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What is phishing?

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One tactic that cyber criminals may use to try and get access to your phone, tablet, or computer is phishing. Here's what you need to know.

In the digital age, the convenience of online transactions and communications has been shadowed by the looming threat of cybercrime. Among the various tactics employed by cybercriminals, phishing stands out as a particularly insidious method of attack. Understanding what phishing is, recognising its dangers, and knowing how to protect yourself are crucial steps in maintaining your online safety.

What exactly is phishing?

Phishing is a form of cyber attack that masquerades as legitimate communication from reputable sources. The goal? To deceive you into handing over sensitive personal information or to trick you into downloading harmful malware. These deceptive messages can infiltrate your digital life through various channels, including emails, text messages, WhatsApp, social media, or even phone calls. They often dangle bait – a sense of urgency, a request for verification, or a problem with your account – to lure you into clicking a link that could lead to the theft of your personal details, such as credit card and bank information.

The perils of falling prey to phishing

The dangers of a phishing attack are not to be underestimated. Falling victim to such scams can have severe consequences:

  • Financial loss: Unauthorised access to your funds or the use of your bank cards by scammers can lead to significant monetary loss
  • Identity theft: Criminals may use your personal details to impersonate you, taking out loans or credit cards in your name, which can wreak havoc on your financial health
  • Data trafficking: Your stolen information could end up on the dark web, sold to the highest bidder
  • Corporate risk: If your work accounts are compromised, sensitive company information could be exposed, potentially resulting in legal repercussions and hefty fines for your employer

The mechanics of a phishing operation

Phishing scams are not one-size-fits-all; they come in various shapes and sizes:

  • Bulk phishing: This approach involves sending generic messages to a large audience, often impersonating banks or well-known companies, to fish for personal details
  • Spear phishing: A more targeted form of phishing, this method involves crafting messages tailored to individuals within an organisation to extract specific information like payment details
  • Modern mediums: Increasingly, phishing attempts are made through text messages, social media, and even automated phone calls, duping recipients into providing bank or card details or making payments for non-existent bills

Real-world phishing scenarios

To illustrate, let's consider some common examples of phishing attacks:

  • An email that appears to be from PayPal alerts you that your account has been suspended and requests your bank details to reactivate it. In reality, PayPal would never ask for such information via email
  • A text message or WhatsApp message claims to be from HMRC, asking for personal details like your tax reference number or bank account details – a method HMRC would never employ
  • Clicking on a dubious link in an email or message could result in the silent installation of malware on your device, which can then siphon off your personal data

Fortifying your defences against phishing

To sidestep the traps set by phishing scams, adopt these precautionary measures:

  • Verify sender details: Scrutinise the sender's email address to ensure its authenticity before placing any trust in the message
  • Avoid suspicious links: Resist the urge to click on links in questionable emails or messages. Instead, delete them and report the incident
  • Know your bank's protocols: Familiarise yourself with your bank's communication policies. Remember, banks will not request personal information via text or email
  • Invest in security software: Equip your devices with the latest security software to fend off malware threats
  • Stay updated: Regularly update your applications, particularly on Android and iOS devices, to close any security loopholes that could be exploited by outdated app versions

In the digital world, where phishing attacks are a constant threat, staying informed and vigilant is your best defence. By understanding the nature of these scams and taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you can navigate the online landscape with greater confidence and security. Remember, when it comes to your personal information, it's better to be safe than sorry. Click here to read more on if you can keep your email address if you switch providers

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