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Phishing is the act of sending emails or other forms of electronic communication that masquerade as a trusted source in order to steal sensitive information. This information can include login credentials, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, account balances, and more. Criminals use this information to loot your checking account, run up bills on your credit cards, and even obtain loans or driver’s licenses in your name.

Attackers often impersonate well-known organizations and government agencies in order to make their fake messages appear more trustworthy. The attackers may also include malicious attachments or links to download malware and viruses onto the victim’s computer. These attachments can be web pages, shell scripts, or Microsoft Office documents containing a malicious macro and/or malware.

The most dangerous phishing attacks target a company’s users to steal confidential or proprietary information. This information can be everything from passwords and numeric codes used for two-factor authentication (2FA) to the company’s physical or digital assets, email and contact lists, and business plans and schematics.

A popular phishing scheme involves a message purportedly from the government and claiming that if you do not provide information, you will be fined or arrested. This type of phishing exploits the fear people have of running afoul of the law and a sense of urgency to respond.

Attackers are constantly evolving their phishing techniques. Previously, misspelled names or jumbled website URLs were clear indicators of a phishing scam, but cybercriminals are now able to hide these signs through technical coding. As a result, it is important to remain vigilant and skeptical of unsolicited messages via email, text, chat and encrypted messaging applications.