What is phishing? Definition, types and how to avoid it

Phishing is a cyberattack that can have serious consequences for you, such as having your banking information or any other...
12 October 2023

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What is phishing? Definition, types and how to avoid it

Phishing is a cyberattack that can have serious consequences for you, such as having your banking information or any other confidential data stolen. This scam can jeopardize your finances or your reputation.

Through this technique, cybercriminals, posing as trusted companies or entities, skillfully seek to prompt an action on your part that allows them to steal your data.

At times, it can be challenging to distinguish and avoid this fraud. That’s why we’ve prepared detailed information so you can definitively understand what phishing is, the types that exist, potential consequences, and, most importantly, how to prevent it.

What is phishing? Definition, types and how to avoid it

What is phishing?

Phishing is a cybercrime technique that uses messages to impersonate institutions, companies, or well-known services in an attempt to steal users’ confidential data. 

An essential element is the cybercriminals’ need to gain the trust of the person they intend to defraud. For this reason, they adopt the branding of the identity they are impersonating by sending emails or messages with their logo, corporate colors, etc.

As the name suggests, phishing involves “fishing” for user data.

How does phishing work?

The operation of phishing typically follows this pattern:

  • You receive a phishing message via email, SMS, etc.
  • You click on the fraudulent link it contains.
  • You land on a deceptive webpage that often replicates the identity they are stealing or invites you to download a corrupted attachment.
  • You are asked for confidential data like passwords, usernames, credit card numbers, etc.
  • Your data is used for fraudulent purposes.

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Examples of a phishing attack

To illustrate how this fraud works, we want to share some phishing scenarios, considering that the messages you may receive can vary:

  • Alerting you to suspicious activity in your bank account or personal platform account.
  • Claiming there is an issue with your payment information.
  • Requesting confirmation of personal data.
  • Sending an unexpected invoice as an attachment.
  • Urging you to click a link to resolve a shipping issue.
  • Confirming that you are due for a tax refund or a social security reimbursement.
  • Congratulating you on winning a contest.
  • Sending anti-fraud recommendations.
  • Warning of immediate service cutoff if you don’t take action.

Types of phishing

This digital crime technique sets traps for users across various platforms.

Email Phishing

You may receive emails with false information containing links to websites and/or forms where you are asked to enter personal data. They may also contain corrupted attachments that install malicious software on your device.

SMS Phishing (Smishing)

You can receive phishing messages via SMS, known as smishing, with the aim of tricking you into downloading malware or directing you to a deceptive website.

Phishing is a cybercrime technique

Social Media Phishing

In this case, fraud occurs through the creation of fake professional profiles and pages.

When it comes to the entities or companies whose identity is impersonated, some common phishing targets include:

Banking Phishing

Banking phishing is one of the most common types, both through email and SMS. In Spanish jurisprudence, for instance, there have been cases where banks were found liable for failing to implement anti-phishing mechanisms to authenticate transactions.

Institutional Phishing

You can receive false notices from institutions like the tax authority, social security, the State Public Employment Service, etc.

Consequences of Phishing

The consequences can be severe, affecting your finances and digital privacy. Common risks include:

  • Unauthorized charges on your credit card.
  • Believing and making payments to fraudulent sources.
  • Losing access to device content.
  • Theft of confidential documents.
  • Identity theft.

What is a common indicator of a phishing attempt?

A common indicator of a phishing attempt is poor grammar and spelling in the email or message. Phishing emails often contain noticeable language errors, as cybercriminals may not be proficient in the language they are using. This can include misspelled words, awkward sentence structures, and grammatical mistakes.

Additionally, phishing emails may use generic or overly formal language, such as “Dear User” or “Urgent Notification,” rather than addressing you by name or providing specific information related to your account or the organization they claim to represent.

These language and communication errors serve as red flags and should make you suspicious of the email’s authenticity. Always carefully scrutinize the language and content of any unsolicited email to help identify potential phishing attempts.

Examples of a phishing attack

How to avoid Phishing

At this point, we want to reassure you that phishing can be avoided. Here’s how you can enhance your digital security:

  • Always verify the sender of your emails.
  • Check for spelling or grammar errors in the message body, as these are often present in phishing attempts.
  • Be wary of generic headers like “Dear friend” or “User notification,” etc.
  • Don’t trust messages that pressure you to take immediate action.
  • Contact your service providers or institutions if you suspect fraud to verify the content.
  • If you click a link to a website, ensure the address in the browser matches the official company or organization.
  • Verify that websites you visit are secure and have an HTTPS address with a visible gray padlock in the address bar.
  • Be cautious of professional or official information from senders with generic email extensions like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. Institutions and organizations typically have their own domains.
  • Enable anti-fraud features in your email provider.
  • Only share personal information with trusted apps and platforms you’ve verified.
  • Keep your applications up-to-date.

At Smowltech, digital security is a top priority, as demonstrated by our proctoring plans that help you create privacy-respecting spaces for your users and authenticate their identity using innovative solutions like artificial intelligence. 

Request a free demo to experience our cutting-edge online monitoring.

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