It seems like you're hearing more about phishing attacks or receiving more phishy emails than you did a year ago, you're not imagining it. According to a recent Phishing Activity Trends Report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), the total number of unique phishing reports submitted to APWG in the last quarter of 2012 was 76,123. During that same period, about 30 percent of personal computers worldwide were infected with malware (more than 57 percent of PCs in China may have been infected, while PCs in European nations were infected least-often). APWG members report that "sophisticated targeted content continues to make email a highly effective attack vector for phishing, malware, and spam."
» Extra: Visit APWG's Cybercrime News page for stories on recent attacks.
Even if you haven't fallen a victim to this ubiquitous crime and possible identity theft, improve your odds by following the steps listed below. Remember, the identity, headaches and $$$ you save may be your own.
What is Phishing?
According to the APWG:
"Phishing attacks use both social engineering and technical subterfuge to steal consumers' personal identity data and financial account credentials.
Social-engineering schemes use 'spoofed' e-mails to lead consumers to counterfeit web sites designed to trick recipients into divulging financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords and social security numbers. Hijacking brand names of banks, e-retailers and credit card companies, phishers often convince recipients to respond.
Technical subterfuge schemes plant crimeware onto PCs to steal credentials directly, often using Trojan keylogger spyware. Pharming crimeware misdirects users to fraudulent sites or proxy servers, typically through DNS hijacking or poisoning."
» Extra: Origin of the term on "phishing"
How to Spot a Phish
A few clues that the message is phony and can be dangerous:
- The TO field is blank or for another person.
- It contains an urgent requests for personal information.
- It includes grammatical errors or typos.
- The message is threatening (Do X right now or lose Y).
- It has a link (or submit button), probably to an unsecured address (NOT https)
- The message has an attachment.
How to Protect Yourself
The simplest 1-2-3 advice is: 1. Be wary 2. Stay vigilant 3. Use common sense. For a few specifics, follow this APWG list of tips to prevent being hooked by a phishing attempt:
- Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information.
- Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic or you don't know the sender or user's handle.
- Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information.
- Always ensure that you're using a secure web site when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser.
- Remember not all scam sites will try to show the "https://" and/or the security lock. Get in the habit of looking at the address line, too. Were you directed to PayPal? Does the address line display something different like "http://www.gotyouscammed.com/paypal/login.htm?" Be aware of where you are going.
- Consider installing a web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent web sites. These toolbars match where you are going with lists of known phisher web sites and will alert you.
- Regularly log into your online accounts.
- Regularly check your bank, credit and debit card statements to ensure that all transactions are legitimate.
- Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied .
- Report "phishing" or “spoofed” e-mails.
Visit the OnGuardOnline.gov Phishing page for examples of phishing messages, how to deal with these scams, action steps to take, how to report phishing emails, and a game to check your phishing awareness.
» Extra: Archive of reported phishing scams
There are several excellent tutorials to help you spot phishing attempts and learn how to avoid them, and quizzes to test your awareness of various phishing tactics. You may wish to check out one or more of the following listed here.
Tips, Tutorials & Videos
How to Spot Phishing Scams (video from Howcast)
Tips to avoid phishing scam (source: "LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com")
Online Tutorial (source: AT&T)
How to recognize phishing email messages, links or phone calls (source: Microsoft)
10 Tips to Combat Phishing (source: Panda Software)