Skip to main content

Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Secure Your Phishing Defenses

DATE: October 12, 2021

TAGS:

From ransomware to SolarWinds, the cybersecurity space has been as hectic as it has ever been over the last 12-24 months. However, for all of the emerging threats and news that are cropping up on the horizon, phishing -- one of the oldest pain points in cybersecurity -- continues to quietly wreak havoc, and is as big of a threat as it has ever been.

Despite often being overlooked in terms of hype, phishing has been a mainstay in the cybersecurity threat landscape for decades. In fact, 43 percent of cyberattacks in 2020 featured phishing or pre-texting, while 74 percent of US organizations experienced a successful phishing attack last year alone. That means that phishing is one of the most dangerous “action varieties” to an organization’s cybersecurity health. As a result, the need for proper anti-phishing hygiene and best practices is an absolute must.

With that in mind, here are a few quick best practices and tips for dealing with phishing threats.

Know the Red Flags

Phishes are masters of making their content and interactions appealing. From content design to language, it can be difficult to discern whether content is genuine or a potential threat, which is why it is so important to know the red flags. Common phishing indicators include awkward and unusual formatting, poor or incorrect grammar, overly explicit call-outs to click a hyperlink or open an attachment, or subject lines that create a sense of urgency. Handle any message that has one or more of these red flags with caution.

Verify the Source

Phishing content comes in a variety of ways, however, many phishers will try to impersonate someone you may already know -- such as a colleague, service provider, or friend -- as a way to trick you into believing their malicious content is trustworthy. Don’t fall for it. If you sense any red flags that something may be out of place or unusual, reach out directly to the individual to confirm whether the content is authentic and safe. If not, break-off communication immediately and flag the incident through the proper channels.

Be Aware of Vishing and Other Phishing Offshoots

As more digital natives have come online and greater awareness has spread about phishing, bad actors have begun to diversify their phishing efforts beyond traditional email. For example, voice phishing -- or vishing -- has become a primary alternative for bad actors looking to gain sensitive information from unsuspecting individuals. Similar to conventional phishing, vishing is typically executed by individuals posing as a legitimate organization -- such as a healthcare provider or insurer -- and asking for sensitive information. Simply put, individuals must be wary of any sort of communication that asks for personal information, whether via email, phone or chat, especially if the communication is unexpected. If anything seems suspicious, again, break-off the interaction immediately and contact the company directly to confirm the veracity of the communications.

Always Report Phishing Attempts

The best offense is an even better defense. Reporting any phishing attempt to either an IT team or your preferred email service provider allows the filters to get smarter and stricter. Increasing phishing defenses is truly a group effort. 

Phishing may be “one of the oldest tricks in the book,” but it is still incredibly effective. And although it may be hard to spot when you may be in the midst of a phishing attempt, by exercising caution and deploying these few fundamentals, individuals and organizations more broadly can drastically mitigate the chances of falling victim to a phishing attack.

About the author

Eric Engle

Web Designer

eengle@purdue.edu

Sign up for the monthly newsletter

Return to main content

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2021 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Technical Assistance Program

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact Technical Assistance Program at tap@purdue.edu.