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Uncover and Stop Phishing: Tips on How to Recognize Phishing and Prevent Data Theft

Phishing

Phishing attacks are targeted at stealing login credentials for emails, social networks, or other applications, as well as payment card information.

Is there prevention? It is important to know how to recognize a phishing attack and protect yourself from it. Removing your data from various broker databases can also help.

What is Phishing?

  • The aim of a phishing attack is to obtain your login credentials or payment card information.
  • Phishing is most often carried out via email. However, attempts to extract your data can also occur through SMS messages or phone calls.
  • The attacker pretends to represent a public institution, bank, online store, marketplace, transport, or postal company, and so on. The attacker’s email or message intentionally mimics their communication: they misuse the institution’s logo, use the same colors and graphic design of the email that the institution uses, and so on, creating an impression of authenticity.
  • The urgency to respond to a phishing email is often deliberately heightened: Your account has been compromised! We have an exclusive time-limited offer for you! The victim is asked to confirm or verify their login or financial information using a fake link or image.
  • After clicking on the link, the victim is redirected to a website that also mimics the institution’s design (fake logo, corporate colors) or malware is installed on their device.
Phishing Example 2 2048x1365
Image generated using AI Midjourney – Example of phishing:
A fake transportation company asks you to pay an additional shipping fee.

What Types of Phishing Are Known?

  • Spear phishing targets a specific person within a particular organization to steal their login credentials. The attacker first gathers information about the person, such as their name, position, and contact details. They usually then try to obtain the credentials under a false pretext.
  • Whaling is spear phishing aimed at high-ranking individuals in an organization, such as directors or managers. (Whale – a large fish.)
  • Smishing is carried out through SMS messages. The attacker sends fake messages, often containing links to malicious websites.
  • Vishing is a telephone attack. The attacker often poses as an employee of an institution, technical support, or another trusted person.
  • Pharming is a technique where attackers redirect legitimate websites to fake websites. This type of attack can be executed by changing DNS records or using malware. The victim does not realize they are on a fake site and enters their personal information, which is then stolen.
  • Angler Phishing involves using fake accounts on social media through which the attacker poses as customer or technical support. The victim is contacted with an offer of help and is asked to provide personal information or access credentials. This type of phishing often targets users of Facebook or X (Twitter). Urgency is increased by informing that if the necessary action is not taken, the social media account will be blocked.
  • Evil Twin Phishing involves creating a fake Wi-Fi network. The victim connects to this fake network, allowing the attacker to monitor transmissions and obtain sensitive information. This type of attack is often used in places with public Wi-Fi, such as cafes or airports.
  • Watering Hole Phishing involves infecting popular websites with malware. The attacker identifies frequently visited sites and then places malicious code on them. When the victim visits the site, their device is infected with malware that collects sensitive information.
  • SEO Phishing often targets popular search keywords. Fake websites are optimized for search engines to appear in search results. The victim clicks on a search result that looks legitimate but leads to a phishing page where their personal information is stolen.
  • Pop-Up Phishing exploits pop-up windows on websites, often masked as system alerts or updates, to obtain personal information. The victim is prompted to enter their login credentials or other sensitive information into the pop-up window, which appears to be a legitimate request.
  • Website Spoofing involves creating a fake website that resembles a legitimate one in design to deceive the victim. The goal is to trick the victim into entering their personal or login information.
  • Domain Spoofing exploits the victim’s inattention. The attacker registers a domain with a minor change, such as a typo or a different domain extension. The victim is convinced they are on the correct site and enters their sensitive information.
  • Image Phishing involves using images with embedded malicious links or code. Images can be embedded in emails, SMS messages, and websites. When the victim clicks on the image, they are redirected to a phishing page, or their device is infected with malware.
Phishing Example 1 2048x1365
AI-generated image using Midjourney – Example of phishing:
A fake message contains a small image with the text “Is this you?” which piques your curiosity, so you click on the image.

How to Recognize a Phishing Attack?

  • Attackers create a sense of urgency, trying to elicit your quick reaction without thinking about the situation. Example: You receive an email claiming that you must immediately verify your details, otherwise your social media account will be blocked.
  • Offers that are too good to be true should make you suspicious. If they also have a limited validity, they again put pressure on you to react immediately. Example: An email claims that you have won a new iPhone in a competition, asking you to provide personal information to receive the prize. However, you did not enter any competition.
  • Most phishing attacks mimic legitimate senders (phone numbers, email addresses, website names, domains). Be attentive, notice typos or missing letters, as well as entire website addresses that you were redirected to from the email or message. Example: You receive a warning from “Paypai” instead of PayPal, claiming you need to update your payment information.
  • Grammatical errors, mainly due to automated translation. Example: An email from a “bank” contains the sentence “Your bank account has been hacked. Please click on the link to reset the password.”
  • Links shortened via link shorteners that lead to fake sites. Official emails from institutions or e-shops have no reason to contain shortened links.
  • Email attachments with the .exe extension often contain malware or ransomware. Never click on an attachment with a .exe extension from an unknown address. Example: An email from a seemingly legitimate sender contains the attachment “Invoice_12345.exe”, which, when opened, can install malicious code on your computer.

Is There Prevention?

Above all, be attentive and do not open emails from unknown addresses or messages from unknown phone numbers. Notice suspicious signs in received emails, messages, or calls from unknown numbers, as mentioned above.

Read about how to minimize your digital footprint. The more personal information an attacker obtains about you, the higher the probability of their attack succeeding. Therefore, various lists of leaked or publicly available personal data represent a potential risk. Such lists are owned by data brokerage companies. They sell them to third parties, who typically use them for sending unsolicited emails, unsolicited calls, but the data can also be misused for phishing.

If you receive many unsolicited emails or get many unsolicited calls, your data is likely in one of these lists. Services like Incogni can help you remove your data.

Incogni Logo
  • Incogni is intended for residents of the USA, United Kingdom, EU, Switzerland, and Canada.
  • Incogni collaborates with agencies and organizations for consumer rights protection.
  • The Incogni service is designed in accordance with data protection laws – GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), UK GDPR, and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).
  • Incogni has access to lists of data brokers.
  • Incogni will verify if your data is present in any of the databases. Subsequently, it will request brokerage firms to delete your data from their databases.
  • Approximately a month after the request is sent, Incogni will verify if the deletion has indeed occurred.
  • During your subscription to Incogni, regular checks are performed to ensure brokers have not re-added your information to their databases.
  • All these steps can be monitored in the Incogni application interface.
  • Incogni is very advantageous for individuals because, in addition to protecting personal data, it saves time and provides legal support. If you were unaware of the existence of data brokerage firms before, you probably wouldn’t know where to find them. To provide sufficient legal arguments in requests for access to or deletion of your data from these firms’ databases, you would need to study legislation concerning personal data protection. Otherwise, these companies may ignore your requests.
  • Incogni ensures that the request for removal from brokerage databases has a real impact.

Read review

This year, I have encountered attacks through online marketplaces. The attacker tries to convince you to send the item to them via cash on delivery through a shipping company, claiming that they will pay the courier. They send you a message attempting to redirect you to a fake shipping company website, where you are supposed to enter your bank account details to receive the payment. The scammer likely assumes that online marketplaces do not use verified payment gateways but rather direct bank transfers, and that less experienced users of online stores or courier services will fall for the scam. I also came across fake Facebook pages several times, which, with their name and graphic design, posed as Facebook customer support and contained a warning that I should contact them immediately, otherwise my account would be blocked.

Have you encountered similar phishing scams? Were you able to recognize them? Share your experiences in the comments.

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