Common Online Attacks and How to Protect Against Them

October is Cyber Security Awareness month, when the importance of protecting yourself and your workplace against online risks is in the spotlight. As part of that initiative, we’re looking at some of the most common types of online attack and how you can defend against them.

The internet has become an indispensable tool for businesses but using it requires you to stay cautious and aware in order to be secure. Even small law offices represent a high-value target. There’s been a substantial rise in fraud attempts against real estate law practices as bad actors try to insert themselves into one of the largest financial transactions of most people’s lives. In fact, financial losses rose from $360 million in 2016 to $1.3 billion in just two years! That doesn’t even take into account the potential losses from the many unsuccessful attempts that were blocked by a vigilant legal professional.

It’s never been more important to be able to recognize attempts and know how to respond. Here are some of the most common types of online attack and how you can protect yourself, and your office, against them.

Fraudsters pretending to be you
Real estate email scams are on the rise with an increase in attacks and financial losses every year. The most common method has been from a fraudster emailing a client pretending to be their lawyer or notary and requesting a payment, such as for a fee or closing costs. Because the client recognizes the name of the sender and it’s about their transaction, they may not question it and simply do as the email asks.

To protect your client, and keep the transaction from falling through due to lost funds, have a conversation with your client upfront about what their experience with you will be like. Let them know what topics you would contact them for by email and what your office’s email addresses look like. Also, warn them to call you first if they receive any email that looks like it comes from your office requesting money. If the email is legitimate, all they’ve lost is a few minutes in exchange for staying safe.

Social media phishing attempts
If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve been sent a vague message by someone you know containing a link. This is a common type of attack called phishing. The aim is to trick you into clicking the link by masquerading as someone you know. These links often contain malware that can lock your computer or collect information from it.

If you receive a message or email like this from someone you trust, your best option is to contact them through another channel, such as by phone, to ask if they sent it to you. They may not even be aware their own account was phished and is now being used to entrap their contacts.

Impersonating a business you know
A particularly pernicious way bad actors will get access to you is by pretending to be a business you know. This can look like an email from your bank or a Twitter account that looks nearly identical to the actual company’s account. When you get an email or message from a business, look for signs that it’s really them. For example, banks typically don’t ask you to click on anything to get to your account from an email. Instead, they’ll ask you to go to their website to login or call them.

Fraudsters have also been known to create pages on social media that look like they’re the official page of a reputable company. If you get a message on social media that appears to be from a business page, do a few simple checks to confirm it’s authentic. For starters, many social media companies provide verification checks of businesses. On both Twitter and Facebook, that’s a blue check mark icon. You should also look at how many followers a business page has on social media and judge if it makes sense. Major companies often have thousands of followers so if the account contacting you only has a few dozen, consider it suspicious.

The blue check mark icon is how Facebook (left) and Twitter (right) indicate this is a verified account.

Coupon scams
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Coupon scams are on the rise and take advantage of our love for a good deal. These scams offer you an incredible deal (75% off your next purchase!) and all you have to do is fill out a form with your personal information. Many of these scams will even send you a coupon that looks authentic. By the time you’ve tried to use it at the store (who will have no clue where you got the “coupon” ), the scammers will have taken full advantage of all the information you provided them to run amok with your identity.