Tax Season Brings Heightened Phishing Risk

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Tax scammers are ready to pounce. Are you ready? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) have recently published some posts about some common tax-related scams.

These five pages were published during the National Tax Security Awareness week to educate people about tax scams, but they are relevant during any week.

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Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

US-CERT also reminded people of some simple methods people can avoid social engineering and phishing attacks in this Security Tip. Here are some relevant points from the tip.

In a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization’s network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility.

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What is a phishing attack?

Phishing is a form of social engineering. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to solicit personal information by posing as a trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts.

Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other types of organizations, such as charities. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year, such as

  • natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, Indonesian tsunami)
  • epidemics and health scares (e.g., H1N1)
  • economic concerns (e.g., IRS scams)
  • major political elections
  • holidays

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  • 75 question pre-assessment exam
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  • Understanding Identity and Access Management (full content from Chapter 2 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
  • Exploring Network Technologies and Tools (full content from Chapter 3 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
  • Securing Your Network (full content from Chapter 4 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
  • Securing Hosts and Data (full content from Chapter 5 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
  • Comparing Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Common Attacks (full content from Chapter 6 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
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  • Understanding Cryptography and PKI (full content from Chapter 10 of the study guide including the exam topic review and 15 practice test questions)
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How do you avoid being a victim?

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.
  • Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information.
  • Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email.
  • Don’t send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website’s security. (See Protecting Your Privacy for more information.)
  • Pay attention to the URL of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).
  • If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information. Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group.
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic. (See Understanding FirewallsUnderstanding Anti-Virus Software, and Reducing Spam for more information.)
  • Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.

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