Phishing attacks are when cybercriminals use emails to lure users to click on a link or open an attachment that infects their computers, creating vulnerability to attacks.

Phishing emails are designed to look like an authentic email, which is why they are a favorite tool of hackers and so dangerous to people and businesses.  Criminals will try to lure you in using fear and urgency in their messages such as the examples below:

• “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below, and confirm your identity.”

• “During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

• “Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”

How do you tell the difference and protect yourself and your business?  Here are a few tips:

• Be very cautious. If you’re unsure who an email is from—even if the details appear accurate—do not respond, and do not click on any links or attachments found in that email. Generic greetings such as “Hello Bank Customer,” are often signs of phishing attempts. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of an email, call the company directly but not from a number given in the email or a website linked to the email.

• Think before you act. Many phishing emails attempt to create a sense of urgency, causing the recipient to fear their account or information is in jeopardy. If you receive a suspicious email that appears to be from someone you know, reach out to that person directly on a separate secure platform. If it is from a company, contact customer service from a source not provided in the email.  Do not use a link from the suspect email.

• Protect your personal information. If people contacting you have certain details from your life—your job title, multiple email addresses, full name, and more that you may have published online somewhere—they can attempt a direct, targeted spear-phishing attack on you. Cyber criminals can also use social engineering with these details to try to manipulate you into skipping normal security protocols.

• Be wary of hyperlinks. Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails and hover over links to verify authenticity. Also ensure that URLs begin with “https.” The “s” indicates encryption is enabled to protect users’ information.

• Double your login protection. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure that the only person who has access to your account is you. Use it for email, banking, social media, and any other service that requires logging in. If MFA is an option, enable it by using a trusted mobile device, such as your smartphone or an authenticator app.

• Shake up your password protocol. According to NIST guidance, you should consider using the longest password or passphrase permissible. Get creative and customize your standard password for different sites, which can prevent cyber criminals from gaining access to these accounts and protect you in the event of a breach. Use a password manager to generate and remember different, complex passwords for each of your accounts.

• Install and update anti-virus software. Make sure all of your computers, Internet of Things devices, phones, and tablets are equipped with regularly updated antivirus software, firewalls, email filters, and anti-spyware.

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