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What is a Malicious Link?

What are malicious links? Why should you care? Learn about the most common method for cybercrime delivery.

Piper Rundell

September 6, 2023

What is a Malicious Link?

In an era dominated by digital interactions, our online activities have become an integral part of daily life. However, this increased connectivity also brings an escalated risk of cyber threats. Among these threats, phishing attacks are the most frequent. A significant weapon used in the cyber attacker's arsenal is the malicious link—a seemingly innocuous pathway that can lead to catastrophic consequences. Let's dive into the world of malicious links, learn how to spot them, and explore strategies for safeguarding ourselves against phishing attacks.

Understanding Phishing

In 2022, 15 million phishing attacks were detected. Year over year, attacks have been increasing with exponential frequency, and the renowned issue has critically affected global corporations, small businesses, and individuals alike. Everyone is a target, but nobody needs to be a victim.

It’s important to understand phishing and how it works to protect yourself and your online communities. Phishing is a form of cyber attack where criminals employ deceitful tactics to trick individuals into exposing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, or personal data. Often, attackers disguise themselves as trusted entities, luring their victims into divulging confidential information willingly. When phishing attacks are personalized in nature, this is called spear phishing. Read more about spear phishing attacks here:

Additionally, phishing links may install malware on your device - just clicking the link can put you in danger. The malware downloaded often tracks your keystrokes, giving the hacker exclusive access to your communications, passwords, and browsing behaviors. This knowledge not only allows a cybercriminal to access your accounts, but it enables them to gather information and use social engineering to craft hyper-targeted, personalized attacks.

Usually, phishing is delivered via email. This, however, is far from the only attack vector. We’ve observed increases across the entire online ecosystem including, social media, peer-to-peer messaging, QR codes, and file downloads. As cybercriminals broaden their horizons and test new avenues for delivering malicious links, it’s important to remain aware and be suspicious at all times.

By understanding phishing, being aware of how it works, and knowing the signs, we can put the dark days of dangerous browsing behind us.

Identifying a Malicious Link

A malicious link is designed to be clicked. These bad guys are pretty good at what they do. You never know what might be behind a link, but there are a few telltale signs that we can look for to tell us whether an attack is imminent. Spotting these deceitful URLs requires vigilance and a keen eye for subtle details:

  1. Examine the URL: Before clicking on any link, carefully scrutinize the URL's authenticity. Cyber attackers often manipulate URLs to resemble legitimate sites, but close inspection can sometimes reveal a malicious link.
  • Look closely at the end of the URL, attackers will often tag on additional words and symbols, even though the beginning looks legitimate.
  • Look for excessive hyphens, for example:
  1. Beware of Malicious Emails: Malicious links often find their way into emails designed to appear genuine. These emails might be from your “boss” or a “coworker” asking you to look at something, or download a file. They also might make an urgent request. Always verify the sender's legitimacy before taking any steps. Trusted brands are often used as vessels for malicious links as well, such as Microsoft, Google, or Apple. Look closely for anything that seems off, like the sender’s address, branding inconsistencies, and typos.
  1. Shortened URLs: Tool like link shorteners are often used to hide malicious links. Always hover your cursor over a link to reveal the actual destination URL, if it doesn’t match the displayed text or seems suspicious, don’t click.

Even if you think a link is safe, you can never be 100% sure. That’s why we created Whag. By combining link creation, link validation, identity verification, and awareness culture in one convenient package, Whag’s Verified Links allow businesses, individuals, and communities to efficiently safeguard themselves and others against phishing threats. Every person who clicks on a Whag Verified link will know who created the link and where it’s taking them. Phishing is a cycle and when you get hacked, those you interact with online are more likely to be hacked as well. By joining Whag you can help end the cycle, one link at a time.

Insights Through Stories: Real-World Examples

Don’t just take it from us, though. Innocent hard workers are suffering at the hands of cybercriminals every day with small businesses often caught in the crosshairs. According to Barracuda, companies with 100 of fewer employees experience 350% more social engineering, or phishing attacks than other businesses. Small businesses that do most of their business online are particularly at risk.

Take Pat Bennett, for example. The owner of a small granola business, she conducts most of her sales through Instagram. She recently experienced an aggressive phishing attack in which the criminal used a malicious link to gain access to all of her social media accounts, ultimately forcing her to start over.

But it’s not just small businesses that are at risk - even political campaigns fall victim to these attacks. In 2016, cybercriminals sent seemingly authentic emails with malicious links to Democratic National Committee (DNC) staff. By clicking these links, the attackers gained unauthorized access to sensitive emails and documents, causing significant political turmoil.

Businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes are at risk across every industry, and the truth is it's not a matter of if but of when you will be affected.

How to Protect Against Phishing Attacks

As cyber threats evolve, so too must our defenses. Safeguarding ourselves against malicious links and phishing attacks requires proactive measures:

Prioritize Link Security

Employ security software that can identify and block malicious URLs. Whag offers such capabilities, using new methods to verify links and ensure every link you click is safe. You never know what’s behind a link, but behind every Whag link is a real, verified human. Whag also offers a Blocklist, in which users of the network can submit malicious links or suspicious links they’ve encountered to protect others.

Proceed With Caution

It's vital to be informed on various forms of attacks so that you may identify them when you encounter them. You never know what could be lurking behind a link. Always examine the URL for phishing signals and never click a link that you’re suspicious of.

Navigating the Digital Landscape Safely

88% of data breaches are caused by human error. By honing your ability to spot and avoid them, you empower yourself to navigate the web with confidence. Remember, vigilance is the cornerstone of digital security. By staying informed, questioning the authenticity of URLs, and investing in robust security measures, you fortify your defenses against the ever-evolving threat of phishing attacks. Telling good links from bad is a full time job, but Whag makes it easy. Join us today and help us put an end to phishing at it’s source: the malicious link.