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The Human Firewall

Phishing is a simple, yet extremely effective method

Hackers don’t stop, they will try endless ways to get access to our personal & private data. Email is a popular means of access for cyber criminals, with it often being the easiest point of entry to a computer network, therefore being the most used and abused.

Emails can be filtered for spam, but unlike other network entry points, can’t be blocked entirely, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to receive emails from anyone!..

Phishing, a term used to explain hackers masking their malicious emails as genuine, via a few smart tricks. Their aim is to lure you into clicking embedded links to websites that may download viruses, malware, or worse, tracking software that’ll collect your key data, such as your bank account details.

How does phishing work exactly?

Masking emails as though they were sent from someone else’s mailbox is very easy to do. Beyond that, they may well hack into a businesses mail server or an individual’s mailbox, to send the emails directly as that user entirely.

The email itself, isn’t overly dangerous. It can simply be deleted straight from your inbox.

If you’ve clicked the link & downloaded the file or opened the document however, your PC is then exposed to the cyber attack with the malicious software they intended to hit your machine.

We have embedded an example situation below, to which we refer to through this blog article. This email looks very legitimate, given the correct sender’s full name, email address and even their full email signature & disclaimer being present.

Phishing-Example-768x511.png

What does it look like in my inbox?

You’ll receive it just like any usual email, the tricky part is identifying if it’s genuine. It’ll be among all of your other emails. It’ll likely appear as though it’s from the sender’s name and match their correct email address. So, at first glace, you’ll be none the wiser.

If the email is masked as though it is from a government department, it may well contain poorly written language, bad quality logos, or simply requesting from you information that would normally be sent via the post or submitted via their secure websites.

The email is most likely to contain an attachment or a link, which is the lure to draw you toward their means by which they can enter your PC & steal your data. Until you’re sure, don’t click on any links.

What can I watch out for?

When you receive any email there are a few key things to initially check, even if you know & trust the sender.

1. The sender’s name & email address. Is it genuine? Has it actually come from their mailbox or does something about the name or email address not look right?

2. Does the email contain any attachments?

If it is a PDF, there’s a good chance that you’re safe, but don’t get your hopes up.

If it is a Word or Excel document, it may be programmed to contain a virus that can take over your machine as soon as you open it & activate any “macros” set to run. Always question and be wary of Word & Excel documents that you aren’t expecting. Invoices are often a personal favourite trick of the fraudsters – always ask your suppliers to send their invoices as PDFs, ruling out any ‘invoice’ emails in other formats.

The downside however, you cannot tell from looking at the file whether it’s genuine or malicious before you open it – then it’s usually too late.

3. Does the email contain any links within the text?

Links are a little easier to check. Hover over the link and you can see where it’ll take you.

If it’s an email claiming to be from HMRC or your bank, and the link wants to take you to a completely different website, don’t click on it!

If the link appears to be the real website or where you would expect to land, like in the example below, then it may well be genuine, but that is no guarantee.

Phishing-Example3.png

With this example, the link takes you to a file hosted on Microsoft OneDrive. The email makes it look like this user genuinely wanted to send you this file, which is hosted in a reputable place. If the link appeared to be an unfamiliar source, it would appear to be more suspicious, but on face-value this appears to be legit.

Clicking the link to visit the website, which shows to be a real Microsoft OneDrive file share, you can see an overview of the document, a PDF.

Phishing-Example2-768x279.png

Upon further inspection, placing the mouse over the preview shows the Microsoft branded box with the “Open” link to just be an image, overlaid with a hyperlink to a shortened website URL via tinyurl.com. This cleverly masks the ultimate website address, likely a malevolent website.

Phishing-Example4.png

Had the “Open” button highlighted, like a normal button would, and the document been able to be viewed within the browser it would have been genuine. However, clicking this link does actually take you through to a virus riddled website, with my email accounts likely vulnerable to being hacked & sending out the very same email I received, claiming to be me.

In Summary

Be very cautious. Even if you believe to know the person that sent you the email.

Follow our straight-forward 3-step check list – sender’s name & email address, attachments and links. Checking these three key things before taking any action with the email will help you remain protected.

Need some support for peace of mind?

If you’re bewildered by the prospect of reviewing your IT Security, we can help.

We’re Net Platforms and we have years of experience in supporting small-medium businesses across London and Essex with such technology challenges.

Net Platforms provides a full range of professional IT services, including a full suite of cloud products, including support with Microsoft Office 365 & Microsoft Azure.

Please contact the team today on 0207 993 9035 or hello@netplatforms.co.uk.