A Tale as Old as Time: Phishing and It's Effects
Updated: Jan 29
It’s 1996, AOL is the #1 choice for email and everything is at peace. Everything I said is true…except for that last part. 1996 highlights the first recorded example of phishing, a cybercrime in which a scammer aims to extract personal information from their target, either to wreck their finances or to steal their identity. Ever since that year, phishing has become a popular form of cybercrime due to it’s low-risk and high-reward setup. Think about it: most phishing calls and emails will be ignored, and even if they succeed and steal your information, it’s hard to track the culprits. However, there are ways to avoid phishing, and I feel like I should start off with the most obvious answer: being careful. Yes, the only guaranteed way of avoiding any phishing attack is being careful. If you get an email claiming that you won a website’s “free draw” and need to visit a website to claim your $100 Target gift card, it’d be best not to click it. This seems like common sense, but a staggering amount of people fall for phishing every year, even tech-proficient people, and this is because not all phishing scams are so obvious as my example above. Some phishing scams are sophisticated, going as far as creating websites that look exactly like the website they claim to be. For example, the aforementioned Target gift card link may take you to a website that looks just like the Target website. This takes me to my second point, which is to avoid clicking links that you feel suspicious of; trust your gut. You’ve heard this since you were in grade school and had to take quizzes you didn’t study for, but trusting your gut is essential to staying safe on the Internet. If it seems too good to be true, it is. If you find it a bit weird that you got a call about your insurance even though you don’t have any, then it is definitely weird. Now, there are ways to protect yourself against phishing that don’t include you. First off, two-factor authentication (2FA) is a good way of keeping yourself secure from phishing. With 2FA, you can keep safe even if you do end up falling for a phishing scam. If you log in to a fake website that you followed through a random email, the manufacturers of that scam have your login credentials. However, because you have 2FA, they won’t be able to log in unless they also got your login information for your email. Lastly, a good antivirus will keep you safe from potential phishing scams. We all trip and fall sometimes, and some phishing scams are made with extreme care and knowledge, and like 2FA, a good antivirus will keep you from becoming a potential victim of phishing. Ever wonder why when you visit certain websites, your browser warns you about the security risk it involves, such as an expired security certificate or none at all? This is the browser working as a light antivirus, giving the user a chance to run the other direction. In the same vein, a reputable antivirus will keep you from downloading random attachments that pose a threat, such as a .exe sent to you in Gmail. The user of a device is the most common cause of a security threat, so there’s no shame in all of us using software to prevent mistakes. Even though phishing has been around since email became widespread, it still finds ways to trick people around the globe. Don’t for one second believe that you’re invulnerable from a phishing attack, as there are crafty cybercriminals out there, so use what you have at your disposal to keep yourself, and your identity, safe from phishing. After all, all it takes is some knowledge and some software. How could it be any easier?