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What is Phishing?

The twenty-first century continues to experience booms in innovative technology, and it is arguably the advent of the internet that has reshaped our day to day lives most profoundly. The world wide web offers an endless stream of information and unprecedented levels of connectivity, but cybercrime remains a constant threat, often just a click away.

We’re all aware that viruses and malware are out there, but what exactly is ‘phishing’? Well, chances are you’re either already very aware, or, unfortunately, have unwittingly fallen victim to it. Phishing is simply a malicious ruse whereby cybercriminals attempt to gain access to a computer user’s personal and financial information.

To do this, the perpetrators pose as legitimate companies, institutions and services, with the aim of duping their targets into revealing sensitive information such as login details and passwords. Once supplied, a user’s account – either online or offline – can quickly become compromised, potentially leading to major financial losses and identity theft.

Phishing attacks are often disguised as seemingly harmless emails that claim to be from a trustworthy source or person, such as a bank. The email usually contains a message urging the user to provide sensitive information that will quickly remedy some form of fraudulent activity. The email could also ask the user to click a lick which leads to a sham website.

Users may be asked for email account logins, bank logins and or details, names, addresses and other personal information, among other forms of sensitive data. Of course, once received, the sender aims to exploit the recipient’s trust, with the majority of scammers aiming to withdraw funds from bank accounts and make online purchases. Additionally, a malicious malware file designed to breach a user’s computer – or even lock them out of it – may be attached.

Phishing isn’t exclusive to dubious emails, however, and can come in many other unassuming forms, including phoney websites, telephone calls (known as ‘vishing’) and text messages (SMS phishing). While it’s impossible to eliminate the threat of phishing, today’s internet users can take effective preventive measures in order to safeguard their personal and financial information.

A healthy level of vigilance and suspicion goes a long way when it comes to avoiding traps. If an email offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the title, text body – or just something – feels off, then take a minute to think before you click. If it claims to be from an institution, like a bank, then contact the bank using their official contact details so they can confirm or dispute the claim.