Phishing Scams: Humans Are the Weakest Link in the Security Chain


Have you received emails that appear to be from the authentic sender, but actually are not? Fake emails with a link to a phishing web page are the most common example of falling for cyber phishing. Cybercrimes successfully use this technique to get in a secure stronghold only because of one weakest link. Humans.

Phishing Scam Example

Let’s say that you just started your day and have a lot of emails to answer. You wish to read and respond to all of them quickly. An email like this one: “Hey there! There is some issue in your PayPal account, click on this link to verify your account.” In the next steps, if you enter your bank account details, you are trapped in a phishing scam for sure. 

You did not notice that the mail that you received was not from PayPal, nor was the logo the same; it might have looked similar though. It is essential to understand how phishing emails or calls look like and how do you not fall in the trap, keeping your data secure from hackers.

Phishing Security Awareness

There was an audit survey on phishing security awareness conducted by Proofpoint between January 1, 2019, to February 28, 2019. The result, on average, the users answered 22% of the answers incorrectly. The percentage has gone up from 18% from the last year’s survey (2018).

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Organizations spend a lot of money to ensure the use of best software, hardware, and other protections to guard the company against malware, cybercrimes, phishing attacks, etc. These defenses are of no use if the employees are not aware of such attacks and learn about ways to curb them. Almost all of the phishing attacks or cyber attacks require human interaction. If the human is not aware, then you have a potential danger from hackers and cybercriminals.

Humans Cause 95% of Data Breaches

IBM’s Cyber Security Intelligence Index discovered that 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human mistakes. It’s time to gear up and think about security, human security.

Phishing Scams Are Playing with Human Psychology

Humans tend to get emotional and help others when they see emails like the ones that circulate as phishing emails, asking for passwords, bank account details, etc. They bait you into sending you a present or attracting in other forms. These tricks have been around for thousands of years and are the most common ways of human-focused cyber attacks. The same now has a fancy name; “social engineering attacks.”

Hackers research their victims and target their arracks precisely on the weak spots. Cybercriminals do so by creating fake profiles in their social network. False friends are sitting there to target new victims. 

There is a lot of research that goes behind these attacks. Cybercriminals study their victims through social media, company websites, phone call, or direct emails asking for important information. More sophisticated security measures get — more breaches happen through a human connection.

Social engineering is not a very old technique to hack people’s accounts and breach the data, though. Such a social engineering attack got about 60 percent of businesses to fall into its trap in 2019.

Social Engineering Phishing: Fashion or Fad

Getting to know and targeting specific employees or humans may sound like some high-tech or sci-fi activity. But in real-life hackers are looking out for the niceness or the stereotyped behavior of the employees.

Some guy barged into a company’s main gate; said that he had lost his identity card and that you should let him in. Guard, being a good human, lets him in. Then this guy leaves a CD in the fitting room with a message “important security update: please update.” People clicked this malware and got trapped in it. You might think that people cannot be so stupid to fall for this trick. Well, people are naive and friendly. Being nice becomes a negative quality when it comes to cybersecurity.

As humans, we often face these two challenges. One is to stop helping strangers because we are in an era where goodness can be exploited by hackers to gain access to your data. Second: following a routine. 

These regular habits are what the hackers notice. By being in a schedule every day, we become less sensitive to the things that we do. Scroll up to the PayPal example — you clicked on the verify link because it is a habit to click and accept anything that comes your way. Lack of mindfulness and is hazardous for businesses. 

Almost all of us use email, social media, and texting so much that we have started doing it without thinking. We have become unconscious of which mail to open, which media to download and which ones to avoid. Lack of awareness causes most of the phishing and cybercrimes.

Anti-phishing: How to Combat Phishing Scams

Learn to spot phishing. Here are a few emails that you might see frequently and not know that it is phishing.

Phishing Scams — Types of Phishing Email Scams
Types of phishing email scams

How to Prevent a Phishing Attack 

Teach your co-workers the difference between good and corrupt mails.

  • Like a mock drill, send some fake emails to your colleagues and see if they fall for them.
  • To combat phishing accounts, companies can incorporate multi-factor authentication for all the accounts in use and set up forensic plans to investigate a cybercrime quickly.
  • Companies can also incorporate business continuity into the incident response plan so that the systems remain stable.
  • Employees should be taught and made aware that cybersecurity is as critical as the security of your home. As you teach kids about crossing the street by looking both ways; your workers need to understand the risks of helping someone outside the organization.

In addition to learning how to spot a phishing email, here are a few other things you can do to protect yourself and others from phishing scams better.

Adjust Your Email Settings for What Is Allowed in Your Inbox

All email platforms have the option to divert bad emails to junk and keep only the ones from your contacts and other safe senders. Doing so will prevent you from clicking on phishing emails that you thought are coming from a legitimate sender.  Also, emails coming from your bank will land up in your inbox only as you will have the email addresses in your contact list. There is no threat of receiving phishing emails and clicking on spam links.

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Anti-phishing Software Is a Must

Additional layers of security are always an advantage. If in case you click on a phishing email accidentally, your antivirus protection will warn you that the site you are landing on is a phishing one. If the website you landed on tries to distribute malware through drive-by-download, your security software can detect and stop the malware from executing.

Report the Phishing Scams

Reporting the scams also helps in preventing the outburst of such emails in the future. Microsoft offers tips for its Internet Explorer, Outlook and outlook desktop software to report phishing scams. Similarly, Google aids online help to inform about phishing websites and emails. Combat cybercrimes by letting the email companies know what type of emails are phishing.

Use a VPN to Prevent Phishing

There are specific VPNs that detect malicious links and websites to protect you from phishing scams. VPN also protects users from spam emails through its firewall. You are safe from sites that use HTTPs protocol and still are malicious ones.

Computers don’t create crimes. It is the people who are using computers that commit crimes. And people in the organizations can be — and often are — complicit.

Organizations should invest in making their employees aware of phishing and cyber threats as much as they invest in buying security software. Get vpn services now!