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Phishing: The basics

CSO Staff | July 10, 2017
Phishing is a method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive e-mails and websites. Typically, a phisher sends an e-mail disguised as a legitimate business request. Because the best defense is a skeptical user, here's how to be on your guard against phishing.


What plans should my company have in place before a phishing incident occurs?

Before your organization becomes a target, establish a cross-functional anti-phishing team and develop a response plan so that you're ready to deal with any attack. Ideally, the team should include representatives from IT, internal audit, communications, PR, marketing, the web group, customer service and legal services.

This team will have to answer some hard questions, such as:

* Where should the public send suspicious e-mails involving your brand? Set up a dedicated e-mail account, such as, and monitor it closely.

* What should call center staff do if they hear a report of a phishing attack? Make sure that employees are trained to recognize the signs of a phishing attack and know what to tell and ask a customer who may have fallen for a scam.

* How and when will your organization notify customers that an attack has occurred? You might opt to post news of new phishing e-mails targeting your company on your website, reiterating that they are not from you and that you didn't and won't ask for such information.

* Who will take down a phishing site? Larger companies often keep this activity in-house; smaller companies may want to outsource.

  • If you keep the shut-down service in-house, a good response plan should outline whom to contact at the various ISPs to get a phisher site shut down as quickly as possible. Also, identifying law enforcement contacts at the FBI and the Secret Service ahead of time will improve your chances of bringing the perpetrator to justice.
  • If a vendor is used, decide what the vendor can do on your behalf. You may want to authorize representatives to send e-mails and make phone calls, but have your legal department handle any correspondence involving legal action.

* When will the company take action against a phishing site, such as feeding it inaccurate information or exploiting vulnerabilities in its coding? Talk out the many pros and cons beforehand.

* How far will you go to protect customers? Decide how much information about identity theft you'll give to customers who fall for a scam, and how this information will be delivered. You should also talk through scenarios in which you will monitor or close and re-open affected accounts.

* Are you inadvertently training your customers to fall for phishing scams? Educate the sales and marketing teams about characteristics of phishing e-mails. Then, make sure legitimate e-mails don't set off any alarms.


How can we quickly find out if a phishing attack has been launched using our company's name?

Sometimes a new phish announces itself violently, as an organization's e-mail servers get pummeled with phishing e-mails that are bouncing back to their apparent originator. There are other ways to learn about an attack, though—either before or after it occurs.


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