How Does Phishing Work

How does phishing work

How Does Phishing Work

Phishing is a cyberthreat that hackers use to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords and personally identifiable information. Phishing can also be used to spread malware and infect computers with viruses. In this article, we will explain how phishing works, how to recognize different types of phishing attacks, and how to protect yourself from falling victim to them.


What is the best defence against phishing?

The best defence against phishing is to be vigilant and cautious when you receive any online communication that asks you to take action or provide information. You should always verify the sender’s identity, the legitimacy of the message, and the authenticity of the links before clicking or responding. You should also use security software, such as antivirus and anti-phishing tools, to scan your devices and detect any malicious activity.


For more specific knowledge, check our publication on how to protect against phishing attacks.

Download our Basic phishing Guide for Employees and Individuals


How to recognize phishing?

Phishing can take many forms, such as emails, phone calls, text messages, or social media posts. However, they all share some common characteristics that can help you identify them. Some of the signs of phishing are:

  • The message is unsolicited, unexpected, or urgent, and asks you to take action, such as updating your account, confirming your identity, or verifying a transaction.


  • The message contains spelling, grammar, or formatting errors, or uses generic salutations, such as “Dear Customer” or “Hello User”.


  • The message claims to be from a reputable organization, such as your bank, your email provider, or a government agency, but the sender’s address, the domain name, or the logo do not match the official ones.


  • The message contains links or attachments that look suspicious, such as shortened URLs, misspelled domains, or unusual file extensions.


  • The message requests personal or financial information, such as your password, your credit card number, or your social security number, that the legitimate organization would never ask for via email or phone.


Check the different types of phishing clicking on our articles: types of phishing, Smish and what is spear phishing.


What to do if you respond to a phishing email?

If you realize that you have responded to a phishing email, you should take immediate steps to limit the damage and prevent further attacks. Some of the actions you should take are:


  • Change your passwords for all your online accounts, especially the ones that you have used or shared with the phisher.


  • Contact your bank, your credit card company, or any other financial institution that may be affected by the phishing, and report the incident and any fraudulent transactions.


  • Scan your computer and your devices with security software, and remove any malware or viruses that may have been installed by the phishing.


  • Report the phishing email to the legitimate organization that was spoofed, and to the authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG).


  • Educate yourself and others about how to recognize and avoid phishing in the future.


Obtain deeper understanding on our article examples of phishing emails.

Avoid sharing personal information online

One of the best ways to protect yourself from phishing is to avoid sharing personal information online, especially on social media, public forums, or unsecured websites. Hackers can use the information you post online, such as your name, your birthday, your location, your hobbies, or your contacts, to create personalized and convincing phishing messages that target you or your friends and family. You should also be careful about the privacy settings of your online accounts, and limit the access and visibility of your personal data to only the people you trust.

Some examples of avoiding sharing personal information online are:

  • Using “alternative facts” or fake information when filling out online forms or surveys that are not essential or trustworthy.


  • Using guest check-out options or disposable email addresses when shopping online or signing up for newsletters or services.


  • Limiting the amount of personal details you post on social media, such as your full name, birthday, location, hobbies, or contacts.


  • Adjusting the privacy settings of your online accounts, and restricting the access and visibility of your personal data to only the people you trust.


  • Using strong passwords, different for each account, and a password manager to store them securely.


  • Avoiding clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown or suspicious senders, and verifying the identity and legitimacy of any online communication that asks for your personal or financial information.


These are some of the tips and best practices to avoid sharing too much personal information online, and to protect your online privacy. 


How to use strong passwords

Another effective way to prevent phishing is to use strong passwords for your online accounts, and to change them regularly. A strong password is one that is long, complex, and unique, and that uses a combination of letters, numbers, symbols, and cases. A strong password is hard to guess, and hard to crack by hackers who use automated tools or brute force attacks. You should also avoid using the same password for multiple accounts, or writing down your passwords on paper or online. Instead, you can use a password manager, a software application that generates, stores, and fills in your passwords securely.

Here are some tips to use strong passwords:


  • Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, such as !, @, #, $, %, ^, &, *, or _. Avoid using common or sequential words, numbers, or keyboard patterns, such as password, 123456, qwerty, or abcdef.


  • Use a different password for each account, and do not reuse or recycle your passwords. This way, if one of your accounts is compromised, the others will still be safe.


  • Use a password manager, such as LastPass, Dashlane, or 1Password, to generate and store your passwords securely. A password manager can create and remember complex and unique passwords for each account, and autofill them for you when you log in. You only need to remember one master password to access your password manager.


  • Use two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication, if available, to add an extra layer of security to your accounts. This requires you to enter a code or a token, in addition to your password, that is sent to your phone, email, or app, to verify your identity.


  • Change your passwords regularly, and do not write them down or share them with anyone. If you suspect that your password has been compromised, change it immediately, and notify the relevant service provider.



Download our Basic phishing Guide for Employees and Individuals


Do you want to identify vulnerabilities in your company?


Phishing is a serious and prevalent cyberthreat that can cause significant damage and loss to individuals and organizations. By understanding how phishing works, and following the best practices to prevent and respond to phishing attacks, you can protect yourself and your information from this malicious activity.


Seifti offers cybersecurity consulting services that help organizations assess and improve their cybersecurity posture. 


We also provide a phishing simulation service to assess the security of your organization.


Stray safe from any type of phishing attack, don’t waste time!


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