Phishing: A Cybersecurity Threat Overview for Banks

A hacker’s gloved hands typing on a laptop keyboard.

This is the era of digital exploitation, where the complexity of cybersecurity challenges is ever-increasing.

Despite remarkable advancements in cybersecurity technology, companies, regardless of their size and stature, continue to remain vulnerable to sophisticated attacks. These attacks not only jeopardize their operational integrity but also threaten their reputational value.

While cybercriminals now employ a wide range of tactics and tools, their preferences remain consistent: they target the weakest link in the security chain, which is often human emotion. By exploiting this vulnerability, attackers gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.

That’s why cybercriminals leverage phishing attacks

They skillfully prey on human generosity and our willingness to help others to access confidential information to pillage financial resources. These attacks are not just limited to deceiving individuals; they encompass a broader strategy of infiltrating entire networks.

As a financial professional, you must recognize that phishing poses an existential threat not just to your clients, but also to your staff and your bank’s reputation. These attacks can lead to significant financial losses, erode customer trust, and even result in severe legal consequences.

In this article, we will unveil the dangers of phishing, discuss its most common manifestations, and provide powerful strategies to defend your organization’s future. 

What Is Phishing?

The banking sector faces many cybersecurity threats, and the list is expanding.

However, phishing fuels the vast majority of attacks.

In the simplest terms, phishing is fraud. It’s a highly-successful scheme that tricks victims into divulging sensitive information. 

Cybercriminals “phish” by posing as legitimate sources, complete with crafty emails, text messages, and even phone calls as bait. With AI and the growing use of deep fakes, anti-phishing technology is of even greater importance for banks.

The opening salvo of a cyberattack, phishing is like a digital Trojan horse. Once victims take the bait, hackers can swiftly unload malware, ransomware, and other digital plagues. 

These manipulators leverage fear, urgency, and familiarity to seduce victims into clicking dangerous links, downloading malware, or providing a username and password. 

Though it’s easy to think, “this could never happen to me,” recent statistics suggest otherwise. 

Phishing by the Numbers 

According to Deloitte, over 90% of all cyberattacks begin with phishing.

And when successful, the average phishing scheme costs businesses $4.91 million—though larger institutions can lose up to $300 million from a single phishing strike.  

Unsurprisingly, financial institutions remain by far the most targeted sector, receiving 27% of all reported phishing attempts.

And though it has been a known enemy for years, phishing is becoming increasingly common. 

In 2023, 94% of firms dealt with phishing—up 2% from the previous year. 

More granularly, over 1.6 billion malicious emails were sent in 2023. And while the numbers are increasing, so is the sophistication of cybercriminal syndicates. 

Amid the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, a flood of phishing emails targeted SVB customers desperate for a lifeline.

The bank shuttered on Friday, March 10, 2023, but by the end of the following week, nearly 100 “spoofed” SVB domains were in play. Countless customers fell for this bogus ploy and further jeopardized their financial futures. 

Indeed, spoofing is an especially merciless extension of phishing techniques, as it flagrantly impersonates a bank’s domain and branding with great precision.  

How Does Phishing Work?

Though it seems rather strange to say, phishing is an art form.

It’s the ultimate social engineering scheme, blending the soft skills of persuasion and technological wizardry with one tantalizing goal: to extract valuable data. 

Phishing attempts are extremely difficult to spot. Many times, they come in the form of a request that seems innocuous, one that makes the recipient feel like they’re helping, as if they’re doing the right thing.

After all, who wouldn’t want to help their bosses, business partners, or trusted associates?

From behind their keyboards, cybercriminals seduce their prey with increasingly precise tactics. While phishing comes in many forms, attackers generally follow this five-step process: 

  1. The target: identify a potential victim in a firm—it can be anyone, from a low-level employee to a C-Suite  executive.
  2. The setup: make contact via email or text message, posing as a boss, a vendor, or bank representative—often by using a spoofed domain. 
  3. The ask: craft a message with an urgent call-to-action, like a purported security
    breach, an expiring special offer, or a password update.
  4. The betrayal: provide a fraudulent website or portal for the victim to input
    their private credentials. 
  5. The raid: gain unbridled access to the intended account, server, or network.

It’s a terrifying trend: human error drives 95% of all cyberattacks, and phishing depends entirely upon human error.

Types of Phishing Attacks

Phishing has many faces, especially in 2024.

Though old-school methods remain dangerous, new-school tactics are fast emerging. 

For example, cybercriminals are leveraging generative AI to write pernicious emails and code. That appears to be one of the reasons why phishing has skyrocketed 1,265% since the launch of ChatGPT. 

As a result, wannabe hackers and neophyte criminals can enter the phishing game with no prerequisite skills. Artificial intelligence does the heavy lifting for them. 

