If you’ve ever gone fishing, whether as a recreational activity or with some sort of seriousness, you can tell that when a fisherman intends to catch a fish from a water body, they attach a bait to the net or to the hook liner to attract the unsuspecting fish, who will then get hooked and subsequently devoured.
“Phishing,” gotten from fishing, is the cyber equivalent of a fisherman, in this case, a cyberattacker, who is trying to bait an unsuspecting victim, casting a deceptive net, trying to lure you into divulging sensitive information, which could compromise your personal information and, by extension, your digital assets.
Phishing is a sophisticated and prevalent cybercrime, and as the popularity of cryptocurrencies soars, so does the interest of malicious actors in exploiting unsuspecting users. Phishing, the art of digital deception with the aim of swindling unsuspecting users, poses a significant risk to crypto enthusiasts; hence, it is imperative to understand how it works and how to avoid being hooked on the fisher’s bait.
In this article, we'll delve into the intricacies of phishing, exploring its various forms and tactics. More importantly, we'll equip you with the knowledge needed to protect yourself and your crypto wallet against these digital predators.
Let’s dive in!
Phishing is a type of cyber attack where attackers try to “fish” for sensitive information such as login credentials, usernames, passwords, credit/debit card information, crypto wallet seed phrases, and anything that can be used to compromise an individual or an organization.
Phishing attacks usually involve the creation of fake websites or emails that mimic the appearance of legitimate and well-known entities, with messages that spark urgency, leading unsuspecting victims to quickly take the needed action, such as clicking on a malicious link and inputting their credentials.
This information provided to the cloned or fake website is now extracted from the backend, and the attackers are granted access to your account.
Common Types of Phishing Attacks
- Email Phishing: Email phishing is perhaps the most common type of phishing attack. Here, attackers send emails that appear to be from a legitimate source.
Say they want to steal data to access your crypto wallet. They could send an email asking you to log in and claim certain tokens or even send misleading information about a deposit, which you need to click on links for.
Below is an example of a malicious email automatically identified as spam by the recipient’s email service provider. However, some of these emails evade the spam filter and get into your inbox, and if you’re not calm, patient, or if you’re too greedy, you could fall prey to these scams.
- Clone Phishing: This is also very popular, and it involves creating a nearly identical copy of a legitimate website with slight modifications to deceive the recipient to login with their valuable credentials.
For example, in the screenshot below, Binance’s website was clonedinto a wrong URL: www.binanceweb.com, instead of www.binance.com.
The potential victim discovered the cloned website when they did a Google search for Binance and landed on the cloned page.
An unsuspecting victim would have inputted their credentials, thinking it was the correct website, only to get locked out of their account.
- Spear Phishing: Spear phishing is a more targeted form of phishing and is not as common as the first two. However, if you are in charge of an organization’s credentials, you may need to stay alert against these kinds of attempts.
The attacker could send an email like they were your coworker or a prospective client, leading you to click on links that could be used to compromise you.
- Vishing: Vishing involves using voice communication, such as phone calls, to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information. It could come in the form of acting like a customer support agent for your trusted brand. This can also be done via SMS (smishing).
How To Recognize and Avoid Phishing Attempts
Recognizing and avoiding phishing attempts requires a combination of vigilance, skepticism, and adherence to good cybersecurity practices.
Of course, the ability to correctly discern phishing attempts is paramount before you can attempt to avoid them. Below are some tips to help you recognize common Phishing patterns and how you can be more vigilant to avoiding them.
- Check the sender’s email address: Many times, attackers who attempt email phishing use email addresses that look similar to the legitimate ones, albeit often with misspellings, additional characters, or unconventional domain extensions.
For example, the email below is a phishing attempt from an attacker trying to impersonate Coinsmart support; however, the email address “mmartinezz…” is totally off.
- Verify Websites Manually: To be sure that you’re not on a cloned website. First, it is advisable that you correctly type in the website you intend to visit by yourself. If it is one you visit frequently, you could add it to your favorites or bookmark.
Avoid clicking links directly from a Google search, as you can easily land on a cloned website and lose your assets.
- Be Wary of Pop-Up Log Ins: Many times, during your browsing or combing through the internet, these attackers could immediately come up with a pop-up message that requests your personal details and other credentials. Legitimate organizations typically don't ask for sensitive information through pop-up forms, so if you encounter unexpected pop-ups requesting personal or financial details, immediately disregard them and leave the website.
- Don't Trust Unsolicited Attachments: Avoid opening attachments, such as images or files, in emails from unknown or unexpected sources. Malicious software can be spread through email attachments.
- Be Cautious with Emails That Require Urgency: Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency to pressure you into taking immediate action. Be skeptical of such tactics.
- Verify the content and language: Phishing emails are often unprofessional and often contain spelling and grammatical errors. Also, they use generic greetings like “Dear User" instead of addressing you with your first name, as standard.
Legitimate organizations usually have professional and consistent communication standards.
- Avoid Clicking Links From Random Emails: Before clicking any link in an email, you must be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it is from a legitimate source.
You can hover over links before clicking to reveal their true destination, which will be seen from the URL string if you are patient enough.
Also, if you feel like you must click the link, but you have a gut feeling that it could be spammy, you may copy the link and paste it into an incognito browser or computer that doesn’t have any of your credentials saved.
- Don’t “Click To Unsubscribe”: Every single link within a spammy email, including the unsubscribe button, is harmful. If you innocently click the unsubscribe button with thoughts of genuinely unsubscribing, you may lose all your assets within a flash.
The better thing to do is to move it to the spam box and then delete it.
- Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Crypto wallets like Cwallet allow you to apply 2FA to safeguard your assets. Even if your password is compromised, you may be able to retrieve it before the attackers can gain full access.
- Sparingly Share Information Online: You could become a potential victim of a spear phishing attack if you regularly put out sensitive details online, particularly via social media.
Many people on the internet are social engineers who intend to get people to divulge seemingly harmless personal information, which can be combined and analyzed in the future for fraudulent purposes. If you have a ton of personal information online, you are one email away from being cyberattacked.
Beyond these, there are many other signs to watch out for in order not to fall prey to these attackers. It all boils down to vigilance; if anything doesn’t seem right, assume that it isn’t right, and always err on the side of caution.
Phishing attacks can lead to a loss of funds, which is often irreversible in cryptocurrencies, or worse, you could suffer identity theft, which could see your details being used to perpetrate illicit activities and potentially get you in legal trouble.
The general rule of thumb for staying safe against all cyberattacks is to stay vigilant and strictly adhere to cybersecurity protocols - employ strong passwords, don’t repeat passwords, and always use multiple layers of authentication.
Most importantly, choose crypto wallet services that are secure and also help you maintain self-security with high standards!