Phishing attacks are the most common type of cybercrime. Clicking on a phishing link can set off a number of actions that lead to serious consequences, including data breaches and malware downloads.
Around a third of adults in the world become phishing targets. Meanwhile, more than one in five businesses experience these attacks annually. Knowing what to do if you click on a phishing link can help you minimize the negative effect.
By studying the nature of phishing attacks, you can take the necessary steps to avoid major damage and prevent similar breaches in the future.
What Happens If You Click a Phishing Link
Phishing links can look legitimate and easily trick a person into thinking that they come from a respected source. If you accidentally clicked a phishing link, you may have initiated a number of actions, including:
Simply by clicking a phishing link, you could trigger a malware download. Your computer could start downloading malicious files without your confirmation. This type of software can gather information from your device and transmit it to hackers, who may use it for criminal purposes.
Once they gain access to your data, cybercriminals can steal credit card numbers, social security numbers, usernames, passwords, and personal identification information.
When you click a phishing link, it may initiate the transfer of such seemingly harmless information as your device’s location and time zone. This type of data doesn’t hurt you immediately but allows hackers to create your profile. Armed with your demographic information, they can design a highly personalized attack in the future.
Criminals often use phishing links to collect data and prepare for a whaling attack, which is a carefully crafted cyberattack on high-profile employees, such as a CEO. Gaining access to their credentials could cause serious damage to the organization.
Once you click a malicious link, it could lead you to a fraudulent website that mimics a trustworthy site where you usually enter passwords or share personal information.
For example, an employee of an organization could be transferred to the company’s online banking website. Once they enter the login data, the cybercriminal copies it. Then, they can use it to access the account and make transfers.
Clicking on a phishing link could grant hackers remote access to your computer. This often happens as a result of a “tech support” scam. During this attack, the hacker poses as a technical support rep who asks the employee to provide remote access in order to solve a technical problem.
The employee clicks a link to downline the remote access software and allows the criminals to take over their device.
How Do I Know If I’ve Clicked on a Phishing Link
You may not notice that you’ve clicked a malicious link immediately. After the hacker access your data, you could start seeing such signs as:
- Unusual bank account activity
- Changes to bank account settings
- Suspicious emails going out from your account
- Password reset requests
All these suspicious activities must lead to immediate actions. The faster you change passwords, close accounts, and run security checks on your computer, the more likely you are to prevent further damage.
How to Identify a Phishing Attack
In the majority of cases, you won’t understand that you’ve clicked a phishing link. However, if you know what to look for, you could notice some signs, such as:
- The link leads you to an unfamiliar website or a legitimate-looking site with a slightly different URL
- The website the link leads to asks for personal information, which its real version has never required
- The website lacks HTTP encryption or has a suspicious domain name
- The email containing the link has poor spelling and grammar mistakes
- The message with the link comes from an unusual sender
- The message contains unexpected attachments or links
- The email has a general “dear sir/madam” greeting
A good rule of thumb is to avoid clicking links or downloading attachments if you don’t expect to receive them. It pays to triple-check each message and avoid taking any actions if anything looks even slightly suspicious.
Example of How a Phishing Email Looks Like
From: [email protected]
Dear Sir or Madam,
We regret to inform you that there has been a security breach in our system, and your account may have been compromised. To ensure the safety of your personal information and prevent any further unauthorized access, we kindly request your immediate action.
In order to verify your account and restore full access, please click on the following link: www.bankifamerica.com Failure to do so within 24 hours may result in suspension or permanent closure of your account.
While this message looks legit at the first glance, here are the warning signs:
- [email protected] – the domain is Bank America instead of Bank of America
- Dear Sir or Madam – a generalized greeting from a bank who definitely knows your name
- bankifamerica.com – this phishing link example has “if” instead of “of”, a slight change which may be hard to notice
- Failure to do so within 24 hours – a sense of urgency to prevent the reader from assessing the situation.
