What is Spear Phishing and How to Protect Your Email From Scams

Phishing attacks were bad enough but now certain Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail users have been victims of spear phishing attacks, a targeted attack on specific users. Unlike regular phishing scams that can often be detected by internet security and corporate filtering software programs, spear phishing requires the discerning eye of humans to distinguish the difference between real and bogus emails and their scams.

Recent spear phishing attempts attacked personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of government officials, military personnel in U.S. and Asia, and activists for the purpose of collecting content.  Spear phishing allowed hackers to monitor user email accounts for months.

According to CNN, spear phishing “was neither difficult to perform nor incredibly sophisticated” since cybercriminals posed as “trusted senders” from offices such as the State Department, Secretary of Defense, and Defense Intelligence Agency using email addresses that appeared legitimate even upon close inspection.

Just like regular phishing attempts, the spear phishing attacks contained a link to open a Microsoft Word document.  Clicking on the link took users to a fake Gmail page that tricked users into logging in to their email account again so hackers could steal their login and password information and use it to access the content of their personal accounts.

The current coverage of spear phishing serves as reminder to be wary of any illegitimate email activity that could be the result of phishing.

Since there is always the risk of being subjected to online and email scams, here are 3 ways you can protect yourself if you think that email from a friend is really a phishing attempt:

  • Change your passwords monthly- While it can be hard to remember passwords that are changed frequently, doing so helps ensure their security and sites like Sticky Password can help keep your passwords organized.
  • Check the email source- CNNrecommends clicking on “show original” in Gmail that allows you to view the original source of the email.  If you lines of text that are letters and numbers, that code signifies a phishing scam.

-Leticia, Tech Savvy Chica

Leticia Barr is a DC Metro area dwelling mom of 2 with a background in classroom technology integration and school administration who uses everything she learned from teaching children, teachers, and principals as a professional blogger, columnist, social media maven, and consultant who advises about family internet safety and security issues. She enjoys working with companies who are dedicated to protecting kids both in real life and in the ever-changing virtual worlds they inhabit when they sit down at their computers or access the internet through mobile devices. Leticia also likes using her teaching background to educate parents about topics related to online safety. She recently served as BitDefender’s Chief BitMom for BitMoms.com and freelances for national sites like Parenting.com and Savvy Source where she’s written articles such A Parents' Guide to Safe Online Surfing for the Tech Savviest Kids and Five Baby Steps to Getting Started with Social Media.

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