Phishing: Why It’s So Common, and Why It Works So Well

By: | October 28th, 2021

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

You might be aware of cybersecurity threats since news reports come out about them often. If you work within the IT field, then you will probably know about every one of them. You will also understand some ways to block those threats so you can work and do whatever is necessary online.

If you don’t work in the IT field or know very much about cyber threats, though, you may not know much about phishing attacks. We’ll get into detail concerning phishing attacks right now, and we’ll also talk about why they are so successful and widespread.

What Precisely is a Phishing Attack?

Before we get into why phishing is the most common attack vector, you should know what we mean when we utilize this particular term. Phishing is an attack that might come against your home computers, such as your laptop, desktop, or tablet. It might also come against your work computer if your job assigned you one to use.

Some IT specialists describe phishing as a kind of social engineering attack. The attacker, most likely a hacker or someone who is up to criminal mischief or has financial gain in mind, will send a human victim a fraudulent message via their email account. They will try to get them to reveal sensitive information by replying to the email, or else they might deploy malicious software.

If the email can deploy harmful software, it might be something like ransomware that can infect and paralyze a single computer or even an entire network. If something like this happens at your job, you can see how harmful opening a single malicious email can be.

Why Do Hackers Use Phishing Attacks?

Financial gain is the number one reason why hackers try to use phishing attacks to access computers or get sensitive information, should someone fall for the trap and respond to the email with their personal data. There are various ways a hacker can profit financially from a successful phishing attack.

For instance, if the email contains ransomware, the sender might paralyze the recipient’s computer or even an entire network until you pay them a ransom. These days, you usually have to convert some money into cryptocurrency and send it to the attacker, so they will unlock your network or computer and allow you to use it again.

They do this because cryptocurrency is more difficult to trace. If you respond to the email and send the hacker your bank account information, they might try to take some money out or transfer it to another account that the hacker controls.

Why Do These Attacks Frequently Work So Well?

At this point, you may say, “why would someone be so foolish as to fall for a phishing attack?” The most prevalent reason is that there are some people who start using the internet, even now, in 2021, who are not very tech-savvy. They might set up an email account, and the next thing they know, they have a message from some entity claiming to be the IRS that tells them they owe money on their last tax return.

This does not seem very credible to someone who has used the internet all their life, but a neophyte computer user might not see through the charade as easily. If you just taught your ninety-year-old grandfather to use email for the first time, they might fall victim to a phishing scam relatively easily unless you warn them about such things before they start exploring online.

Another reason why phishing attacks work so well when you compare them to other cyber threats is that you’ll sometimes have an attack that looks very convincing. Not many people at this point are going to fall for a supposed Nigerian prince who wants money from them. However, they might pause and at least consider opening an email that says it comes from Netflix or Disney+ if they happen to have an account with one of those streaming services.

These Are Passive Attacks

Another reason why phishing attacks persist is that they are a relatively passive way to try and gain confidential information or take over someone’s computer or network. Say that you’re a hacker, and you send out ten thousand phishing emails. Almost all of them fail, but three out of that enormous number work.

You can now try to get as much money as possible from those victims, even if all the other ones saw through the phony email and sent it to their trashcan immediately. Even a few successful victims are better than none for someone who’s intent on making a profit.

What Can You Do to Prevent Someone Fooling You?

If you get an email from anyone you don’t recognize, the best thing you can do is put it in your trashcan without opening it. If you open it, you run the risk of unleashing malware or ransomware that can paralyze your computer or network.

If you see an email that you think might be from a real entity with which you do business, like the IRS, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc., it’s best to go directly to that website and see if there are any messages for you. That way, you can tell whether or not the email is legit without ever having to open it.

Also, if you introduce someone to the internet or email for the first time, it helps to talk with them about phishing and other cyber threats. They might be a little naïve in this area, but if you can explain to them about hackers and this common way they try to get money out of unsuspecting individuals, they will hopefully be skeptical if a suspicious email comes their way.

Company owners can also hold cybersecurity refresher courses a couple of times per year. That is one way to ensure that all their workers know to watch out for phishing emails that might come to them multiple times per day.


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