As you seek to defend your bank, these are the primary types of phishing attacks that you should look out for:

  • Email phishing, which issues a fraudulent message containing malware of some kind. By impersonating real organizations, email phishing often targets large groups at once.
  • Business email compromise, which circulates a fake email from a trusted source. BEC comes from authentic email accounts and uses urgent language to compromise a specific account and harvest various types of data..
  • Spear phishing, which targets a specific employee within an organization (rather than a group of people), leveraging tailored communications to appear legitimate.
  • Whale phishing, which pursues high-ranking executives in a firm—typically a CFO or CEO. It often utilizes legal threats to pressure executives into taking action.
  • Search engine phishing, which publicizes fake websites built to harvest personal data. This method appears alongside organic search results or as a paid advertisement.
  • Smishing, which uses text messaging (SMS) to perpetrate an attack. It typically contains a malicious link that asks the user for confidential information.
  • Vishing, which uses fraudulent phone calls or voice messages to trap victims. Attackers target new employees by posing as third-party vendors or C-suite executives.
  • Angler phishing, which uses social media platforms to hack a target. By sending direct messages to victims, hackers pose as customer service agents from legitimate companies.
  • Email spoofing, which targets businesses with a forged email address to make it look authentic.
  • Website spoofing, which forges a brand’s web domain to lure customers and employees. It often involves the strategic misspelling of a domain name (i.e., “typosquatting”) to appear authentic, like “” Publicly available domains—like .com and .net—are most vulnerable to spoofing attacks. 

Although there are many types of phishing attacks, there are also many “light lift” best practices that you can implement to keep your company, your employees, and yourself safe from these threats.

Phishing Prevention Strategies

In the digital age, a healthy dose of skepticism is encouraged. 

Cyberattacks are on the rise, and the global hacker “braintrust” is endlessly innovating. 

However complex the schemes get, phishing prevention begins with a few basic ground rules:

  • If a text message seems odd, “Report as Spam” and delete it. 
  • If a voicemail sounds weird, it could be AI. Block the number and delete the voicemail.
  • If an email feels strange, click “Report Spam” and delete it. 

While trusting your gut instinct is important, it’s not enough—especially when it comes to securing your bank. Phishing attacks are increasingly difficult to detect and that is why phishing prevention strategies must also be incorporated.

1. Focus on Employee Training

You’re only as strong as your staff. While cyberattacks on financial institutions are rising, employee education can reverse the trend. 

According to a recent report, banks saw a nearly 50% decrease of phishing exposure within 90 days of employee education. Better yet, after a full year of training, those same banks had their phishing vulnerability drop to just 3%.

To learn more about employee training, check out our comprehensive guide.

2. Leverage Multi-Factor Authentication

As you empower your staff, it’s equally important to utilize technology to your benefit.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an essential security protocol that instantly doubles (or even triples) a hacker’s barrier to entry.

While alphanumeric passwords can be hacked in seconds (through brute force attacks), MFA requires additional credentials to log in to a network or device. Though this might sound simple, it can complicate a hacker’s ambitions in profoundly frustrating ways.

According to the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), MFA can reduce your hacking exposure by 99%.

3. Explore Artificial Intelligence

While AI and machine learning can be twisted by bad actors, they can also be used to fortify your firm’s security.

After all, artificial intelligence is nearly omniscient—at least when compared to humans.  By devouring large sets of data, AI can recognize malicious emails in nanoseconds.

In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, AI algorithms can spot phishing and spoofing attacks with 98% accuracy. By utilizing these tools, you will surround your staff with essential layers of support.

Additional Prevention Strategies

The list of prevention strategies discussed above is not exhaustive. Some additional prevention strategies worth exploring include email security and incident response plans.

Email security is a critical frontier in the fight against phishing. As financial institutions handle sensitive data, the banking landscape is particularly vulnerable. Cybercriminals often use sophisticated techniques to tailor emails to target specific individuals or departments. Therefore, understanding and implementing advanced email security measures is paramount. 

For a comprehensive understanding of email cybersecurity in the banking landscape, be sure to check out our complete guide. Here, we take a look at the latest strategies and tools for securing email communications. 

Next, while preventative measures are crucial, it’s equally important to have robust incident response plans (IRP). An IRP is a set of procedures and tools prepared in advance to effectively address and manage the aftermath of a security breach or cyberattack. A well-structured IRP can significantly reduce the damage and recovery time following an incident.

How .Bank Helps Prevent Phishing Attacks 

Hackers want to be you—at least until they get your sensitive information. 

That’s why they spawned fake SVB websites, why a Bank of America affiliate was fined $24 million over spoofing, and why a Chase customer recently lost $30,000 to a mimetic fraudster

Spoofing works, and it pays handsomely. 

Hackers know that if they can impersonate your website or domain, they’ll not only pillage your resources—they’ll undermine your reputation. 

That’s where .Bank raises the bar. 

While publicly available domains are susceptible to imitation, a .Bank domain cannot be counterfeited. 

Why? Because other industries can’t use it—it’s available exclusively for banks

This exclusivity, when combined with our industry-leading global DMARC policy, helps prevent phishing, spamming, and website spoofing. 

A .Bank domain is a beacon of confidence for your employees and customers. After all, they’ll always know what’s authentic—and what’s mere impersonation–and .Bank secures all .Bank domains from phishing by default as a built-in security feature.

With .Bank, your authenticity will never be in doubt.

Find out why over 825 banks have moved to a .Bank domain, or schedule a meeting to discover how we can help protect your bank too.

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