject or content, employees should refrain from downloading it. Further, email attachments with suspicious or unexpected file types could also be carrying malware.

Train employees to spot phishing red flags

Since human manipulation and error are the key drivers of phishing attacks, it is important for businesses to consistently perform social engineering testing and employee security awareness training. By making sure that employees know how to identify and tackle phishing red flags, businesses can protect sensitive data and maintain a robust cybersecurity posture.

Security Awareness Training for Employees

GraVoc’s security awareness training sessions educate employees on the key components of social engineering attacks, including phishing, to minimize human error and improve your organization’s overall security posture. Click below to learn more about our security awareness training services!

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