What is phishing?
Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, social security numbers, and financial information, often for malicious reasons. These attacks are often initiated by organized cyber-crime groups that will impersonate a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. The attempts have become more sophisticated, and they are capable of achieving high levels of apparent credibility by leveraging public information, such as email addresses from the University Phonebook.
Targeted attacks, also referred to as spear phishing, use elements that typically signal authenticity – a familiar sender or copied website content – and can be more difficult for a recipient to quickly identify as spam mail. Attackers will also exploit current events, such as tax season, to induce a response.
The University’s spam mail filters remove many of these messages before they enter inboxes, and any that pass are addressed with internal IT security processes as soon as they are identified. This reduces, but does not eliminate, the threat to our community. Phishing scams will continue, and in response, ITS will continue to develop more sophisticated resources and to explore technologies that will provide better protection.
The community also has a role to play. Education and awareness are the keys to protecting yourself and your private information.
How to detect a phishing message
To identify a phishing attack, look out for these red flags:
- Links in the email. Beware of links contained within the message. These links can direct you to spoofed web pages or download harmful files on your system. Try resting your mouse over the link before you click on it to ensure that the address matches the link that was typed. You can always check the legitimacy of a message by going directly to the company or organization website or contacting them via phone.
- Attachments. Hovering over an attachment usually produces additional information about what it is. A document that looks like it has a name “something.pdf” might actually be a file “something.exe.” An .exe extension means the attachment is actually a software program that you execute and is extremely dangerous; it can cause computer infection and data loss.
- Urgent requests. Phishing attacks are meant to induce panic in the receiver. Legitimate companies and organizations would never send these types of alerts through insecure channels like email.
- Bad spelling or grammar. Phishing messages are notorious for containing misspelled words or poor grammar. Professional companies or organizations most often have staff that will not allow mass emails to go out with these mistakes.
- Unexpected requests regarding personal information. If the email received is an unexpected request for information, do not respond. In general, you should be extremely wary of following links or answering questions from contacts you did not initiate. Emails regarding password resets, account expirations, or confirmations will always be initiated on the part of the user first.
Always be suspicious of any email with the characteristics listed above. ITS and other University organizations will not send unsolicited requests for UConn credentials or other personal information. In general, you should never volunteer confidential or personal information based on any contact that you did not explicitly initiate.
How to report a phishing attack
When you recognize a phishing attack, you should report it to ITS in order to protect yourself and others. To submit a phishing message to ITS, forward the phishing email to email@example.com.
What to do if you clicked on the link
If you have clicked on a link in a phishing email or given personal account logins or information be sure to take the following steps immediately.
- Change your password directly through the company or organization’s official website. For extra certainty, type the address into your web browser directly. For the UConn community you can change your NetID password at netid.uconn.edu.
- Review account statements and activity. It should also be noted that ITS monitors for suspicious activities associated with phishing attacks.
- Run a virus scan on your computer to detect and remove any potentially harmful software downloaded on your system after clicking on a link.
If you have questions about the validity of a request, contact the ITS Help Center at 860-486-4357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.