Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Recognizing Phishing Attacks

October brings to mind three things: busting out the fall wardrobe, Halloween and, last but not least, cybersecurity awareness. If you read that list and thought to yourself, “Cybersecurity awareness? Not me!” then congratulations, you are our target audience.

In conjunction with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA), SonicWall is participating in Cybersecurity Awareness Month this October to spread awareness about key issues in cybersecurity.

In our last blog, we mentioned that while password hygiene and multifactor authentication are both crucial, they can be easily foiled by a successful phishing attack. Today, we’re going to cover the basics of recognizing phishing attempts and what to do if you spot one.

Phishing Frenzy

Phishing attacks are not a new phenomenon. They’ve been a favorite attack vectors of cybercriminals across the board for many years now. But every time cybersecurity tools get better at spotting them, they get better at hiding. That’s why knowing how to recognize phishing is more important than ever.

How to Spot a Phishing Attack

Hackers or scammers will often use emails or text messages to try and steal your login credentials, account numbers or even Social Security numbers. Once they have the information they want in hand, they can perform a multitude of nefarious deeds, such as accessing your email account or stealing money from your bank account. They may even be using you to access an organization you’re a part of, such as your workplace.

These cybercriminals are constantly updating their tactics to keep up with the latest news and trends, but they often exhibit some common characteristics that you can spot to avoid being their next victim.

These include the types of email or message phishers like to use. They’ll often be posing as your bank or a credit card company. It could be an email that looks like it’s from a coworker or your boss.

Oftentimes, these messages will say something like:

  • There’s been some suspicious activity with your account, and they need you to log in to verify.
  • You’ve missed an important payment or deadline and direct you to a link to rectify the situation.
  • You need to confirm some sort of personal information, like your Social Security number.
  • You must download an attachment or document, or login to your work email.

While some phishing emails have definite “tells,” the messages can also look quite convincing. They may look similar to emails you’ve received from real organizations in the past, even going so far as to use the official logo of the company in the header or a clone of it.

Some telltale signs of a phishing email include:

  • The message uses a generic greeting such as “Hello user” or “Hi dear.”
  • The message asks you to click on a link to update your payment details.

While real companies will sometimes communicate through email or text message, they will never email or text you asking for important financial or personal information.

What to Do When You Spot A Phishing Attack

If you receive a suspicious email or message that matches some of the criteria above, always leave the email or message and go to the company’s website directly to contact someone. (The links and numbers in phishing messages will always direct you back to the phisher themselves.)

By going to the company’s official website or calling their official phone number, you can ensure that you’re speaking with someone at the actual company and not a cybercriminal.

If you receive a suspicious email at work, you should report it to IT so they can be aware someone may be trying to infiltrate the company. If you received it in your personal email, you can forward the email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at Suspected phishing via text message can be forwarded to SPAM (7726).

Protecting Yourself from Phishing

While phishing attempts can be scary, there are a number of tools and strategies that can help protect you and your organization. You can:

Taking just a few steps towards protecting your important information and accounts could be the difference in staying protected or becoming a victim of phishing.

Further Learning

While we’ve covered the basics, the more you learn about phishing, the better protected you’ll be. You can watch our School of Phish webinar series on-demand and learn about the different ways our cybersecurity experts handle real-world phishing incidents.

If you feel like you’re prepared to spot some phishing attacks, you can test your mettle against our phishing quiz, which will gauge your ability to identify phishing emails.

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Password Pro Tips

October is typically associated with pumpkin spice lattes, college football, crunching leaves underfoot and ghostly fun, but did you know it’s also Cybersecurity Awareness Month?

This is the month when industry and government alike come together to spread knowledge on good cybersecurity hygiene practices for both individuals and organizations. By raising cyber awareness, we hope to instill knowledge about various cybersecurity touchstones as well as best practices for staying safe in the constant churn and burn of cyber threats.

