In 2021, phishing and similar fraud was the most common type of cybercrime reported to the U.S. Internet Crime Complaint Center, with 324,000 individuals affected.
Phishing comes in many forms — email phishing, spear phishing and business email compromise (BEC). Once targeted, successful phishing attempts can trick users into revealing important data and downloading malware, which can lead to ransomware and other malicious cyber activities.
When planning these attacks, assailants are looking for the biggest return for their lowest investment. Social engineering attack attempts use authorization, intimidation, consensus, scarcity and urgency to entice the victim to achieve the adversary’s goals.
Since the internet's inception, cybercriminals have had the ability to communicate with anyone that they want and achieve attack targets very easily. The best ways for cybersecurity and other IT leaders to protect their enterprises from falling victim to targeted social engineering attacks — which can prove detrimental to business — are:
- Educating and training personnel on identifying phishing attempts and how to respond to them.
- Installing anti-phishing software that can automatically detect and flag these threats.
- Leveraging a browser security solution that analyzes web page structure and behavior to identify potential threats.
Let's discuss each of these more in-depth:
1. Personnel Education and Training
The first step in protecting a company from social engineering threats is being able to identify and effectively manage them. So, raising employee awareness around what a phishing attempt can look like and what users should do when faced with one is crucial in protecting the enterprise should anti-phishing software and other safeguards not effectively keep threats at bay. (Also read: The Human Factor of Cybersecurity: What's Putting You At Risk.)
Organizations can do this by constantly educating employees, validating their knowledge and encouraging vigilance within their workforce. Occasionally sending out a fake phishing email to test employee knowledge can also be very helpful in the training process.
In addition to being informed on what to do when facing a phishing attempt, users should also be well aware of what not to do. Telltale signs of phishing attempts that users should always be careful of and know to not fall for include:
- Shortened and error-filled URLs.
- Unsecured HTTP websites.
- Webpages with broken images and links.
- Suspicious emails requesting sensitive information or not following overall protocol.
2. Anti-Phishing Software
Anti-phishing software should also be implemented across an organization’s IT ecosystem to prevent social engineering attacks.
Sites that share lists of known phishing sites can be extremely helpful, but anti-phishing software should not be based on lists of known phishing sites. That's because, unfortunately, these sites change frequently and there will always be patient zero. Unless the software knows which sites are phishing sites and which are not, it will unnecessarily restrict access to more websites, ultimately slowing down employee productivity.
Some anti-phishing operating systems are likely to miss on real attacks but alert on activity that is completely benign. The right anti-phishing software will intercept emails and scan them for any potentially harmful material before passing them on to inboxes. It can also prevent unauthorized spoofing by adding extra layers of protection to a user's signature so cybercriminals cannot imitate the domain name. Additionally, anti-phishing software is able to block malicious URLs in real time by analyzing and blocking before they reach the user. (Also read: How to Keep from Getting Phished.)
3. Browser Security Solutions
Ultimate protection from phishing and other social engineering attacks comes from securing the browser in its entirety. Proper solutions prevent attacks before it’s too late and protect against all attacks, not just phishing. Robust browser security solutions should analyze runtime telemetry while being completely independent and not relying on other third-party feeds to enforce compliance.
Browser security solutions need to have the ability to prevent all browser attacks, including exploitation, social engineering attacks and web application vulnerabilities. They must also be able to prevent policy infringements performed by users. Because an enterprise’s level of security is defined by the weakest spot in its multi-layer defense, the browser must be the strongest point in the organizational supply chain. (Also read: Insider Threat Awareness: Avoiding Internal Security Breaches.)
Unfortunately, phishing and other social engineering attacks are increasing at an alarming rate: The volume of phishing sites has already increased by 4.4% in the first few months of 2022. There were 1,025,968 phishing attacks, making Q1 of 2022 the worst quarter for phishing observed to date. Phishing can be an easy “in” for cybercriminals to deploy malware, ransomware or other forms of malicious code and take down an organization quickly.
To prevent these attacks and ensure business operations remain consistent while valuable data is protected, social engineering and prevention must be top-of-mind. Educating employees on phishing signs, prevention and response tips, as well as stressing the importance of phishing knowledge, are crucial first steps in securing an organization. Additionally, implementing anti-phishing software and all-encompassing browser security solutions that detect threats in real time and prevent sensitive data leakage and user credential theft should be a top priority for enterprises. By identifying actions that can only be pinpointed from within the browser, these robust solutions will ensure organizations’ safety from targeted social engineering attacks.
There is no tool or deep level of education that can fully prevent a user from clicking a malicious link as a result of human error. That said, with the right understanding of social engineering attacks and acknowledging that true protection from web attacks comes from securing the browser, users can be more secure from phishing consequences. (Also read: How to Protect Critical Infrastructure From Cyber Attack.)