What to Do if You Click on a Phishing Link: Steps to Take Now

Written by Matt Adams on October 25, 2022

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If you think phishing scams are old news that you can simply ignore, then think again.

A recent survey found that over 80% of organizations experienced at least one successful phishing scam in 2022, a 45% year-over-year increase. One in 99 emails is a phishing attack, yet 97% of people have trouble identifying a phishing scam.

Phishing awareness training should be an essential component of your cybersecurity strategy. But  42% of workers self-reported that they’ve taken a dangerous action (e.g., clicking on unknown links or downloading files from unverified sources) so it’s also critical that employees know what to do if they click on a phishing link.

How Do Phishing Scams Work?

Phishing is a type of social engineering scam that tricks users into giving up their information or downloading a file containing malware, such as ransomware, spyware or viruses, onto their devices. So how does phishing work?

Attackers send emails, text messages or instant messages that direct recipients to spoof websites. These sites then either install malware on their devices or trick them into entering their user credentials so hackers can log into business systems to steal sensitive data.

Sometimes, the malware comes as an email attachment from a seemingly trusted sender (e.g., someone in HR.)

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Criminals are constantly inventing new ways to deceive users into clicking on links, opening attachments or sharing their information. The latest phishing techniques include clone phishing, spear phishing, deepfake voice phishing (vishing) and sophisticated website forgery.

What to Do if You Click on a Phishing Link

A study found that 25% of phishing emails sneak through Office 365’s filter. So, what should you do if you believe you have clicked on a phishing link?

1. Stay calm.

Opening a phishing email or even downloading a zip file won’t install any malware onto your device. If you know the sender, call him or her  to verify if the request is legitimate. Use a number you already have instead of the one in the suspicious message.

2. Immediately disconnect your device from the internet and the company network.

Taking this step helps to prevent hackers from accessing your information or data in the company’s systems and networks.

3. Change your username and password.

It’s best to change your credentials on all important sites (e.g., bank, work email, cloud software and social media)

4. Scan your computer for malware.

It’s a good idea to scan your computer for malware regularly, but it’s especially important if you opened an attached file or unzipped a zip file. You can run a scan with Window’s Microsoft Security or macOS’s XProtect; both are built into the operating systems to catch most malware.

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5. Flag the phishing email in your email program.

Outlook will allow you to mark the suspicious email to help prevent emails from the same sender from slipping through the filter in the future.

6. Enroll in phishing awareness training.

A good program will show you how to recognize signs of a sophisticated phishing scam to avoid falling prey to these attacks again.

How to Report Phishing Attacks

Knowing what to do if you click on a phishing link also means understanding how to report the problem. An employee should report any phishing email to ensure that the company takes the appropriate action:

1. Forward the email to your company’s IT department, the security team or managed services provider (MSP.)

Your organization may have a dedicated email address for reporting phishing emails.

2. Forward the email to the Anti-Phishing Work Group.

A good option for reporting is phishing-report@us-cert.gov. This group partners with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to collect phishing email messages and website locations.

3. If the email appears to have come from a colleague or external contact, alert that individual.

The hacker could have breached that person’s system and used their accounts.

4. Let your co-workers know about the phishing scam.

Inform your colleagues of the email subject line, from whom it appears to have come and what it looks like so that they can easily spot the scam.

5. Notify affected parties whose personal data might have leaked.

If a financial account (e.g., bank or credit card) is compromised, the affected party should monitor it for unauthorized transactions and fraudulent activities.

Implementing the Right Strategy to Guard Against Phishing Techniques

Phishing scams are unavoidable. While phishing awareness training can help prevent many of those incidents, you must prepare to handle the few attacks that slip through the cracks.

Evaluate your business’s vulnerabilities and implement comprehensive anti-phishing policies. Conduct phishing simulation tests and share regular updates to educate employees about the latest phishing techniques.

Keep all your software and systems up to date and use email authentication software to add an extra layer of protection. Additionally, implement access control and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to limit hackers’ ability to access business data even if they obtain an employee’s login credentials.

Additionally, you should implement a business continuity strategy and a robust backup and recovery plan to help prevent costly downtime so your business won’t come to a grinding halt if a phishing or malware attack happens.

But if one of your employees does fall victim to a phishing scam, don’t be too hard on them. Punishing staff members who click on phishing emails could deter employees from reporting these incidents, causing them to snowball into more serious issues.

Learn More About What to Do if You Click on a Phishing Link

Implementing the right processes and technology to cover all your cybersecurity bases is complex. Besides preventing attacks, you also need to install multiple layers of protection so hackers can’t take down all your processes even if they manage to breach your systems.

Warren Averett Technology Group offers a full spectrum of cybersecurity solutions to keep your business and customer data safe and your business running smoothly. Get in touch to see how we can help you strengthen your defense.

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