What to Do If You Respond to a Phishing Email

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Phishing attacks are becoming more common and sophisticated. Threat actors are constantly developing new techniques to trick people into revealing sensitive information. And whether the attackers use fake scam emails, social media messages or phone calls in their campaigns, successful phishing scams can result in significant financial losses and reputational damage.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what to do if you think you’ve responded to a phishing email—and how Proofpoint can help mitigate the risks of these attacks.

Types of phishing attacks

Phishing attacks come in many forms. But they all share a common goal: tricking users into divulging sensitive information, like login credentials, account information, or actual files and data.

Understanding different types of commonly used phishing attacks can help you to spot them:

  1. Email phishing. This is the most widely used type of phishing attack. It involves the attacker sending an email that appears to be from a trusted source, such as a bank or a well-known company. The email typically contains a link that directs the victim to a fake website. Once they arrive at the site, the user is asked to enter their login credentials, credit card information or other sensitive information.
  2. Spear phishing. This is a more targeted form of phishing attack. Spear phishing involves the cybercriminal researching the victim’s interests and personal information to create a more convincing and personalised phishing email. This attack type is often used to target executives or high-profile individuals.
  3. Whaling. Like spear phishing, whaling (or CEO fraud) targets high-level executives or individuals in positions of power within an organisation. These attacks often use a sense of urgency or fear to prompt the victim to take immediate action, such as transferring money or sending sensitive information.
  4. Vishing. Short for “voice phishing”, vishing involves the attacker calling the victim and posing as a representative from a trusted organisation, like a bank or government agency. The malicious actor may use social engineering techniques to trick the victim into revealing sensitive information over the phone.
  5. Smishing. Like vishing, smishing involves the attacker sending a text message instead of making a phone call. The message may contain a link that directs the victim to a fake website. Or it may ask the victim to reply with sensitive information.
  6. TOAD. Telephone-oriented attack delivery (TOAD) attacks use phone calls to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or taking malicious actions. The attacker poses as a trusted person or entity, preying on human vulnerabilities like trust and urgency.

Steps to take if you respond to a phishing email

If you suspect that you’ve responded to a phishing email, you’ll need to act quickly to mitigate the damage. Here are some steps you should take:

  1. Change your passwords. First, change your passwords immediately. You should change passwords regularly and follow password best practices anyway, even if you haven’t been targeted by a phishing attack. Passwords should be complex, unique and difficult to guess. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. And don’t share your passwords with anyone.
  2. Report the incident: Next, inform your IT department or email provider about the phishing email. Do this as soon as possible. Swift reporting of an incident helps security teams identify the source of the email and take the steps needed to prevent further attacks. (PhishAlarm from Proofpoint can help. It’s a phishing email reporting analysis and remediation tool that supports timely reporting of suspected phishing emails to security teams.)
  3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). This is another crucial step toward protecting yourself against phishing attacks. 2FA adds an extra layer of security, requiring a second form of authentication, such as a fingerprint or a one-time password, in addition to your username and password. That makes it more difficult for cyber criminals to access your accounts—even if they have your login credentials.
  4. Monitor your accounts. Checking for malware is a must after responding to a phishing email. Malware is malicious software designed to damage or disable computer systems, steal sensitive information, or spy on user activity. Cyber criminals often use phishing emails to distribute malware. That’s why it’s essential to scan your device for viruses or other malicious software.
  5. Contact the company or organisation. If you responded to a phishing email that appeared to be from a trusted source, contact the company or organisation to alert them. They may be able to take steps to prevent other customers or employees from falling victim to the same scam.
  6. Educate yourself. Learn more about the different types of phishing attacks and how to spot them. Look out for telltale signs like grammatical errors, suspicious links and requests for sensitive information. Knowing what phishing tactics attackers commonly use will help you avoid being tricked by them in the future.

How Proofpoint can help

Proofpoint provides a range of solutions to help mitigate the risks of phishing attacks both before and after an incident. Here are some ways we can help:

  • Email security. Proofpoint email security and protection solutions use advanced threat intelligence to detect and block phishing emails. They apply email security techniques like email filtering, sandboxing, machine learning models and browser isolation. These measures can help prevent employees from falling victim to phishing scams and other types of email-borne threats.
  • Threat response. The Threat Response Auto-Pull (TRAP) solution from Proofpoint provides automated response, remediation and real-time visibility into potential threats. It helps security teams quickly respond to and mitigate attacks. A speedy response can help to minimise the damage phishing attacks and other types of cyber threats can cause.
  • Security awareness training. Cybersecurity education and awareness solutions from Proofpoint can teach employees how to recognise and respond to phishing attacks. Personalised training modules and simulated attacks help test their readiness.

Learn more

Phishing attacks can threaten organisations of all sizes and industries—and they can target anyone. Taking prompt and appropriate action can help mitigate the impact and likelihood of successful attacks. It will also help improve your overall cybersecurity posture.

It’s vital for organisations to establish clear guidelines so that users know exactly what to do if they fall prey to a phishing scam. These guidelines should include changing passwords, notifying IT, enabling 2FA, checking for malware and remaining vigilant in the future.

If you want to learn more about the risks associated with phishing and how these attacks can be orchestrated, check out our 2023 State of the Phish report.