Phishing Attacks: How To Protect Your Business

How to protect against phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are one of the most serious yet overlooked risks businesses face these days. As of September 2023, there have been over 24 million phishing attacks reported. This means that no matter the size of your company, you will be getting phishing threats at least on a weekly base if not more. 

But, is it possible to stay on top of all these and protect your business from phishing attacks? Of course, and these next few straightforward steps can easily help you be prepared and stay protected.

Now, first, let’s see what is phishing and how you can spot this common threat.

Understanding the phishing threat

Ever received suspicious emails asking for personal info or the password to one of your email accounts, such as Gmail? Well, those are not only annoying, but they also pose a real risk to your business and work data.

Phishing works because scammers are good at tricking people, even smart ones! They make emails look legitimate to steal passwords and access work accounts. And once a cyber criminal gets inside your system, well, that can cause serious problems. 

Why? Well, it takes time and money to deal with malware infections, stolen finances, or data breaches after a phishing attack succeeds. And customers may lose trust if they learn your business had a breach. So yes, there’s a lot more at stake than you might think!

Most of the time, phishing uses email, text, or websites to try to steal your information by disguising themselves as someone trustworthy. Instead of using technical exploits, phishers rely on deception to trick people into willingly giving up private details.

Read more: Top cyber security trends you need to know

Types of Cyber Crime
Source: Statista

What are the most common types of phishing attacks?

Email Phishing – Definitely the most common type of phishing is when you get an email that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate source you know, like your bank, social media platform or a store you order from often. Usually, this is written in a worrying way to try and panic you into clicking a link or downloading an attachment.

Spear Phishing – Instead of writing out generic lines to get you to click on a link or download an attachment, these attacks are more targeted using personal details they’ve gathered on you or your coworkers through social media. The personalized messages can make them feel more “real.”

Smishing (SMS phishing) – Smishing works similarly to email phishing but uses SMS to act as legitimate companies through text. A hacker will send messages appearing to come from places like your bank or a shopping site you’ve used. Within the texts are usually worrying messages about fraudulent activity or expired accounts paired with a link to click for “help.”

The best way to protect yourself from any type of phishing attack is to be cautious about any messages you receive from emails and phone numbers you don’t recognize.

This is how it works for all these attacks: once you tap on those links, it leads to a fake website replicating the real login page of the company in the message. There the attacker hopes to trick you into inputting sensitive login credentials or financial details that they can use for ID theft or other crimes.

Attackers also employ email and text messages to spread malicious attachments or links under coupon offers, order confirmations or account alerts. If downloaded, these files enable the theft of data from your mobile or desktop device.

So if you think this phishing may seem easy to catch, well, hackers are always using new schemes meant to outsmart even the most cautious of people.

How can you spot a phishing threat?

Spelling and grammar errors: Misspellings or strange wording used to be a giveaway, but now bots are making emails look way better. Don’t trust anything just because it looks professionally written though – attackers go to great lengths to appear legit these days.

Strange recipient addresses: Scammers often use addresses close to real ones to confuse people in a hurry. Always take an extra second to verify the domain matches where the message claims to be from. The same goes for attachments and links – hover before clicking to preview where they actually lead.

Unexpected attachments: Unless you absolutely recognize who sent it, don’t open anything from a stranger. Files from strangers can easily install malware that steals passwords and spy on you.

Urgent tones: Scammers love using pressuring tones with threats of “consequences” if you don’t act fast. If something feels off, trust your gut – any company worth your time won’t mind a call for confirmation.

Assessing your own risks

Right, now that you know how to spot the threat, you need to figure out how susceptible your business actually is. Do you work in an industry that tends to get targeted? Do your team’s roles involve cash or sensitive data hackers could want? You’ll also want to consider internal changes that may help you stay protected. 

Really understanding what could make your business an attractive target helps focus your protection efforts in the right areas. No two companies are exactly the same, so generic solutions won’t really do the trick – you need security tailored to your specific situation.

Read more: How can a cyber security strategy help your business?

Training is key

Here’s a hard truth – human error is the #1 reason companies go through a data breach, including one caused by phishing. According to a recent study by Stanford University Professor Jeff Hancock and security firm Tessian, 88% of data breach incidents happen due to employee mistakes. And, another research by IBM Security found that 95% are caused by human error.

But the good news is people are your best defense too when they know what to look out for. So why not educate your team with fun, hands-on lessons?

The idea is to get creative with training and keep it engaging so that everyone can remember the material. And, nothing teaches like experience! Send fake phishing emails periodically to test how they respond. We all fall for tricks sometimes, so don’t punish mistakes – view it as a chance to improve. Educated employees will recognize sketchy behavior long before technical controls ever could.

Read more: Why is security awareness training important for your team?

Use multiple layers of security

Now that your team is in the know, it’s time to add some innovative technology tools too. Making things multi-layered provides the best protection. For example, implement a second verification step such as one-time codes any time addresses are changed or money gets moved around.

Precautions like that would at least stop hackers from wreaking havoc even if they had stolen login credentials. Check if your apps support options to block logins from suspicious locations until proven real. Adding on security layers makes your business a much harder target.

If you want to check some best practices for using tech to prevent data breaches, check out this extensive guide.

Be ready to respond

Finally, even with the smartest protection in place – mistakes and accidents still happen. So, make sure you have an incident response plan ready that maps out the steps to take once you discover something’s not right.

Here’s one example: in case of a breach due to a phishing scam, you should isolate potentially hacked systems, save the evidence for future investigations, and alert any affected customers or partners as soon as possible. 

Responding smoothly and honestly helps rebuild trust that was lost through no fault of your own. Most of all, use this experience to learn from it so that you can prevent similar issues down the road.

Read more: A guide to the ultimate disaster recovery plan

So, while phishing is definitely a serious risk, using these steps can make a difference for your business. Make sure your team knows how to spot threats, use layered authentication, advance planning, and vigilance, and you can boost your security.

And don’t think you need to be perfect right from the start. Even basic cyber security tactics and awareness training are better than nothing at all. Security is a process, so start small if needed and improve bit by bit. As we keep on saying here, cyber security has more to do with teamwork than technical skills in the long run.