Hackers never stop their search for new and more sophisticated ways to breach enterprise security measures. Big data presents a target that tempts criminals, who know they can make a lucrative profit off stolen employee credentials and customer information.
Security measures improve more every year to combat cybercriminals, whose technology grows more advanced all of the time.
But no matter how advanced software defenses become, hackers already know the best way to breach security protocols. They bypass them. When they work through the human element, cybercriminals use the weakest link to access the network from behind, and the safety cybersecurity teams provide means almost nothing.
What Is Phishing?
Phishing looks different than most hacking. It involves almost no code and requires very little computing power.
When a cybercriminal phishes, they send a fake email to a person or employee disguised as a legitimate communication.
The email might look like an internal or external communication. It might look like a vendor, another employee, or a manager sent the email.
Because hackers work hard to make their messages look as legitimate as possible, they often slip through spam filters and right into employee inboxes alongside legitimate communications that look identical.
Phishing emails have as many goals as they do disguises, but all want the employee to do something for them:
- Click on a link
- Download malicious software through an attachment
- Send money directly
The disguise often matches the goal as a means to an end.
Once upon a time, most phishing scams involved monetary transfers. The famous Nigerian prince scam still earns thousands from individual users. But most phishing attempts have become far more sophisticated and detailed, with large amounts of research involved to target the email and make it look as legitimate as possible.
Most modern phishing attempts tailor their emails to bypass phishing prevention methods and make these illegitimate communications more difficult to catch before it’s too late.
Like the classic scams, these phishing attempts try to steal money from a user by convincing them to send it out manually. While largely harmless compared to the damage other phishing attempts can cost, the wasted money adds up.
Many phishing attempts that try to steal money disguise themselves as people who have a legitimate business reason to ask for money.
For example, a manager might reach out to accounts for money to purchase gift cards as an employee incentive, but the sender may actually be a hacker with an email similar to the manager trying to steal the money.
They could also disguise themselves as a third-party vendor and send an invoice for a service that they never provided or that had already been paid for in the hopes that the request will slip through the cracks.
More dangerous attempts to access the network through phishing pretend to be the IT department. These emails ask the employee to send them information about their username and password for a reset or upgrade.
It might seem innocent at first glance, but it’s for this reason that IT shouldn’t ask about user credentials over email. When a hacker compromises a single employee account, they gain access to the entire network regardless of any permissions that the user may or may not have.
From there, they can install malicious software, steal customer information like credit cards or Social Security numbers, or steal funds from accounts themselves rather than tricking others into sending them.
When they steal protected health information (PHI), credit card and bank account information, or Social Security numbers, hackers can use them in a more traditional form of identity theft. They can charge large sums to accounts before the users freeze their cards or take out large loans with access to users’ personal information.
This kind of severe data breach opens an enterprise to litigation and regulatory penalties as well as severe loss of customer trust.
Email phishing prevention should focus on credential theft and malware installation.
In these phishing attempts, hackers attempt to install dangerous software on a user’s device by either sending a file that contains spyware or linking to a webpage that installs it automatically.
If not quarantined fast, this harmful software can spread throughout the user’s network. It can take all kinds of forms:
- Keyloggers that record personal and financial information
- Ransomware that locks down systems and demands money for its removal
- Adware that spams useless marketing messages
- Viruses that corrupt and delete valuable files
To prevent this damage, enterprises need to take proactive action. Up-to-date antivirus software and redundancies in billing departments can mitigate the damage and prevent worse-case scenarios, but the best email phishing prevention comes from employees.
Email Phishing Prevention Methods
When email phishing prevention starts with the user, it ensures phishing attempts go no further than that. “The human firewall” forms the core of a secure system because a computer system is only as secure as its least-informed user.
Enterprises can nip phishing attempts in the bud with a well-trained workforce.
Employee Cybersecurity Training
Employees of varied ages, experiences, and verticals also vary in their technical experience. Training and education get the entire company on the same page and help present a unified front towards hackers.
In the digital age of work-from-home, virtual machines, and online business communications, everyone, not just IT, needs cybersecurity knowledge and experience.
Seminars and Mandatory Training
Regular mandatory training ensures employees have up-to-date knowledge on the latest threats and tactics as hacking and phishing attempts continue to evolve.
The best training provides an interactive way to learn and check understanding throughout the process. This interactivity keeps students interested and engaged as they learn about the dangers their employer faces.
Training should also emphasize the fact that employees form the keystone in the cybersecurity process. They participate actively and directly, rather than being subject to a set of regulations.
Simulated Phishing Emails
If employees chafe under regular training, IT can’t locate or build a suitable course or schedule prevents periodic retraining, then simulated phishing emails provide an alternate (or supplemental) solution for email phishing prevention.
IT can send emails that simulate typical phishing attempts to random members throughout the company at varying intervals. These tests aren’t harmful to the company in any way but simulate common phishing attempts and provide a quick reference for employee readiness and response.
Tools like Outlook’s report message function track employee engagement and provide immediate feedback. Enterprises have the opportunity to praise and reward employees who catch phishing emails regularly for their savvy and quick wits and provide training to the employees who need it most when they fall for fake phishing attempts…
…which prevents damage from real ones when they happen.
While the human firewall provides the best protection, enterprises can easily reinforce their defenses with a solid set of automated tools.
A spam filter can block emails from outside the company and keep suspicious emails out of employee view before they even reach the inbox. Most modern email clients provide this function for both proprietary and personal users and keep the inbox organized and largely risk-free.
For legitimate communications — such as to prevent missing an email from a real vendor thanks to overzealous email phishing prevention — most professional email clients provide alternative or additional solutions.
Pop-ups and labels that identify messages from outside the company notify employees in the first few seconds after they open an email. This warning gives them an immediate reminder to regard the email with greater scrutiny and be on guard if a message from outside the company looks like it came from within.
Because those filters determine external/internal origin based on email addresses and previous contacts, even sophisticated images and email copy can’t fool them. Even if the illegitimate email would ordinarily trick the employee, the warning puts their guard up and makes it much easier for them to trust their instincts.
An excellent best practice to prevent all kinds of cyber criminality, not just phishing, is ensuring regular updates. Antivirus updates at both the operating system and software levels help prevent attacks when the worst happens, and an employee installs malicious code by accident.
By quarantining files and devices and cutting them off from the larger network, the cybersecurity team can limit the damage to a smaller section of the network and maintain the continuity of as many business operations as possible.
Regular updates to both machine images and malware filters limit enterprise vulnerability to the cutting-edge threats which target it.
Touchstone Security Raises Your Defenses
Because cybercriminals are constantly evolving, it’s necessary to continue to evolve and advance your security infrastructure.
Touchstone Security provides a complete set of valuable security services which keep your enterprise safe from phishing, data breaches, and more, along with quality data recovery services in the unlikely event a hacker slips through the cracks.
With an external point of view, we’ll locate potential weak points in your network ecosystem and provide the solutions to fix them.
Contact Touchstone Security today for a free 60-minute evaluation of your security posture.