If you can identify the phishing email before taking action or clicking a link, you can prevent an attack and keep your data safe.
What Immediate Actions Should I Take if I Click on a Phishing Link
If you click on a phishing link, it doesn’t mean that you have to face negative consequences. By taking immediate action, you could prevent a breach. Here is what you should do:
Irrational behavior is what hackers expect from their victims. When you are nervous and stressed, it’s easy to make the wrong decision. Once you realize you’ve clicked a malicious link, calm down and assess the situation. Even though you made a mistake, there is still a chance to rectify it.
Disconnect from the Internet Immediately
As soon as you notice a problem with the link, disconnect your device from the internet. Without an internet connection, whatever process you activate by clicking on the link will not spread to other devices on your network.
At the same time, it will prevent the downloaded malware from transmitting your data to the criminals and keep the threat actor from accessing your device remotely.
Notify the IT Department
Don’t try to fix the problem on your own. When you click the link, you may have already initiated a malicious process that only a cybersecurity professional can stop.
Notify your IT department about the issue immediately. The faster they start working on the problem, the more damage they can prevent.
Scan Your Device for Malware and Viruses
Since clicking the link could have downloaded malware to your computer, you need to run an antivirus check. You should have an antivirus program on your device. If not, you need to contact a professional who can install it. Downloading it isn’t an option since you would be connecting to the internet.
Run a full check to identify the malware. It could take some time to perform. Follow the program’s instructions to delete malicious files from your computer.
Change Your Passwords and Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
If you click a phishing link, you have to assume that the cybercriminals gained access to your device. This means they could have received all of your passwords. Change all the login credentials in such programs as work-related software, online banking, shopping sites, government service sites, and others.
Anywhere you enter sensitive information, consider implementing two-factor authentication. It means that every time you enter your password, the program will ask you to confirm your identity via an SMS, a code sent to your personal email, an answer to a secret question, or similar means.
Report the Phishing Incident to the Relevant Authorities or Organizations
To prevent criminals from using similar phishing attack techniques to hurt other people or organizations, you need to report the phishing incident to the relevant authorities.
You can forward the phishing email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group via [email protected]. Make sure to notify the organization the threat actor was impersonating when sending the email and report the attack to the Federal Trade Commission.
How to Prevent Phishing Attacks
When a phishing attack begins, it can be hard to stop it from causing the damage. The best way to avoid the consequences is to implement anti-phishing protection.
Use Anti-Phishing Software
The best anti-phishing protection involves implementing relevant anti-phishing tools. ZeroFox’s anti-phishing software stops the attack before it begins by addressing its root cause and taking down the phishing infrastructure.
This type of protection begins before the phishing link reaches your inbox. It goes further to arrange strong domain protection that prevents cybercriminals from impersonating your organization when designing phishing attacks on other victims.
A phishing attack can’t happen if you don’t click the link. That’s why you have to arrange comprehensive employee training that teaches your team how to identify suspicious emails. Since phishing techniques are getting more and more sophisticated, you need to conduct regular training sessions to keep employees in the loop.
Besides explaining how to recognize a phishing attack, you need to teach your team how to act when it happens. Quick thinking and immediate action can prevent major damage.
Regular Updates and Patch Management
The software you use every day can turn into a gateway for a cyberattack. That’s why developers provide regular updates and patches to ensure security. It’s up to you to stay on top of every update and take advantage of it as soon as it comes out. This is especially important for your anti-virus and anti-phishing software.
Secure Your Company Today with ZeroFox
Knowing what to do if you click a phishing link is key to preventing further damage. However, the best way to protect your company is to avoid clicking this link. That’s where ZeroFox’s anti-phishing software comes in.
It leverages AI and ML to catch the phishing attack before it reaches your network and prevents your team from receiving phishing emails or getting a chance to click a malicious link.Discover how ZeroFox’s anti-phishing software can safeguard your network – schedule a demo today.