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Educators beware: How to identify phishing emails in academic environments

Cybercriminals impersonate educational institutions, sending fraudulent emails claiming urgent updates.

Computer laptop. — Image © Tim Sandle
Computer laptop. — Image © Tim Sandle

Students and teachers alike are increasingly becoming targets of phishing email scams, posing significant risks to personal and sensitive information. These deceptive tactics employed by cybercriminals often appear legitimate and can easily deceive unsuspecting victims.

For example, an estimated 20 percent of schools in the UK has been the target of some form of cyberattack.

The company CyberNut has told Digital Journal about the most prevalent phishing email scams targeting educational communities and explains how to recognise these malicious scam attempts.

Fake Educational Institution Notifications

Cybercriminals impersonate educational institutions, sending fraudulent emails claiming urgent updates, such as changes to academic schedules, new policies, or account verification requests. These emails often contain malicious links or attachments that, when clicked, lead to phishing websites or malware downloads.

If a school district has yet to perform any security awareness training, they have a high vulnerability of being hacked via phishing. On average, 38 percent of users fail phishing tests.

Scholarship And Financial Aid Scams

Phishers exploit students’ financial concerns by sending emails promising lucrative scholarships, grants, or financial aid opportunities. These emails request personal and financial information, such as social security numbers or bank account details, under the guise of processing applications, ultimately leading to identity theft or financial fraud.

False Job Opportunities

Scammers target both students and teachers with enticing job offers or internship opportunities, promising high pay and career advancement. These emails typically request personal information, including social security numbers, addresses, and banking details, with the intention of identity theft or financial fraud.

Urgency And Fear Tactics

Phishing emails often try to instil a sense of urgency or fear, pressuring recipients to act quickly and without careful scrutiny.

Spoofed Identities And Domains

Cybercriminals mimic the branding and communication styles of legitimate educational institutions or trusted organisations, making it challenging for recipients to discern the authenticity of the emails.

Social Engineering Ploys

Phishers leverage psychological manipulation techniques to exploit human behaviour and emotions, such as curiosity, trust, or greed.

In terms of how to recognise and avoid phishing attempts, CyberNut recommends that before clicking on any links in emails, hover your mouse over them to preview the URL. It is also important to be cautious of shortened or obfuscated URLs that may redirect to phishing websites.

Further good advice is to examine the sender’s email address carefully for any discrepancies or irregularities. Pay attention to misspellings or variations in domain names that may indicate a spoofed identity. Another point is to avoid opening email attachments from unknown or unexpected sources, as they may contain malware or ransomware designed to infect your device and steal sensitive information.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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