Looking for guidance on analyzing the emails you receive? Check out our phishing "decision tree" infographic.
#2 Think It Through
After you read an email, take a moment to digest it. What you want to do is give yourself the space to act thoughtfully, rather than just reacting in the moment. To help get yourself out of the habit of skimming and reacting, consider asking yourself a few quick questions about any email that requests a response or action that could compromise sensitive data, devices, or systems.
- Was I expecting this message? – If the answer is ‘no,’ ask more questions.
- Does this email make sense? – If the tone doesn’t seem right or the information you’re being provided doesn’t make sense, it could very well be a phish.
- Am I being pushed to act hastily or out of fear? – If you are, this is a major red flag.
- Does this seem too good to be true? – If you can’t believe what you’re reading, it’s likely you’re reading a phish.
- What if this is a phishing email? – This is a great question to ask yourself, because it can help you work through the things that could happen if you’re dealing with a phishing attack. Could you be downloading malware that would corrupt all your files? Could you be turning over a password or credit card number to a criminal? Could you be exposing your coworkers’ private information to a scammer?
#3 Verify, Verify, Verify
So nice, it’s worth saying thrice.
It’s critical to remember that, with phishing scams, things are never what they seem. The reality is that a message can look and even sound legitimate but still set off a warning bell. For example, an email that comes from a corporate IT address and tells you to download new security software can seem trustworthy; it appears real and is on topic. But would that really be the process your IT department would follow?
If reading and thinking don’t get you to 100% confidence, you must take extra steps to verify that you are dealing with a legitimate request before you click a link, download a file, or reply with sensitive data. Here are some easy ways to confirm that the information presented in an email is legitimate:
- Instead of clicking on a link, open your web browser and type in a known, trusted URL and navigate to the site yourself.
- Instead of replying to an email or calling a number included in the message, do your own fact-finding. Use an email address or phone number that you are able to confirm.
- If you’ve received a questionable message from a colleague or friend, contact her or him via another channel (phone or text message) and make sure she or he sent it.
- Reach out to your IT team for advice (and to alert them that there is a potential phishing threat active on your organization’s network).
It takes just a minute to confirm a questionable message, whether it comes from a coworker, internal department, financial institution, or other source. In contrast, it can take days or weeks (or even longer) to remedy the consequences of interacting with a phishing or ransomware email. And sometimes you can’t ever remedy the consequences.