Phishing and Malware

A Poignant Reminder

Within less than one week into the new year (January 6 to be exact), Time Warner Cable disclosed a potential hack of customer account information that impacted 320,000 subscribers. Exposed data included users’ email addresses and passwords.

Time Warner Cable quickly encouraged customers to reset their passwords, for fear of having their accounts overtaken. But while this attack on the second largest cable provider hit consumers hard, there was a major twist to this seemingly textbook data breach — Time Warner Cable was not at fault.

More likely than not, the victims themselves were to blame.

After a through investigation of their systems, the cable giant concluded the breach must have taken place outside of their domain. They believe customers unknowingly handed over their account information to hackers, citing phishing and malware as two of the primary culprits.

Know the Terms: Phishing and Malware

A scammer poses as a legitimate person or company online, typically via email, with the intent to steal money or personal information. Many phishing email schemes include fake order confirmations, account verification requests and urgent matters related to billing or legal issues.

Software that contains specialized code designed to damage or allow unauthorized access to a computer or mobile device. Malware is a general term that encompasses a magnitude of threats, from your standard virus that can corrupt files to spyware that can record your every move — even keystrokes.

The Growing Cause for Concern

In 2014, hackers increased malware production by 77 percent — introducing a new strain every four seconds. At the same time, phishing also gained momentum. Globally, 156 million phishing emails were sent every day.

Why such an onslaught of cybercrime? Because these tactics produce results.

Google found that sophisticated, manual phishing attempts allowed hackers to successfully takeover Gmail accounts a staggering 45 percent of the time. And even the most obvious phishing emails got consumers to take the bait in 3 percent of cases, which amounts to about 27 million Gmail users.

Safeguarding Against Phishing and Malware

Keep your computer and smartphone safe from phishing and malware by recognizing the red flags of a phishing scam and taking proactive measures against malware.

Phishing Red Flags

  • All-Encompassing Salutations
    Real companies will address you by name. If you see “Valued Customer,” “Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” — run the other way.
  • Strange Domains
    Check the sender’s email address. If it is a public domain like or, it’s less likely to be legitimate.
  • Demanding Subject Lines
    Urgent requests regarding inexplicable billing, legal issues or account verification are common phishing ploys.
  • Poor Spelling and Grammar
    Cybercrime knows no borders, as many phishers are from overseas where English might not be their first language. This makes typos, bad grammar and unfamiliar phrases a major red flag.
  • Links to the Unknown
    Hover over links within an email before clicking to ensure they are directing you to a legitimate site. On mobile, click and hold a link until a pop up displaying the full URL appears. Many phishers will direct you to a malware-infested website so they can take over your device.
  • Don’t Click on Attachments
    Attachments are often used to initiate the download of malware, never download attachments — even Word documents — if you cannot verify the legitimacy of an email.

Malware Proactive Measures

  • Install Reputable Anti-virus Software
    Read online reviews and full product descriptions before purchasing. Routinely check for software updates to keep up with the endless new malware strains hackers throw at you.
  • Install Reputable Ad-blocking Software
    Ad-blocking software can deter malvertising (malicious advertisements.) Learn more about ad-blocking software.
  • Avoid Unknown (Sketchy-seeming) Websites
    Especially sites where you plan to download content, such as music and movies.
  • Keep Your Computer Updated
    Keep software, applications and operating systems up-to-date. Uninstall any program you no longer use; outdated programs can be a gateway to malware.

Have you ever been a victim of phishing or malware? Experiences can provide valuable help to others. Share your story in the comments below.