What is a common indicator of a phishing attempt?

A phishing attack is a social engineering method where an attacker sends a fraudulent email or message designed to trick a person into revealing private or personal information. Another method could see a hacker deploy malicious software onto a victim’s infrastructure, such as ransomware. But the burning question you might ask is, what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt?

The main motive of any phishing attack is to manipulate the receiver into conducting an action through which a malicious actor can access their sensitive information. Phishing websites contain malicious code so when a target clicks on a link within an email or message, the code will execute on the user’s device. 

Phishing attacks are conducted in such a way that a victim is unable to identify whether the email or message is from an authentic source or a cyberattacker. Let’s take a closer look at the top 11 ways how users can spot a phishing attempt. 

Common indicator of phishing attacks

  1. Typos or poor grammar 

A common indicator of phishing is the number of errors within spelling or grammar. To avoid such issues, activate the spelling feature on emails so that they can spot any mistake which might highlight you to a suspect message. Mark features or auto-correct features can also be applied to web browsers. An authentic source won’t usually allow any messaging to go out unless it is grammatically correct and error free.  

  1. Inconsistencies in email address and domain names 

Pay special attention to domain names, email addresses, and link text within any email. Make sure the email address matches any previous communication from the organisation, brand, or person in question. Double check any link text by hovering the cursor over the link to see the full URL. Check the domain name and ensure there are no differences, even the slightest of difference, such as one letter added or deleted.  

  1. Look out for negative connotations 

Watch out for any emails with negative connotations or implications, they should always be viewed with caution. Another strategy is for an attacker to push for urgency in tone or context. The hacker hopes that the content cannot be checked or assessed adequately when the message is read quickly so that the phishing scam won’t be noticed.  

  1. Suspicious attachments 

When people ask, what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt, suspicious files or attachments are probably one of the first things that come to mind. Suspicious attachments are a common indicator of an attempt to phish. Any attachment must be opened carefully. If the file has a suspicious looking extension, it should be flagged with the IT team or investigated thoroughly before opening. The most common file types associated with malware downloads include .scri, .zip, and .exe. 

  1. Strange request 

If a message asks you to conduct a process that isn’t standard practice, it can often mean that the message is malicious. If an email is made to look like it’s from your IT team but asks you to launch software or any other strange request, then double check and verify with the person concerned before taking any action.  

  1. Very little or too much information 

Whereas some phishing emails can be packed full of information, another tell-tale sign is one with very little information. Emails packed full of information offer false protection while those with very little information should raise more alarm bells. Look out for messages that are short and sweet, like “Here’s what you asked for”, or messages with very lengthy text that doesn’t really tell you much. Both are considered a common indocator of phishing attempt.  

  1. Who initiated the conversation? 

A successful phishing scam has seen hackers pose as a prize giver. An email notifying the recipient that they are the winner of a prize is always a good way for a malicious actor to gain access. Always remember that if you didn’t start or initiate a conversation then it’s almost certainly a phishing attempt.  

  1. Don’t give out payment information 

Malicious actors are now very familiar with how to create very convincing and false landing pages that link to an email account and look like official emails. The fake landing page will usually contain a login box or a payment box to resolve a situation. Before clicking on the link, double check the URL and with whatever department the message is linked with to check its authenticity.  

  1. Identification 

Staff must be educated on how to identify a phishing attempt and a common indicator of phishing. Not only will this simple step alert staff to any potential threats but could save your business millions in costs to rectify any damage caused by an attack. 

  1. Keep personal data private 

Phishing attempts can sometimes stoke fear into recipients which is trying to force them into disclosing personal data. It might be a fake email coming from what looks like your bank, asking users to verify logins, passwords, and personal information. Always remember that banks and official government organisations will not use emails to verify such information. 

  1. Call you by your name 

Avoid emails that start with a generic greeting. If the message is from a trusted source, client or associate they will address you by your name and will be recognisable to you. Also look out for any other pointers in the message like their phone number, email address or anything else that looks familiar.  

RiskXchange’s top tips to avoid a phishing attack 

So, what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? There isn’t just one, but rather a variety of different indicators, including typos, inconsistencies in email addreses, suspicious attachments, requests and others.

Phishing attacks are often unique and are targeted specifically toward a recipient. This makes them often difficult to detect, but there are many actions your organisation can take to protect itself against phishing campaigns. Here are the top six recommended by RiskXchange: 

  • Educate staff   
  • Email scanning  
  • Relationship monitoring  
  • Malicious URL detection  
  • Use MFA when you can  
  • Sandboxed attachment analysis  

Get in touch with RiskXchange to find out more about what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt.