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4 min read

How to Spot a Phishing Attack

Have you ever received an email that looks like your bank is trying to contact you for information? Or maybe you’ve received an email that asks you to open an attachment you weren’t expecting. When we receive emails, SMS messages, or other forms of communication that ask for personal information without valid authority, it is called a phishing attack.

Employees of smaller organizations are more likely to receive email threats (including spam, phishing, and email malware) than those in larger organizations. Google alone blocks more than 100 million phishing emails every single day.

So, with a threat that is so pervasive within the cyber world, what can organizations (especially smaller businesses) do to protect themselves and their data? The answer lies within precautionary steps every staff member can take to reduce the risk of a successful phishing attack.


What is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of cybercrime where hackers gain access to sensitive information by impersonating an account or person that already has access to data. Hackers usually do this by sending a link that requires the user to input their personal data. The hacker then takes the entered information and logs into the company’s database. This can result in a massive data breach and financial loss.

In spear phishing, hackers thoroughly research and personalize communications to a targeted person or group to make it look more legitimate. About 71% of successful attacks involved spear phishing and about 88% of organizations globally experienced spear phishing attempts in 2019.


In 2004, the first phishing lawsuit was filed after a fake company established a website which required personal information. The information entered such as credit card information, banking credentials, and other sensitive data was then exploited by the hacker.


Indicators of Phishing

Knowing the common signs of phishing scams is crucial in making sure your network and data stay secure. When looking through your emails or messages, keep an eye out for indicators of a phishing attack before taking any action:

  1. Inconsistencies in the email address or sender: Look at who the email says it’s coming from and the email address itself to see if the corresponding links/information match.
  2. Inconsistencies in links and domain names: Hover your mouse over the links before clicking to examine where the link is taking you. If there’s any doubt, don’t click on the link and instead Google the company to locate their legitimate website. Some of the most common companies that hackers impersonate include: Google, Amazon, PayPal, FedEx, Chase, LinkedIn, and Bank of America.
  3. Grammar and spelling errors: If there seem to be too many spelling errors, missing words, extra letters, or random numbers throughout the email, this could be a clear indicator of a phishing attempt.
  4. Unfamiliar tone or greeting: In working with colleagues, people tend to create a form of personalized communication between each other. If an email appears to come from a colleague but the message seems generic or uncharacteristic of the sender, do not open link or respond. Instead, contact the person directly to verify the legitimacy of the communication.
  5. Requests for credentials, payment information, or other personal details: If the message asks you to make a payment or provide information, do not follow the link. Legitimate companies will never ask you for your login information or other sensitive data through email.
  6. >Sense of urgency: Creating a situation that causes concern, worry, or time constraint is a favorite tactic of cybercriminals. When receiving this type of communication, people are less likely to notice the small details that could signal a phishing attempt. Some of the most common subject lines include: Urgent, Request, Important, Payment, or Attention.
  7. Suspicious attachments: Do not open unexpected or suspicious attachments, even if they are from someone you know. Without replying to the email, contact the person to verify the validity and run a virus scan on all attachments. Malicious attachments often contain ransomware and other viruses.


In addition to phishing by email, SMS, or phone calls (also known as “vishing”), hackers are getting creative with their methods of stealing information and deploying malware to companies using legitimate infrastructure such as website form submissions. It is important to stay alert for the red flags across all applications and systems. Even the most secured infrastructure can be breached when human error is involved.


Next Steps After a Phishing Attack

So, what should you do if a staff member does fall victim to a successful phishing attack? Start by notifying your IT department immediately so they can take action to secure the computer and activate their response plan. However, you may not always be aware that a breach has occurred. Hackers often make it past firewalls and antivirus software, going unnoticed for days or even weeks. To ensure a rapid response to a security breach, organizations should consider putting a Managed Detection and Response (MDR) program in place to monitor user behavior, detect threats as they occur, and actively shut them down in real time.

In addition to working with your IT team on next steps, affected users will need to change their access information, such as choosing a more difficult password that contains a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. You may also need to alert your bank, credit card, and credit bureaus to inform them you have fallen victim to this specific threat. These entities can freeze your accounts to make sure your information is as secured as possible. Additionally, you should check your credit reports and billing reports to see if there are any false purchases made on your behalf.



Cyber criminals will continue to evolve their means of accessing your data, so it’s important to maintain cybersecurity best practices. To make sure you do not fall victim to such an attack, it’s essential to understand what phishing is, how to detect it, and how to protect your sensitive information.

Still struggling to stay ahead of emerging cyber threats? We can help. At Valeo Networks, we’ve seen it all—with over 20 years of experience, we know exactly what it takes to help you avoid unnecessary downtime and data breaches. Our Security Operations Center (SOC) works around the clock to triage every alert, escalate real threats when detected, and supports you through the response process. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more!


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