As the world struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have spotted opportunities to launch their attacks on unsuspecting internet users. They’ve initiated a series of scams that lure internet users looking for trustworthy information on the pandemic. Actually, in March 2020, Interpol issued a global alert on Covid 19 fraud schemes, specifically emphasizing on phishing and telephone fraud. Similarly, a Verizon 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report indicates that 45% of breaches featured hacking, 17% involved malware and 22% involved phishing.
Also, the pandemic has changed how employees work. In the wake of the pandemic, most companies increasingly implemented a work from home policy to insulate their staff from the spreading pandemic. Despite the noble initiative, the change in policy has created a fertile ground for scammers to lure employees into sharing their valuable information. In cybersecurity jargon, the trend is referred to as Phishing.
Phishing is a tactic used by scammers to gain access to your device or personal information by pretending to be an organization or person you know. If they don’t succeed to get your credit card information directly, they can infect your device with a malware to steal the details.
As countries fight the pandemic, we should prepare to recognize and avoid phishing scams post-pandemic. So, let’s dissect everything here.
1. Ignore spam
When you receive an email, always treat it with suspicion because it could be spam. Specifically, when the email starts with a generic greeting, that’s the moment you should invoke your sixth sense. If the sender of the email doesn’t know who you are, then it’s a telltale sign that you are dealing with a spammer.
However, the fact that your name isn’t appearing in the greeting doesn’t make the email trustworthy. Look for specifics in the name. How about the size, or font used for your name? Is it consistent with the body of the message? If not, then the mail is likely a mass mail-out.
Also, check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. But the absence of any error doesn’t give the email a clean bill of health. Spammers have upped their game; they now use very superb English.
2. Don’t open files or click on links
Hackers tend to send very luring messages, often requesting you to open some attachments, or enticing you to click a link in an email. When you find a message that appears suspicious, don’t rush to open any attachments or click on the links. Avoiding this means that you will have nipped the hacking threat in the bud.
Does the link look legitimate, persuading you to follow it? Why not visit the site directly? Taking your time to visit the website can protect you from hackers.
3. Verify emails and messages before acting
Some scammers impersonate family, friends, or work colleagues. Actually, with sound research, any employee’s identity can be impersonated. So, employees should avoid using their personally identifiable details in their email messages.
While it’s important to be able to spot phishing attempts, it’s also important to avoid making it easy for scammers to impersonate you on email. Hackers can use the information to get a sketch of your colleagues, and what they do, and then launch phishing attacks on them.
Also read: Can Switcherry VPN app compete with NordVPN?
For organizations, it’s important to develop protocols that prevent hackers from spoofing your domain. For example, PayPal has the email@example.com that helps users to verify if the message is authentic.
Generally, if you receive a suspicious message from a relative, friend or colleague, exercise caution and take your time before responding. Preferably, use the contact details you have to ascertain if the message trustworthy.
4. Report any suspected phishing attempt
Typically, phishing attacks are characterized by the desire to steal sensitive banking information and/ or coerce you to send money. So, whenever you receive such messages, there is a high chance that your colleagues have received them, too. So, don’t just assume that everybody is safe. Immediately flag off the suspected phishing attempt to contain it before it spreads like a wildfire.
5. Use Anti-spam Filters
Admittedly, spam isn’t just annoying but also very dangerous. But how do you detect spam? Well, there are a few overt signs from the email that can help you. If the email is sent through a public email domain, it is likely spam. No credible organization sends emails from an address that ends ‘@gmail.com’. However, if the domain name is similar to the sender of the email, the message is probably legitimate. Above all, exercise caution with all emails.
Apart from public domains, you may receive an email with a misspelt domain name, poorly written English, suspicious attachments and links, some sense of urgency, among others. But who has the time to cross-check all emails to verify if they have all these weaknesses? None of us! That’s why you should use anti-spam filters.
From a practical perspective, spam filters reduce the work of server resources since 53.95% of emails sent globally is spam. To save yourself from the hassle of deleting spam manually, a spam filter for your inbound mails will suffice. Using algorithms and Bayesian techniques, with rules and probabilities, a spam message is detected and archived in the the spam box.
6. Don’t rush to click ‘unsubscribe.’
Never rush to click the ‘unsubscribe’ button because it looks like the easiest way to prevent spam emails from clogging your inbox. The button may look innocuous, but clicking it comes with a risk. Surprisingly, it isn’t safe to unsubscribe from spam emails. Spammers’ use your click to penetrate your account and gain available information that they can use to steal from you. Moreover, clicking the button may increase the amount of spam you receive.
Advisably, mark the message as spam in your inbox. This eliminates the messages you receive from the specific address and helps you to clean your inbox.
7. Use a VPN
During the Covid pandemic, most organizations have increasingly adopted the use of video communication. Notably, Zoom has gained a lot of usage among corporate. However, a Check Point study revealed that between January and March 2020, 4% of the registered domains contained suspicious characteristics, and were probably malicious.
If you want to be safe online, then you should consider using a virtual private network (VPN). VPN’s are important in thwarting because it comes with the following benefits:
1. VPN’s have strong firewall protection installed on your gadgets
- A robust firewall protection can easily spot unsafe emails.
2. VPNs hide your network connection
- They provide a private network away from public network to safeguard your online activity from cybercriminals
3. VPNs provide encryption for communications
- In the absence of a VPN, cybercriminals can hijack your online communications and use it for launching phishing attacks.
Despite the active role played by VPNs in reducing data breach, and specifically phishing, not all of them are effective. When choosing the best VPN to protect you post pandemic, choose one that serves you well. While the market has numerous VPNs, Switcherry has proved unique because of its outstanding features. Specifically,
- It doesn’t store users IP addresses which keeps your entire browsing session masked because it doesn’t store IP addresses.
- It is completely ads-free experiences
- It is cross platform therefore you can use it on iOS, MacOS, Windows, and Android.
- It comes with a Free Google Chrome extension to help you enjoy a secured desktop browsing.
- It is comparatively affordable unlimited bandwidth,
As we look forward to a post-pandemic era, phishing attempts will not reduce. They’ll only change with the demands, but at their very core, they are all the same – stealing credit card information and spreading malware. Applying the tips discussed above will help you to reduce phishing attacks – no matter their level of sophistication. Importantly, remember to always use a VPN. You will find the entire experience safe and easy to navigate.