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What is phishing and how does it affect tech and IT companies?

We all know that email phishing attacks are continuing to increase in complexity and frequency year over year.

phone with an email folder and a fishing hook

Hackers are employing more effective technology and methods, constantly honing their skills at crafting email campaigns that appear legitimate and safe. As an IT, Tech company or managed service provider (MSP), you’re a key defensive operator against these bad actors, and that means you must deploy email security solutions designed to prevent even the most sophisticated phishing attacks.


Recent statistics from Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) show that ransomware attacks across the globe were up 13% in the last 12 months, making it one of the biggest threats to businesses in 2022. And no sector, including the one allegedly protecting business from attacks, is immune.


But understanding current trends and patterns is key to being able to protect your own company and those you’re hired to protect. And if you know that 70% of network breaches are down to stolen credentials or weak passwords then you’re in a good place to understand how to keep the bad guys out of your data in the first place.


So, what is phishing?

Phishing at its most basic is a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone, or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.


You might have heard of phishing, vishing, smishing, quishing, spear phishing, whaling, but all the names mean is that there are a lot of different ways that a cyber-criminal is going to try and trick you. Criminals use all communication methods, so if a new method comes out, you can be sure a criminal will be there trying to exploit it. And these criminals are experts in getting us to act in the way they want, whether that is clicking a link or downloading an attachment.


How could my company be targeted?

Criminals use information from all over to create phishing messages. Knowing what information about you and your company can be found by a criminal can be extremely useful in understanding what information could be included within a phish.


For example, would you believe an email as genuine if it contained your username and password in it? Did you know that if your details have been released in a data breach, usernames and passwords are just one thing that could be known, along with your IP address, address, telephone number, in fact, any sensitive information you might give to a company?


If your company has published that you have just signed a new company, called XYZConsultancy, as a client, a criminal could use that information to create a fake domain XYZC0nsultancy.comto trick you into communicating with them.

Would you click on a link which talked about new ‘Government standards required for all MSPs – find out more here!’

If a message contains any of the following, really think before you click:

Urgency “you must do this now” – here the attacker is trying to induce you to panic so that you don’t question the action being asked of you

Authority – messages appearing to come from a boss, colleague, or company you engage with regularly, or with information they shouldn’t have unless they are genuine (your IP address for example)

Mimicry – attackers send messages that exploit your daily habits such as “please review your calendar entry – click here”

Curiosity – enticing you with something like “breaking news”


Why do cyber criminals do it?

They want access to your systems and money.


Phishing messages are usually designed to get you to click a link or download an attachment. They hope to either steal your login credentials or install malware on your systems, and once they are in your system, stealing your data is likely the next step for them.


And after that they may hold you to ransom to get it back, they might just publish it all on the internet or they could simply destroy all your company data without asking for anything. Or they may just wait for an opportunity to take advantage of their position in order to steal money from you, a supplier, or a customer.


What can you do?

All phishing depends on an element of social engineering or interaction with a person, so you really need to make staff engagement and upskilling a priority.


ECRC has affordable student services who can deliver a bespoke training session tailored to your company and the risks it faces. Contact us to find out more.


Have a plan in place to deal with phishing attempts and successful attacks. Make sure your staff know how to report an attack and don’t put barriers in place to reporting, such as disciplinary action.


Phishing attacks can be very sophisticated and extremely difficult to guard against but making sure you know how and when an attack has taken place means that you can react in the right way. You really don’t want a staff member too scared to report a successful phishing attack and letting an attacker have an extended period of time in your systems. If you have received an email which you think may be phishing, forward it to report@phishing.gov.uk


The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have created an enterprise Outlook add-in for staff to be able to report email phishing directly from their email box. The NCSC will the actively seek to disrupt the criminals sending these messages, protecting you from them as well as the wider community.


If you wanted to evaluate your and your staff’s knowledge about phishing, why not have a go at our fun phishing quiz?

ECRC membership banner with text reading 'Building Cyber Resilience in local businesses from the East of England - Sign up for your free membership'

What next?

The impact of a successful attack against your website or network can be catastrophic and lead to website downtime, loss of data and permanent loss of reputation. But all is not lost.


Here at the centre, we would recommend that you consider

  1. Join our community and you will be supported through implementing the changes you need to make to protect your organisation.

  2. As an IT company you might want to consider becoming a Trusted Partner or Community Ambassador. Drop us a line and we can discuss what that looks like.

  3. Consider how we can help your own supply chain and customers – it would be great if you could look at promoting the centre on our behalf. Again – contact us to find out more.

  4. Have a look at our regional cluster Cyber East. They are an organisation, working with the centre and others, to promote positive working practices and collaboration across the Cyber sector.

Reporting a live cyber-attack 24/7

If you are a business, charity or other organisation which is currently suffering a live cyber-attack (in progress), please call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 immediately. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Reporting a cyber-attack which isn't ongoing

Please report online to Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. You can report cybercrime online at any time using the online reporting tool, which will guide you through simple questions to identify what has happened. Action Fraud advisors can also provide the help, support, and advice you need.


Alternatively, you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 (textphone 0300 123 2050).


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The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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