Phishing attacks are when malicious hackers impersonate your bank or another legitimate website to get you to give up sensitive personal information such as your credit card numbers and passwords. In a phishing attack, attackers will send emails that appear to be from your bank or some other site you visit often. In these emails, the hackers ask for personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers that they can later use without getting caught by the original website’s administrators.
Origins of Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are rooted in social engineering. In a phishing attack, hackers use the trust that most people have in legitimate websites to gain sensitive information they can then sell or use for their own purposes.
Phishing Attacks Aren’t Just for Hackers
As you might think, phishing attacks are a pretty big problem on the internet today – and not just for computers and computer users. Phishing attacks can lead to identity theft and, in some cases, credit card or electronic banking information being stolen by hackers. Even worse – phishing attacks don’t necessarily stop after hackers get the information they want. Hackers often sell this information to other people on the internet who then use it to steal your money and ruin your reputation.
The First Phishing Email
One of the earliest documented phishing scams was in the early 1990s when AOL users were contacted by hackers claiming to be AOL employees who said they needed to verify their billing information. When victims complied with these requests, they gave up their credit card numbers and usernames and passwords that the hackers could then use to access their accounts.
Today, phishing attacks are becoming more and more common. Hackers can hide behind emails that will appear to be from legitimate businesses or government agencies like the IRS, FBI, or even local police stations. These emails often include links to sites that look like legitimate bank websites but lead you to give up crucial personal information.
Phishing attacks are becoming more sophisticated in their deceit, and even familiar companies like PayPal, eBay, iTunes, and Dell have been the victims of phishing emails designed to get you to give away your sensitive information.
How to Protect Yourself from Phishing Attacks
There are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself from falling victim to a phishing scam.
Use Unique, Strong Passwords and Change Them Regularly
If the same password is used on multiple sites, hackers who gain access to one of those accounts can also use it on many other accounts—using your email address as your username, and a simple word as your password makes it easy for hackers to access every account you have that uses that combination of information. To prevent this form from happening, you should use a strong password on your email and change it regularly.
When in doubt about a link or attachment in an email, check with the source directly before clicking it. If you’ve already clicked a link and it shows an error message, go directly to the website yourself rather than clicking another link or re-opening your email.
Never Give Personal Information Over Email
If you receive an email that requests personal information, don’t click on any links or open attachments until you’re certain they are legitimate. Even if the email looks like it is coming from a legitimate website, it could still be a phishing scam.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
By using two-factor authentication, hackers will need more than just your username and password to gain access to your accounts; they’ll also need access to the mobile device you activated this feature with. Even if someone gets their hands on your password, they won’t be able to access your account unless they also have the device you activated this feature on.
Phishing attacks are an effective but damaging way that hackers obtain sensitive information. Look out for the signs of a phishing email and protect your sensitive information by following these steps to better guard against becoming a victim.