As per research conducted by the experts of Interisle Consulting Group, the number of phishing attacks has increased by 61% in 2022, reaching over 1 million incidents across the globe. The attackers have become sophisticated with their techniques, making it more challenging to read the red flags. 

That’s why we’ve prepared a guide that can help if you’ve clicked on a phishing link. Read till the end to know how to handle such mistakes and mitigate the impact. 

But before that, let’s just quickly see what phishing is and how it works.

What is a Phishing Link, and How Does it Work?

Phishing is a social engineering attack where hackers steal victims’ sensitive data like financial details, login credentials, professional documents, medical records, social security numbers, etc., for malicious purposes. This is done by sending fraudulent emails or messages that appear to come from legitimate sources, like reputed companies, where the recipients are asked to share such details. 

Malicious actors exploit the email domains of credible organizations to send emails and manipulate the victims into sharing the requested details. Companies can protect email domains and thus their reputation by investing in email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.

SPF ensures that only trusted IP addresses can send emails using your domain, while DKIM uses a signature method to verify the sender’s genuineness. Users should use the free SPF record checker tool to ensure an error-free and valid SPF record. 

On the other hand, a DMARC policy specifies how a recipient’s mail server should deal with unauthorized emails coming from your domain. This is done using one of the three policies- none, reject, and quarantine. 

How to Know if you Clicked on a Phishing Link?

You can notice one or more of the following red flags if you’ve accidentally clicked on a phishing link. 

A Sense of Urgency in the Tone

Emails or messages with words like ‘as soon as possible,’ ‘in the next 10 minutes,’ ‘legal actions will be taken,’ ‘without any delay,’ etc. are loud alarms of being phishing links. Hackers use tricks to push you to take immediate action without scrutinizing the message.

Unusual Request for Sharing Sensitive Details

If you’ve received a request to share sensitive details like OTPs, passwords, social security numbers, financial details, etc., there’s a possibility that it’s a phishing link. Also, be wary of links directing you to login pages.

Hefty Offers

Don’t fall for offers that are too good to be true. An example includes a lottery that you didn’t participate in, a fully sponsored foreign trip, a massive discount, etc. These are nothing but baits to lure you into clicking phishing links.

Unfamiliar Sender and Unexpected Emails

Avoid replying to emails coming from an unknown and suspicious sender. Also, block senders of messages that have sent you receipts or updates of orders you never placed. 

Incorrect Information

If you witness any incorrect information in the email content or on visiting the phishing link, it’s a sign of fraudulent activity. It also includes links that don’t take you to the websites they claim to. You can check this by hovering the cursor over the link or hyperlinked icon without clicking it. You’ll see the real URL on the bottom left of the screen. Proceed only if you’re sure the link is harmless.

Suspicious Attachments

This includes attachments that might seem like gifts for your inbox. Be wary of files you never requested, weird file names, and unusual file types. 

Grammatical Mistakes and Unprofessional Graphics

Pay attention to spelling, grammar, and unprofessional graphics. Hackers don’t hire professional people to do such jobs; these mistakes are often seen in the content used for phishing attacks. So, always look out for incorrect or blurry logos, poor formatting, and vague language. 

What Happens If You Click on a Phishing Link?

Now let’s see what can happen if you accidentally click on a phishing link. But before that, you need to know that it’s improbable that a threat actor will be able to obtain your sensitive details or inject malware by you simply opening a spear phishing email. 

The programs used in the emails usually require a user action (downloading a file, visiting a malicious link, replying) to attempt phishing attacks. However, as said above, hackers are becoming sophisticated these days, so it’s always good not to open a suspicious email. 

What to do If You Click a Phishing Link?

If you’ve accidentally clicked on a phishing link, it’s important to know what you can do to minimize the damage. Safeguarding compromised information and recovering from an attack has to be your priority. Let’s see what can help.

Disconnect Your Device From the Internet

Disconnecting from the internet will avert further damage and contain the spread of malware to other devices on the same network. It’ll also disable attackers from transferring any data from your device or accounts. If they’ve targeted your smartphones, turn on airplane mode. You must disable an Ethernet Connection in Windows 10 by going to the Wi-Fi network panel and selecting the network that has to be disconnected. 

Connect With Your Bank

Contact your bank and inform them to block all transactions until the next notice. This will prevent financial fraud in your name.

Backup Important Files

You should back up all the important files to an external hard drive, USB stick, or on cloud storage. You can follow the 3-2-1 backup strategy in which you should have at least three copies of your data. Two local, but on different media, and one off-site. 

Backing up files also prevents the chances of becoming a victim of a ransomware attack where hackers steal and encrypt data. They ask for a hefty ransom in exchange for the decryption key. Click here to know how to recover from a ransomware attack.

Change Usernames and Passwords

If a phishing link has taken you to a fake website where you’ve entered your login credentials, you must change them immediately. Also, use a password manager to make changing passwords across devices hassle-free. It’ll also help you create stronger passwords.

Scan Your System for Malware

Once you’ve disconnected from the internet, run an antivirus scan to remove or quarantine any suspicious files. If you don’t have an antivirus program, there’s no need to connect to the internet to download it. You can download it on any unaffected device and transfer using a USB stick

Take your device to an expert if you’re unsure about how these programs work. Also, stay away from free tools, as they themselves are nothing but malware-infected baits.

Proceed Carefully

Phishing links don’t just come in emails. Threat actors can share malicious links created for injecting malware or stealing sensitive details via:

  • SMS text messages
  • Mobile app messages
  • Social media posts
  • Google calendar invites

Cyberactors are switching to smarter and fool-proof techniques to avoid getting caught. However, if you’re knowledgeable about cybersecurity, you stand a better chance of staying cyber-safe.