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Phishing, Part 2: How to Spot an Attack

Would you know if you were the subject of a phishing attack? Many people claim that they’d be able to tell right away if they received an email from an illegitimate source. If that were the case, however, there wouldn’t be 1.5 million new phishing sites every month* or a 65% increase in attacks in the last year, and hackers would have moved on to their next idea for swindling people out of their identities and money.

How do you spot a phishing attack and avoid falling victim yourself? Look for these red flags and scroll through the slides below to see examples:

  1. Sender Email Address: Always check to make sure that the email address is legitimate. Amateur hackers will send things from Gmail or Hotmail accounts and hope you don’t notice. More sophisticated hackers will closely mimic an actual email domain, like rather than Double check the email address before responding, clicking, or opening, even if the from name appears correct.
  2. Discrepancies in Writing Format: If the attack is coming from overseas, you’re likely to notice some small issues in writing format such as writing a date as 24 April, 2018 rather than April 24, 2018. While this is subtle, it should be a red flag.
  3. Grammar Issues: We all fall victim to the occasional typo, but if you receive an email riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes, consider the source. It’s likely a hacker, especially if the email supposedly comes from a major organization.
  4. Sender Name: This one can be difficult to track, but phishing emails will typically close with a very generic name to avoid raising suspicion. You should recognize the people that send you emails, or at the very least, clearly understand their role at the organization.
  5. Link Destination: Before you click on any link in an email, hover over it. The destination URL should pop up. Look closely at the domain name of this URL. Similar to the sender email address, make sure that this address is legitimate before clicking. See also #8.
  6. Attachments: Is it realistic to expect an attachment from this sender? Rule of thumb, don’t open any attachment you don’t expect to receive, whether it’s a Zip file, PDF, or otherwise. The payload for a ransomware attack often hides inside.
  7. Email Design: A kooky font like Comic Sans should immediately raise red flags if you don’t clearly recognize the sender.
  8. Links to Verify Information: Never, ever click on a link to verify information. Instead, if you think the information does need updating, go directly to the website. Type in your email and password, and update your information from the Account tab. Always go directly to the source.
  9. Odd Logo Use: Hackers try their best to mimic the site’s look and feel. Oftentimes, they get very close; but they won’t be perfect. If something feels off, it probably is.


While there is no fool-proof method to avoid falling victim to a phishing attack, knowing how to spot likely culprits is a big step in the right direction. Be suspicious, and pay attention to the details. And if you ever see something “phishy” at work, let your IT team know immediately. We have tools to confirm or block phishing attacks that, if activated or spread, could take down your entire network.

For ways to protect your business against phishing attacks, read Part 3: Fixing Your Weakest Link, the final installment of our phishing series. And to learn more cyber security skills, check out the 5 most common social engineering scams and how to avoid them. You can also get information on advanced security options for your business using the form below.

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*Webroot Quarterly Threat Trends Report, September 2017