I Clicked on a Phishing Link - Now What?

I Clicked on a Phishing Link - Now What?

Phishing attacks are a constant threat in today’s digital world. Employees can still fall victim to cleverly disguised emails or messages despite security measures. If you’ve clicked on a suspicious link, acting quickly and decisively is vital to minimize the potential damage. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do if you suspect you’ve interacted with a phishing attempt:

Step 1: Stop! Don’t Panic.

Take a deep breath. While clicking a phishing link can be concerning, panicking can lead to rushed decisions. Assess the situation calmly and follow the steps below.

Step 2: Disconnect from the Internet (if possible).

Phishing links can sometimes trigger malware downloads. Disconnecting your device from the Internet will prevent the malware from spreading to other devices on your network or communicating back to the attacker.

However, this step may not be feasible if you use a work laptop or access company resources remotely. In that case, proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Report the Phishing Attempt.

Inform your IT security team immediately. They are best equipped to assess the situation and determine the necessary action. Phishing attempts often target multiple employees, so your report could help identify a more extensive campaign and protect colleagues.

Step 4: Identify What Information You Might Have Exposed.

Review the content of the phishing attempt. Did you land on a fake login page? Did you enter any information, such as your username, password, or other sensitive data? Being specific helps IT security prioritize the response.

Step 5: Change Your Passwords (if applicable).

Change your passwords immediately if you enter any login credentials on the phishing website. This includes your work email, VPN access, and any other critical accounts for which you might have used the same password.

>>> You Might Also Like: Password Policy Checklist for Employees

Step 6: Run a Security Scan.

Most reputable security software offers options to scan your device for malware. Consult your IT department for recommendations if you don’t have security software installed. Some companies may even provide a centralized system for employees to initiate scans.

Step 7: Watch for Signs of Malicious Activity

While the immediate aftermath of clicking a phishing link might not show any obvious signs, there are some red flags to watch out for in the following days:

  • Unusual Activity on Your Accounts: Monitor your bank accounts, email, and any other accounts you might have accessed through the phishing link. Look for unauthorized transactions, login attempts you didn’t make, or changes to your account settings.
  • Suspicious Emails or Messages:  Phishing attempts are sometimes part of a more extensive campaign. Be wary of follow-up emails, phone calls, or text messages claiming to be related to the initial attempt. These could be further attempts to steal information or install malware.
  • Slow Performance or Error Messages: If malware was downloaded through the phishing link, your device might experience unusual slowness or unexpected error messages.
  • Locked Accounts: If a compromised link led to the attacker’s successful login attempt on your accounts, you might find them locked for security reasons. This can happen with your work email, VPN access, or social media accounts.
  • Unfamiliar Software: If the phishing link downloaded and installed unauthorized software, you might find unfamiliar programs or icons on your device.

Step 8: Learn from the Experience.

Phishing attempts constantly evolve, so staying informed is crucial. Participate in company-provided cybersecurity awareness training programs. These programs can equip employees with tools to recognize red flags and avoid falling victim to phishing attempts in the future.

What NOT to Do After Clicking a Suspicious Link

Even if you realize you’ve clicked on a suspicious link, there are ways to minimize the damage. Here’s what you should absolutely avoid doing:

  • Entering Sensitive Information:  This includes usernames, passwords, credit card details, Social Security numbers, or any other information that could be used for identity theft or financial fraud.
  • Downloading Attachments: Phishing emails often contain malicious attachments disguised as documents, invoices, or other seemingly legitimate files. Downloading these attachments can install malware on your device.
  • Forwarding the Phishing Attempt: While you might be tempted to warn colleagues, forwarding the email could inadvertently spread the phishing attempt further. Some phishing emails may even contain malicious code that gets activated when forwarded.
  • Panicking and Deleting Emails:  While deleting the email might seem like a quick fix, preserving evidence for your IT security team is essential. They can use the email to investigate the phishing attempt and identify potential threats.

Remember: It’s always better to err on caution when in doubt. Don’t interact with the suspicious email or website in any way.

What IT Security Teams Can Do

  • Enhance Phishing Awareness Training: Regular training sessions can help employees identify suspicious emails, recognize common phishing tactics, and understand the importance of reporting such attempts.
  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification factor for logins, such as a code from a phone app, making it much harder for attackers to gain access even if they steal a password.
  • Simulate Phishing Attacks (with Caution): Controlled phishing simulations can help identify gaps in employee awareness and provide valuable practice in spotting red flags.
  • Maintain Updated Security Software: Regularly update security software and operating systems on company devices to patch vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit.
  • Provide a Safe Reporting Environment: Encourage employees to report suspected phishing attempts without fear of judgment. This allows for prompt intervention and protects the company’s overall security posture.

Wrapping Up

Phishing attacks are designed to trick even the most cautious individuals. By following these steps and being proactive about cybersecurity, employees can minimize damage and help maintain the entire organization’s security.

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