Malware includes a wide array of tools that hackers use to steal sensitive information from the victim’s devices. One of the fastest spreading and easily used tools is phishing. This tool involves deceiving the victim by pretending to be a credible organization or person to lure them into following a link that will steal their information.

Phishing is sometimes difficult to detect, especially if the hacker studied the victim’s network well and was posing as a personal acquaintance or uses the name of a publicly-trusted organization to complete their scam. Through this article, we will get to know what a phishing link is, how hackers attempt to scam victims, and what you can do if you click on a phishing link to save your data.

What is a Phishing Link?

A phishing link is a fake link the hacker sends to the victim that poses as a valid link to lure the victim into giving out personal information, sharing login passwords or credentials, or opening an attachment that will steal their sensitive data. There are two forms of phishing; the first is when the hacker sends the link to your email, which is called phishing. The second form is when the hacker sends the link to you via text messages, which is called smishing.

What Happens to Your Device When You Click on a Phishing Link?

When you click on a phishing link, this will install some form of malware on your device, such as spyware, viruses, or worse—ransomware. Generally, this happens without your detection. The malware might steal your information or send more phishing links to people on your contact list, or the hacker can use your device for crypto-mining. In the case of ransomware, the hacker will encrypt your data and asks you for ransom in exchange for the decryption key.

Unfortunately, hackers are making phishing attempts more sophisticated, making them harder to discover, with more people falling for them. The problem with phishing is they pose as someone you trust, and many don’t think twice before opening a link they’d received from a trusted contact. This emphasizes the importance of scanning every received link or attachment, regardless of how trustful the sender is.

What to Do in Case of Clicking on a Phishing Link?

In case you clicked on a phishing link and found malicious software installed on your device, received a ransom request, or suspect the link you clicked might be malicious, you need to follow these steps:

1. Disconnect

The first important step is to disconnect from the internet, which is the means through which the hacker collects data from your device. If you disconnect the internet, the malicious software cannot send data back to the hacker. If you’re using a wired connection, just unplug the connection cord right away, and if you’re using a Wi-Fi connection, turn it off from the settings on your computer. If the wireless connection refuses to disconnect because the hacker is manipulating your device’s settings, turn off the Wi-Fi router to disconnect the service entirely.

2. Back Up

After disconnecting from the internet, you ought to back up the files you recently worked on. Data backup is an essential process regardless of a phishing attack. In this case, if you regularly back up your data, you need to only back up the recent one that you haven’t backed up just before the phishing attack. Data backup is important because it can be accidentally destroyed when recovering from a phishing attack.

When you’re selecting files to back up, try to focus on important files, such as sensitive work files, family photos, and videos. If you’ve never backed up your data, choosing which files to focus on will make it easier to recover faster from the phishing attack. You can use several methods to store your backups, such as an external hard drive, a USB drive, or even CDs. You can get USB and external drives for lower costs nowadays.

3. Scan for Malware

If you don’t have much experience dealing with computer viruses, it’s better to take your device, after you’ve backup your data, to a computer specialist who knows how to check for malware. However, if you’re savvy with computers, you can run a full system scan from your antivirus software after disconnecting your device from the internet. The majority of antivirus software will show an error message that they can’t connect to the internet, just ignore the message and proceed with the scan; you need to avoid reconnecting to the internet to prevent the malware from stealing your data.

After a recent attack on your device, the antivirus scan may take some time, so you should avoid using the device until the scan is complete. Follow any cleaning or quarantine instructions that the software produces at the end to dispose of harmful files. When you’ve disposed of any harmful files, run a second scan to make sure the antivirus software doesn’t produce any more harmful files on your device.

If you still have problems with your device after running the second scan or just want to be certain that it’s safe to use it again, you can take it to a specialist.

4. Change Passwords

A phishing link is a tool to install malware on your device that will steal sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card pins, login credentials, and, most importantly, any online banking information. If you believe you’ve clicked on a phishing link, it’s best to change the credentials you previously used on this device. The best way to ensure your new credentials are safe is to use another uninfected device to change them. Otherwise, you will be giving the hacker what they wanted.

It’s worth noting that you must use different login credentials for all online services, or you’ll just be making the hacker’s work easier. If he can access one account, he will be able to access the remainder of your accounts. Use strong passwords with letters, numbers, and characters, and make sure they are no less than eight figures. If you have a password generator, this will help you create strong and unique passwords.

5. Fraud Alert

A fraud alert is when you request to place a notice on your credit cards that alerts your creditors that you’ve been a victim of fraud such as identity theft. This might seem extreme, but with the continuous development of malware, a hacker can swiftly steal your information without your knowledge and use your credit card information to buy goods or withdraw money. When you ask to place a fraud alert on your credit card with one creditor, they are required by law to notify all creditors in the market. This step helps prevent the creation of any new cards under your name until the alert is removed.

This step seems like a far stretch, but in case you’ve clicked on a phishing link, then your credentials are all in danger, and it’s better to be safe until the danger has surpassed.

Phishing and smishing are fast spreading and, sometimes, cannot be avoided. When you suspect an email or a text message, it’s better to delete it without hesitation to keep yourself safe. It’s also wise to remember that legitimate organizations or people will never ask you to send sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, via email or text messages because these are highly insecure channels.