The foreign prince who needs help transferring funds; your car warranty is expiring; your password needs to be changed; confirm your credit card number to secure your account. We’ve all experienced at least one of these – if not all of them! It seems like phishing attempts are EVERYWHERE now.
Phishing & Spoofing
So what exactly IS phishing? Phishing scams use spoofed emails and websites as lures to prompt people to hand over sensitive information voluntarily. But why the ‘ph’ instead of ‘f’? Some of the earliest hackers experimented with telecommunications systems, rerouting tones and long-distance calls. These upstanding citizens were known as phreaks– with the ‘ph’ coming from ‘phone.’ According to Internet records, the first time the term “phishing” was used and recorded was on January 2, 1996, in a Usenet newsgroup called AOHell. The first way phishers conducted attacks was by stealing users’ passwords and using algorithms to create randomized credit card numbers, evolving to posing as internet employees, sending messages to users to verify their accounts or confirm their billing information.
In 2001 phishers turned their attention to online payment systems, registering dozens of domains that looked like legitimate sites like eBay and PayPal if you weren’t paying close attention. They used email worm programs to send out spoofed emails to customers, leading them to spoofed sites to update their credit card details and other identifying information. Ransomware now plays a significant role in phishing, downloading malware that provides all of a computer’s data to phishers on a silver platter. Or conversely, scrambles and locks files on the computer until the owner makes a payment for the key to unlock and decrypt these files.
How Criminals Lure you In
The following messages from the Federal Trade Commission’s OnGuardOnline are examples of what attackers may email or text when phishing for sensitive information:
- “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below, and confirm your identity.”
- “During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”
- “Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”
To see examples of actual phishing emails and steps to take if you believe you received a phishing email, please visit StopRansomware.gov.
Common Internet Scams Today
- IMPOSTER SCAMS occur when you receive an email or call from a person claiming to be a government official, family member, or friend requesting personal or financial information. For example, an imposter may contact you from the Social Security Administration informing you that your Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended, in hopes you will reveal your SSN or pay to have it reactivated.
- COVID-19 ECONOMIC PAYMENTS SCAMS target Americans’ stimulus payments and student loan forbearances. CISA urges all Americans to be on the lookout for criminal fraud related to COVID-19 economic impact payments—particularly fraud using coronavirus lures to steal personal and financial information, as well as the economic impact payments themselves—and for adversaries seeking to disrupt payment efforts.
Simple Tips from cisa.gov/
- Play hard to get with strangers. Links in email and online posts are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If you’re unsure who an email is from—even if the details appear accurate—do not respond, and do not click on any links or attachments found in that email. Be cautious of generic greetings such as “Hello Bank Customer,” as these are often signs of phishing attempts. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of an email, call the company directly.
- Think before you act. Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately. Many phishing emails attempt to create a sense of urgency, causing the recipient to fear their account or information is in jeopardy. If you receive a suspicious email that appears to be from someone you know, reach out to that person directly on a separate secure platform. If the email comes from an organization but still looks “phishy,” reach out to them via customer service to verify the communication.
- Protect your personal information. If people contacting you have key details from your life—your job title, multiple email addresses, full name, and more that you may have published online somewhere—they can attempt a direct spear-phishing attack on you. Cybercriminals can also use social engineering with these details to try to manipulate you into skipping standard security protocols.
- Be wary of hyperlinks. Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails and hover over links to verify authenticity. Also, ensure that URLs begin with “HTTPS.” The “s” indicates encryption is enabled to protect users’ information.
- Double your login protection. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure that you are the only person who has access to your account. Use it for email, banking, social media, and any other service that requires logging in. If MFA is an option, enable it using a trusted mobile device, such as your smartphone, an authenticator app, or a secure token—a small physical device that can hook onto your key ring.
- Shake up your password protocol. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance, you should consider using the longest password or passphrase permissible. Get creative and customize your standard password for different sites, which can prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to these accounts and protect you in the event of a breach. Use password managers to generate and remember different, complex passwords for each of your accounts.
- Install and update antivirus software. Ensure all of your computers, Internet of Things devices, phones, and tablets are equipped with regularly updated antivirus software, firewalls, email filters, and anti-spyware.
- STAY UP TO DATE. Keep your software updated with the latest version available. Maintain your security settings to keep your information safe by turning on automatic updates, so you don’t have to think about it, and set your security software to run regular scans
Contact the CISA Cybersecurity Awareness Month Team!
For more information or to reach out with questions, please email the CISA team at CyberAwareness@cisa.dhs.gov or visit