Five top tips to avoid spear phishing attacks

Email security

The COVID-19 pandemic created the perfect environment for spear phishing attacks. Cybercriminals were able to take advantage of remote working, virtual communication, and the fear surrounding the pandemic to send countless spear phishing emails each day. 

But there are ways to avoid these attacks and keep your data protected online.

What is spear phishing?

Standard phishing targets a large number of victims with relatively poor results through automatic emails. Spear phishing takes this to the next level by targeting a specific person. The perpetrators research their target by trawling through social media profiles or company websites to impersonate a trusted contact, like a manager or colleague.

Spear phishing emails are crafted for the recipient, and so they can often appear genuine at first glance. This makes spear phishing a much more effective and dangerous form of fraud. Clicking on an infected link or attachment contained in these emails could endanger your data, cause company losses, and lead to a long-term damaged reputation. 

It’s vital to stay vigilant and understand phishing tactics to ensure you don’t fall victim to these scams.

Top five tips for avoiding spear phishing attacks

One layer of security is usually not enough to stop spear phishing attacks. So, we’ve put together our top five tips on how you can create a secure barrier against these modern scams.

1. Know the basics of spear phishing attacks

It’s crucial to understand the basics of spear phishing scams and how you can spot them to avoid falling into their trap. 

Check the sender’s email address and domain name first. If it doesn’t match the sender, or it uses a public domain, you may be dealing with a phishing scam.

Next, check the email body. Look out for spelling and grammatical errors, and check to see if the email follows the same style as previous messages from the supposed sender.

Infected links are easy to spot on a desktop computer. Simply hover over them to find out the real URL and where it leads to. If it directs you to a suspicious website, or one that doesn’t match the displayed link, avoid it, as it’s likely a scam.

2. Secure your personal information

Cybercriminals use the information that you share online to build trust and lure you in. Keep your social media accounts private to know exactly who can see what and be smart about what you post.

Two-factor authentication can help combat phishing attacks. Even if a hacker gains access to your login details, they will be unable to gain entry to your account if you enable another form of authentication (a biometric, one-time password, etc.). 

Locking down your passwords is also vital to limit the consequences of these attacks. A password manager creates strong, varied passwords. So, even if a fraudster gets their hands on your login credentials, it won’t compromise any other accounts.

3. Bolster your email security

Setting up spam filters on your email server can help reduce the number of phishing emails you receive by sorting potential threats and spam into a separate inbox for you or your IT department to review. They’re usually simple to enable and are available on most email servers.

However, with cybercriminals becoming more sophisticated — and their phishing emails becoming more human — it’s easier to bypass this security measure. For added protection, human layer security solutions such as Egress Defend can prompt users before they fall for a phishing attack. 

4. Keep your system security up to date

Although a simple solution, regularly updating your operating system can effectively fight against spear phishing. Software updates usually contain patches to plug any security vulnerabilities. Without these patches, your device is a magnet for malware.

Another crucial element of phishing prevention is effective, up-to-date anti-malware solutions. These will catch spear phishing emails at the security gateway so that you won’t have to worry about them.

5. Raise cybersecurity awareness on your team

The only thing standing between a spear phishing attack and a data breach is the email recipient. Cybercriminals take advantage of busy schedules and trusting individuals to carry out their attacks. 

Learning about the risks and how to spot these scams is an essential prevention tool. Companies must prioritise cybersecurity training for new recruits to ensure everyone understands what to look out for and how to react if a spear phishing attack happens.

It’s also critical that employees are empowered to come forward if they are targeted by an attack. Implementing a solid reporting protocol will enable employees to safely report incidents without falling victim to the scam — preventing any future attacks. 

Cybercriminals rely on the ability to manipulate people. The best way to protect yourself — and your data — is to stay up to date on the latest phishing tactics and learn more about these scams. 

Check out our phishing hub where you can explore expert advice and information on this ever-evolving risk.