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Preventing sophisticated phishing attacks aimed at employees

May 8, 2023  |  Devin Partida

The content of this post is solely the responsibility of the author.  AT&T does not adopt or endorse any of the views, positions, or information provided by the author in this article. 

As technology advances, phishing attempts are becoming more sophisticated. It can be challenging for employees to recognize an email is malicious when it looks normal, so it’s up to their company to properly train workers in prevention and detection.

Phishing attacks are becoming more sophisticated

Misspellings and poorly formatted text used to be the leading indicators of an email scam, but they’re getting more sophisticated. Today, hackers can spoof email addresses and bots sound like humans. It’s becoming challenging for employees to tell if their emails are real or fake, which puts the company at risk of data breaches.

In March 2023, an artificial intelligence chatbot called GPT-4 received an update that lets users give specific instructions about styles and tasks. Attackers can use it to pose as employees and send convincing messages since it sounds intelligent and has general knowledge of any industry.

Since classic warning signs of phishing attacks aren’t applicable anymore, companies should train all employees on the new, sophisticated methods. As phishing attacks change, so should businesses.

Identify the signs

Your company can take preventive action to secure its employees against attacks. You need to make it difficult for hackers to reach them, and your company must train them on warning signs. While blocking spam senders and reinforcing security systems is up to you, they must know how to identify and report themselves.

You can prevent data breaches if employees know what to watch out for:

  • Misspellings: While it’s becoming more common for phishing emails to have the correct spelling, employees still need to look for mistakes. For example, they could look for industry-specific language because everyone in their field should know how to spell those words.
  • Irrelevant senders: Workers can identify phishing — even when the email is spoofed to appear as someone they know — by asking themselves if it is relevant. They should flag the email as a potential attack if the sender doesn’t usually reach out to them or is someone in an unrelated department.
  • Attachments: Hackers attempt to install malware through links or downloads. Ensure every employee knows they shouldn't click on them.
  • Odd requests: A sophisticated phishing attack has relevant messages and proper language, but it is somewhat vague because it goes to multiple employees at once. For example, they could recognize it if it’s asking them to do something unrelated to their role.

It may be harder for people to detect warning signs as attacks evolve, but you can prepare them for those situations as well as possible. It’s unlikely hackers have access to their specific duties or the inner workings of your company, so you must capitalize on those details.

Sophisticated attacks will sound intelligent and possibly align with their general duties, so everyone must constantly be aware. Training will help employees identify signs, but you need to take more preventive action to ensure you’re covered.

Take preventive action

Basic security measures — like regularly updating passwords and running antivirus software — are fundamental to protecting your company. For example, everyone should change their passwords once every three months at minimum to ensure hackers have limited access even if their phishing attempt is successful.

Training ensures employees are prepared since they’re often highly susceptible to attacks. The cybersecurity team can create phishing simulations to mimic actual threats. For example, they send emails with fake links and track how many people click them. If anyone does, you can retrain them on proper behavior to ensure it doesn’t happen again. With attacks becoming more intelligent, preparing the company for everything is essential.

Know how you’ll respond

You can remain protected even when phishing attacks are successful as long as you have the proper security measures in place. For example, out of the 1,800 emails one company received during an attack, 14 employees clicked the link because they didn’t notice the warning signs. Even though the malware was set to install, almost every device remained unaffected because they were updated and secured. The company detected malicious software on the one that wasn’t secured and fixed the issue within hours.

Training can’t prevent every employee from clicking on malicious links or attachments, so you must have a proper response. You can still prevent attacks at this stage if you and your company’s employees know what comes next.

Updated security software and procedures will protect against sophisticated phishing attacks:

  • Reporting: Ensure everyone knows how to report to you so you can react quickly to the potential threat. They must identify the signs they’ve clicked on a malicious attachment.
  • Prevention: Software that blocks malware from being downloaded will prevent the attack from being successful.
  • Detection: Employees must identify if their hardware is being affected and detection software must alert you of a successful breach.
  • Response: You should clean any affected hardware immediately to stop the attack from doing damage.

Sophisticated phishing attacks aren’t avoidable, but you can minimize their effects if you manage your response. It’s likely they won’t recognize the email is malicious if they click the link thinking it’s legitimate, so you must train them on the appropriate identification and detection.

Avoid sophisticated phishing attacks

Training and simulated phishing attempts will help protect your company. Updated passwords and security systems will also make your systems more secure. You can prevent sophisticated attacks targeting employees if employees know how to recognize warning signs and the proper procedures.

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