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What is Phishing: a Phishing Definition

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Phishing is exactly what it sounds like, but it is something that goes on in the virtual world rather than on the banks of rivers. Loosely-speaking, it is electronic cyber-crime delivered by social manipulation (aka. lying and deception). Phishers, use bait, to request information from a person usually through email phishing. However, Facebook phishing, through messages or wall posts, is increasing at an alarming rate. If key information is revealed, the phisher will use it to steal the target's identity and then 99.9% of the time thereafter use it for monetary gain.

If you have a computer with a popular OS (operating system) and do any online financial transactions – or even if you don't-- you have probably received a phishing email at one time or another or have been the target of phishing scams. Has some Nigerian prince ever dropped you a line? Aaah... Now you know what we're talking about.

It works something like this:

  • Jane receives an email from her bank which has the appropriate header and the institution's logo – exactly like emails she's received in the past. The message informs her that after some routine maintenance her account information couldn't be verified. The message then directs her to a link which will help her to update her information so she can access her account.
  • Jane clicks on the link and she's directed to a site which requests her full name, social security number and bank account number.
  • Two weeks later Jane's bank calls to tell her that her entire savings account has been withdrawn.

In this scenario, Jane inadvertently gave all of her information to a phisher using a scam email and a fraudulent site who then used the collected information it to commit fraud.

Email phishing doesn't necessarily need to be a direct request for information. Phishing attacks can merely be spam like emails infected with spyware such as Trojans or Keyloggers. These malware allow the phisher to keep track of your activities and therefore steal any valuable information you enter or inadvertently expose during your daily Internet activities.

Part II: Who is Spoofed, Who is Targeted, and the Information Phishers are After

Part III: How to Protect Yourself Against Phishers, (Pt. 1)

Part IV: How to Protect Yourself Against Phishers, (Pt. 2)

Part V: How to Protect Yourself Against Phishers, (Pt. 3)

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team