How to prevent phishing attacks? 

Phishing attacks


Cybercrime includes a broad range of malicious actors that seek to gain unauthorised access to a network. Their aim is often to extract data and money for exploitation and/or sale on the dark web. The tools used to achieve their objectives range from overt code-based attacks to trickery and social engineering. According to the Cyber Security Breaches 2022 survey, phishing attacks were the most common cybercrime to hit UK businesses.

In 2023, the cost of cybercrime is estimated to have reached $8 trillion, and damage costs are projected to grow by 15% annually. Additionally, 79% of UK businesses surveyed by the UK government reported a phishing attack this year.

Phishing is then by far the most prevalent form of cyberattack faced by UK businesses compared to other methods. And shockingly, companies whose data has become compromised following a successful phishing attack are in grave danger of going under. So why isn’t more action being taken to prevent breaches?

What are phishing attacks? 

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre defines a phishing attack as any ‘attempt to trick users into doing the wrong thing, such as clicking a bad link that will download malware or direct them to a dodgy website.’

Phishing attacks predominantly occur via email. Hackers will deploy sophisticated techniques to mask their intentions and fool employees into doing their bidding. This may be through imitation tactics such as ‘spoofing’, where the email appears to originate from a legitimate source.

In practice, the process of a phishing breach is fairly straightforward:

  • A hacker conveys a message to a user (via text message, social media, email or over the phone) that attempts to trick the user into surrendering information.
  • The user will then follow a link to a malicious website or download a corrupt file.
  • This allows the hacker to extract data or login information from the network, later granting them wider access to multiple data sources and/or business systems.
  • The hacker may then demand a ransom for restoring the company’s access to their own data or threaten to publicise the attack. In some cases, they will simply steal the data or offer it for sale on the dark web.

What are the effects? 

Financial damage 

Alongside the tactics of phishing attacks are the rising cost of ransomware related attacks. On average, the cost of a breach in the UK this year was a staggering £3230. For phishing attacks, it is estimated that companies lose £150 for each piece of personal information stolen.

In 2020, approximately £2.3 billion was lost to direct online theft, or the theft of customer data. Given that phishing is the most common attack vector experienced by UK businesses, it’s reasonable to assume that a sizeable portion of the costs resulted as a direct consequence of a phishing attack.

What’s even harder to estimate is the cost of necessary remedial action. Many businesses are forced to take these costly measures in the event of a successful attack to recover. Often, entire networks facilitating hundreds of users are forced offline to mitigate further damage. Business-critical financial systems that facilitate payments may need to be paused to prevent further losses. Most significantly, costly system upgrades to antivirus platforms need to be enacted immediately, and without proper planning.

Reputational damage 

Surprisingly it’s not the financial damage incurred from an attack that wreaks the most havoc. Instead, the impact on a firm’s relationships with its customer base can be catastrophic. Once an organisation is forced to acknowledge that their clients’ data is now in the hands of criminals, public coverage can threaten its entire future.

In 2019, a risk management survey discovered that in the event of an intrusion, brand damage costs more to a business than the financial consequences of a data breach itself.

Reputational damage is notoriously difficult to quantify, and the risk is proportional from sector to sector. However, across the board, businesses and consumers will respond uncertainly to their data falling into the wrong hands.

Regardless of the chain of events that led up to a breach, client confidence is not easily restored. Undeniably, certain factors such media portrayal and reporting can taint a company’s reputation for the unforeseeable future. In the eyes of both the public and the customer, culpability for the breach may fall at feet of the business. The victim status of the company is sometimes ignored, rather than focusing on the criminals who stole the data.

How can phishing attacks be prevented? 

Cybersecurity & BUDR 

Advanced email protection platforms scan incoming emails for malicious links. This functions to notify and block users from opening links or downloading items they suspect are malicious. They also deploy a quarantine zone for suspect messages to either be permanently deleted or released as legitimate. These anti-phishing software are key to cutting off unauthorised access at the source and defending both sensitive data and devices.

Such platforms are based upon globally maintained lists of files and email domains that may pose a threat. This is heavily backed and drawn from the collective research of the world’s leading cybersecurity experts.

In addition to gateway security, centralised anti-malware detection should be in place throughout your organisation’s entire asset list. This should be readily available in your organisation as a minimum form of threat protection. In addition, maintain a robust and well-maintained backup schedule in the event of an emergency. This will guarantee business continuity and mitigate harm, where calculated recovery measures must be taken.

Employee training 

Unfortunately, no cybersecurity system is 100% effective at stopping external threats at the source. Malicious communication will always attempt to reach all levels of employees. This is precisely why staff should be made regularly aware of common cybercriminal tactics and trends.

Investing in staff cybersecurity training and awareness programs is key to safeguarding your data. Remember that malicious actors choose to target your employees, so updated training is essential to successfully preventing a breach. Educate yourself on the ways in which criminals attempt to circumvent security systems through communicating with your employees.

For extra guidance, proposals or to schedule a chat, contact us today!