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Phishing is an attack method where cybercriminals use a message disguised as a trusted source to trick victims into sharing personal information that will be used for identity theft. Attackers will then steal that information and use it to access bank accounts, pilfer credit card info, or sell it on the black market.

The name phishing comes from the combination of “phone” and “freak.” In the 1970s, low-tech hacks were used to exploit telephone systems. These hackers were referred to as phreaks. Phishing is not a sophisticated hack, and in fact, it’s more common for attackers to attempt phishing than to seek out any technical vulnerabilities that may exist within an operating system or device.

A phishing attack can involve either a file attachment or hyperlinks that direct the victim to a fake website that looks very similar to a legitimate one. The goal of the attacker is to install malware or steal sign-on credentials, which will be used to access sensitive information like passwords and account IDs.

Emails that contain a sense of urgency should be considered suspicious. Also beware of being cc’d in emails to people you don’t communicate with on a regular basis or of clicking on links in an email that seem out of place. Be sure to check the authenticity of a link or attachment using search engines, putting in just the name and a bit of text. This will help you ensure that it is a legitimate site and that you are not being directed to a phishing page.