Throughout this month, SonicWall will be exploring four main cybersecurity awareness themes in four different blogs. Today’s focus: strong passwords.

What is a Strong Password?

A strong password is a password that uses multiple types of characters to make it harder for hackers to guess. In the modern world, hackers use all sorts of methods to brute force passwords, and if your password is something like halloween2023 or password1234, threat actors can crack your password through brute forcing in a matter of moments. A good password will be:

  • At least 16 characters long
  • Consist of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols
  • Not based on your personal information
  • Unique to each account

For example, $4wDeX76PoTG7?!0 is going to be nearly impossible for a hacker to brute force.

Password Managers

You may, like me, look at a password such as $4wDeX76PoTG7?!0 and think, “How in the world would I remember a password like that for every account I have?”

Fret not – this is where password managers come into play.

Password managers are built specifically to help you create secure passwords and keep track of them. There are multiple free password managers that can be used by individuals such as KeePass or BitWarden. There are even password managers built specifically for businesses and larger organizations like DashLane.

Password managers securely store all of your unique passwords for each of your accounts, so when you use a password manager, you don’t have to worry about forgetting a password. They’ll be readily available any time you need them.

Get on Board

According to Dark Reading, weak and reused credentials are near the top of the list of vulnerabilities in many organizations. Despite efforts to increase awareness on strong password practices and password managers, many organizations and individuals continue to use weak passwords, making them prime targets for hackers. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has its own guide on creating strong passwords that’s also worth a read.

The bottom line is that all organizations need to get on board with requiring strong, unique passwords that make it much more difficult for threat actors to guess. In our next Cybersecurity Awareness Month blog, we’ll cover multi-factor authentication (MFA), which is the perfect tool to pair with strong passwords to maximize protection.

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: 20 Years of Securing Our World

Twenty years ago, the first Cybersecurity Awareness Month was celebrated—and every year since, it’s continued to serve as a reminder of the role we all play in ensuring the world’s networks remain safe.

Today, Cybersecurity Awareness Month has evolved into a collaborative effort between industry and government to enhance cyber-awareness, empower the public with actionable steps for reducing online risk, and encourage an ongoing dialogue about cyber threats on a national and global scale.

In concert with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA), who administer the program, SonicWall will spend this month exploring ways to help organizations and individuals protect their information and secure their systems and devices.

What’s In Store for Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2023?

During the month of October, we’ll explore four primary themes, offering background, tips and actionable strategies to help everyone in the workforce engage in reducing cyber risk:

  • Use Strong Passwords: Strong passwords are long, random, unique and include all four character types. Password managers can be a powerful tool in helping ensure your passwords are optimized for online safety, not maximum convenience.
  • Turn On MFA: Passwords alone aren’t enough: If your credentials are compromised in a breach, anyone can access your accounts. But using Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) makes it significantly less likely that you’ll get hacked.
  • Recognize and Report Phishing: Phishing messages are getting more sophisticated every day. Be wary of any unsolicited message requesting personal information: Don’t share your credentials with anyone, and never share sensitive information unless you can confirm the identity of the requestor.
  • Update Software: While zero-day exploits continue to dominate discussions about cybersecurity, the sad truth is that many breaches are the result of unpatched vulnerabilities that are years old. Ensuring that your software is up to date is an important way to ensure you’re not leaving an open door for attackers.

How CISA Is Working to Secure Our World

In conjunction with the year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month themes, CISA also announced a new initiative in celebration of the Cybersecurity Awareness Month’s 20th anniversary. “Secure Our World” will be a new, enduring cybersecurity awareness campaign unifying messaging across CISA’s span of awareness programs and other efforts.

Secure Our World is designed to shape cyber behaviors nationwide, with a particular focus on how individuals, families and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can make a difference. It will encourage everyone to take action each day to protect themselves while online or using connected devices.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check back frequently during October — we’ll be adding a new blog each week to help SonicWall users and the wider community become significantly safer online.