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Cybersecurity Awareness

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Whaling, SMiShing and Vishing… Oh My!

You know about phishing, but are you familiar with the other types of "ishing?!" Phishing via email has been a major risk for a long time, and organizations are getting better at preparing their communities with phishing and user awareness training programs and campaigns for email threats in general. Whether through email, SMS and/or voice phone calls, the following is designed to help you learn how to protect yourself against these types of attacks on campus and off.

Cybercriminals use social engineering, a type of online manipulation, as the most common way to steal information and money. Social engineering is at the heart of all types of phishing attacks — those conducted via email, SMS and phone calls. Technology makes these sorts of attacks easy and very low risk for the attacker. Make sure you're on the lookout for these variants on the traditional, mass emailed phishing attack:

  • Spear Phishing, aka Whaling: This kind of attack involves often very well-crafted messages that come from what looks like a trusted VIP source supposedly in a hurry, targeting those who can conduct financial transactions on behalf of your organization.
  • SMiShing: Phishing attacks via SMS attempt to trick users into supplying content or clicking on links in SMS messages on their mobile devices. Flaws in how caller ID and phone number verification work make this an increasingly popular attack that is hard to stop.
  • Vishing: Voice phishing calls come from attackers claiming to be government agencies such as the IRS, software vendors like Microsoft, or services offering to help with benefits or credit card rates. Attackers will often appear to be calling from a local number close to yours or spoof government agency numbers. As with SMiShing, flaws in how caller ID and phone number verification work make this a dangerous attack vector.

No matter the medium, follow these techniques to help prevent getting tricked by these social engineering attacks:

  • Don't react to scare tactics: All of these attacks depend on scaring the recipient, such as with a lawsuit, that their computer is full of viruses, or that they might miss out on a chance at a great interest rate. Don't fall for it!
  • Verify contacts independently: Financial transactions should always follow a defined set of procedures, which include a way to verify legitimacy outside email or an inbound phone call. Legitimate companies and service providers will give you a real business address and a way for you to contact them back, which you can independently verify on a company website, support line, etc. Don't trust people who contact you out of the blue claiming to represent a company.
  • Know the signs: Does the message/phone call start with a vague information, a generic company name like "card services," an urgent request, and/or an offer that seems impossibly good? Hang up or click that delete button!

Here's a few more reminders to keep you safe:

  • Microsoft won't call about your computer, the IRS won't call about their case, and Rachel from card services won't get you a better rate! #Cyberaware
  • Would you trust someone at random on the street? Why would you trust someone who randomly emails, texts, or calls you? #Cyberaware
  • Phone calls and texts are as easy to spoof as email. If it sounds too good to be true, or if it's really scary, it's probably a scam. #Cyberaware
  • Remember: #Phishing is a social engineering scam and it's not just for email! You can get phished by phone or text message too. #Cyberaware


UC San Diego PD Community Alert Bulletin – Theft by false pretenses (Phone Scams)

Health & Human Services Cybersecurity Program Intelligence Briefing – Social Engineering and You (PDF)

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)


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