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Blog Post Oct 14, 2020

What Is a Phishing Attack & How Does It Affect My Website?

Cybersecurity is a highly talked-about topic these days, and the word “phishing” gets thrown around quite a bit. Even if you know nothing about viruses, malware, or how to protect yourself online, you probably have come across this term at some point. Most people know it’s bad, and know not to click links or open attachments from people they don’t know, but unfortunately, the knowledge tends to stop there. Not many people can really speak to this common type of cyber attack and why it is harmful to a website.

Even though you may be aware that it exists, you can still find yourself as a victim of a phishing attempt. And even worse, your website could be the source of a phishing attack.

What Is a Phishing Attack?

Though there are multiple types of phishing attacks, in general, phishing is a hacking attempt to steal user’s data. This type of cyber attack uses email - and more recently, text messages - as the main weapon. Typically, the hacker will send a message (using a bot) that poses as a legitimate institution, luring the target into a false sense of security.

The goal of this attack is to trick the target into believing that the message is from a legitimate source so that they will click a malicious link or download an attachment within the message. Because the target trusts the “source” of the email, he or she unwittingly provides sensitive information: login passwords, credit card and other financial information, or even social security numbers, all under the guise of “confirming their accounts.”

In reality, these emails have been sent by cybercriminals who are in no way connected to the institutions they pretend to be from. The forms they provide for the target to fill in their information are just used to collect sensitive data and send it straight to the hacker for their own misuse.

It’s a dangerous scam not just for the user, but for the website that hosts the phishing scam.
This type of scam is built by hacking into other people’s servers, and using their resources to send out the emails. If a hacker uses their own resources to send out a phishing email, then it can be traced back to them. This means if your website happens to be on the server that the hacker uses, then you could see a detrimental impact to your business in a number of ways.

At its core, phishing is a very basic attack – and similar to the types of hacking that have been populating the internet since its start. Though basic, this type of scam can still cause major damage to businesses, their websites, and their reputations.

Explanation of phishing, with image of angry woman holding credit card & looking at laptop screen.

Example Attempt

An example phishing attack may start with an email that appears to be from your bank. The email address looks like your bank and is formatted just like any other email you receive from them. The logo is there, and everything looks to be correct.

The email states that you need to verify some information on your bank account due to a database breach. The URL it asks you to click looks like it’s from your bank’s website, too. Everything checks out.

The problem is, none of this is legitimate.

If you look closely, you may notice that the return email isn’t anything like the official email accounts from your bank. When you hover over the URL they provide, you’ll see that the link that you would click on is not actually the URL listed, but another email address or a fake website.

And then there’s the logic side of it. If there was a breach of data, your bank would ask you to visit their official website, securely enter your login credentials, and change any passwords to secure your personal data. Or even more common, they will simply reset your password for you. In other words, they wouldn’t email you asking you to click a link and enter in your social security number or your banking information.

Nowadays, hackers are utilizing social media to gather information as well. Similar to the bank example above, cybercriminals will create fake login pages for Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms, and send these out. Once they get into your profile, they can steal your personal data, which they can use for future scams as well.

As you can see, there are layers to a phishing attempt that you need to be aware of, or you could quite easily fall for one and have your identity stolen. That is what makes these attacks so dangerous.

Spear Phishing

For businesses in particular, a specific form of this attack called “spear phishing” is especially worrisome. This phrase is used to refer to phishing attacks that target very specific individuals and accounts. So instead of going after any user on the web that may click on their link, they go after particular people (think: business employees and executives) in the hopes of gaining information on that specific company. This can lead to bigger data breaches that can often be more profitable for scammers than individual user data.

How Does a Phishing Attack Affect My Business and Website?

Not only can you be the target of a phishing attack unknowingly, you could also be the source of one without realizing it.

Scammers need to send a lot of spam emails when launching this type of attack, and they often don’t bother paying for their own email servers. After all, not only would that get expensive, but they could be flagged for abuse. It’s much safer for an attacker to hijack someone else’s resources, so that they are not risking anything – including their money.

If you learn that your website is sending spam emails, it's very frustrating and you must act quickly to fix the situation. Your email accounts could be flagged for abuse and suspended, and so could your website. If your site is blacklisted and your accounts are suspended, your business could come to a sudden, screeching halt. Here are two of the main ways this attack can impact your business.

Your Reputation Takes a Hit

How often do you see news headlines with a company’s name attached to a data breach? Does it instill confidence in that company?

No. Data breaches usually result in negative press, which leads to a loss of reputation. Some issues this can lead to include stock prices sinking and users looking for other replacement services. A company’s PR department is typically overwhelmed trying to keep up with the damage control.

When your site is attacked, public opinion can be influenced, and not in your favor.

Business Disruption

Even if you are a small business and the phishing attack using your server was comparably small, the consequences can be drastic.

Any disruption to your business can be devastating. In one case, a multinational firm instructed all 130,000 employees to disconnect from their laptops. Nobody was able to work for days until normal service could resume. Could you afford to not do any business for days, or even weeks, at a time? Most businesses cannot.

Clearing out a phishing attack takes time, and while you wait around, your business could suffer.

Prevention is Key

Being proactive with website security is essential. Fortunately, there are powerful services available today to counteract the risk of phishing. Anti-phishing software and malware programs exist to help protect websites against these types of schemes, and Sectigo is at the front lines.

, a Sectigo company, offers complete website security plans that automatically scan your site and its files every day and note any security issues that could be signs of malicious activity. Once detected, the software will shutdown attack attempts before they disrupt the functionality of your site and lead to major damage.

Having the correct website security plan in place can give you peace of mind knowing that your company’s name will stay out of the headlines for any breaches of data. Start protecting your business today with one of SiteLock’s security plans. And to ensure your business’s communications are secure, learn about Sectigo’s automated digital certificate management solution.

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