Recognising the Signs of Phishing Emails

Defending Your Small Business: 2024 Cyber Threats & Trends Uncovered Reading Recognising the Signs of Phishing Emails 5 minutes

Phishing emails are designed to trick recipients into giving away sensitive information, clicking on malicious links, or downloading malware which can be embedded in files or attachments. By understanding these elements of phishing scams and remaining vigilant about the signs, you can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of these malicious attempts. Cyber security is not just about tools and protocols; it's also about awareness and proactive behaviour. Recognising the key signs of phishing can help prevent falling victim to these scams.

What are some of the common indicators of phishing emails?


Suspicious Sender’s Address

Check the sender’s email address carefully. Phishing emails often come from addresses that mimic legitimate ones by making small changes, such as altering a letter or adding extra characters.

Generic Greetings

Phishing emails often use generic greetings like “Dear Customer” or “Dear User” instead of your name. This is because the attackers usually do not have personal information about their targets.

Urgent or Threatening Language

Many phishing attempts involve urgent or threatening language to create a sense of panic or urgency. This might prompt the recipient to act hastily, such as threats to close an account or claims of unauthorised transactions.

Unsolicited Attachments or Links

Unsolicited emails that contain links or attachments that you were not expecting should raise a red flag. These could contain malware or lead to a phishing site designed to steal your information.

Request for Sensitive Information

Legitimate businesses typically do not request sensitive information (like passwords or login details) via email. Be wary of emails asking for such details.

Typos and Grammatical Errors

Professional businesses usually send out well written correspondence. Poor grammar and spelling errors can be a sign of a phishing email.

Mismatched URLs

If you hover over any links in the email without clicking them, you can often see the actual URL in the bottom corner of your browser. If the URL address looks suspicious or does not match the supposed destination, it's a phishing attempt.

Too Good To Be True Offers

Emails promising amazing deals or large sums of money for little or no effort are almost always phishing attempts.

Inconsistencies in Email Addresses, Links & Domain Names

Sometimes, the email may look legitimate, but subtle inconsistencies and domain mismatches can be a telltale sign of phishing.

Unusual Requests

Be cautious if the email is requesting actions that you would not normally do, like transferring money unexpectedly or downloading a new software.

How do I automate my phishing attack defences?

Employing email filters and advanced security tools is essential for protecting against phishing attacks, malware, and other email-borne threats. These tools help automate the protection of your email systems and ensure that potential threats are neutralised before they can cause any damage.

Here is a basic guide on how to set up and utilise these tools effectively:

Step 1: Choose the Right Email Security Software

Start by selecting an email security solution that fits your business needs. There are many options available, ranging from basic spam filters provided by email services to advanced security solutions that include features like phishing protection, malware scanning, and content filtering. Some popular email security solutions include Office 365, Proofpoint and Bit Defender.

Step 2: Configure Spam Filters

Most email services include built-in spam filters that can be configured to suit your business needs. Access the spam filter settings in your email client or server. Configure the aggressiveness of the filter based on the level of protection you need. Add trusted senders to a whitelist to ensure their emails always reach your inbox. Conversely, add known spam sources or suspicious domains to a blacklist to block their emails. Educate users on how to look for malicious emails and how to mark these emails as spam This feedback can help improve the accuracy of spam filtering over time.

Step 3: Implement Advanced Security Features

Employ tools that specifically look for signs of phishing, such as suspicious links and attachment scanning. These tools often use machine learning to identify threats that might bypass traditional filters. Use sandboxing technology to analyse incoming attachments in a secure, isolated environment. This helps to detect and block malicious files before they reach the user. Implement solutions that scan and verify links within emails. This can prevent users from accessing malicious websites that might steal information. Some tools offer a behavioural analysis to detect anomalies in email patterns, which can indicate a compromised account or a sophisticated attack.

Step 4: Regularly Update and Maintain Software

Keep your email security software and tools up to date. Ensure that your email security tools are regularly updated to protect against the latest threats. Regularly review logs and alerts from your email security tools to understand what threats are being targeted towards your business and how well they are being stopped. Encourage users to report suspicious emails. This can help in tuning the configuration of your email security tools to better suit your specific environment.

Step 5: Integrate with Other Security Systems

For optimal protection, integrate your email security solutions with other security systems in your network, such as firewalls and endpoint protection platforms. This creates a comprehensive defence strategy that can share intelligence and respond more effectively to emerging threats.

By following these steps, you can significantly enhance your businesses email security posture, reducing the risk of phishing and other email-based cyber attacks.