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Outsmart the Scammers: How Startups Can Avoid Phishing Attacks

kokou adzo



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Phishing attacks are on the rise, and startups are prime targets for these malicious scams. With data breaches costing companies an average of $3.86 million in 2020 according to IBM, it’s time for startups to get serious about avoiding the phish. If the threat of huge financial losses doesn’t grab your attention, maybe this will—91% of cyber attacks start with a phishing email.

Clearly, proactively protecting your startup from phishing attacks needs to be a top priority. But with scammers constantly changing their tactics, how can busy startups and entrepreneurs ensure they don’t take the bait? 

This article will reveal key strategies for recognizing phishing attempts, blocking them from infiltrating your company inbox, training employees to avoid traps, and leveraging technology to stay on guard against the latest schemes. Implement these phishing defense measures now and you’ll be well-equipped to outsmart even the sneakiest scammers. 

With your startup’s sensitive information, reputation and bottom line at stake, you can’t afford to get hooked.

What is Phishing and How Does it Target Startups?

Phishing is a cybercrime tactic that uses fraudulent emails, texts, phone calls or websites to scam internet users into sharing sensitive data like passwords and banking information. The messages often come from impersonators who act as trusted sources like banks, credit card companies or social media platforms. Phishing links can install malware if clicked on, and any entered data goes directly to criminals.

These schemes frequently target startups because they tend to have less stringent cybersecurity than large enterprises. Startups often don’t have the budget or staff to maintain high-level phishing defenses. 

Also, startups store valuable data like intellectual property, customer information and financials that make lucrative targets. Employees at young companies may be less trained to detect phishing attempts. 

Scammers can easily obtain work emails and spoof messages that look like internal communications. Furthermore, startups tend to have open cultures that emphasize collaboration and information sharing among staff, making employees more apt to click on a link from what appears to be a coworker.

Recognizing Red Flags: Spotting Suspicious Messages

Phishing emails can look incredibly legitimate, but there are telltale signs every startup employee should watch for:

  • Requests for login credentials, bank account details or other sensitive info
  • Links to click on or attachments to open
  • Email addresses from misspelled or slightly altered domain names
  • Poor grammar, spelling mistakes or awkward phrasing
  • Threatening language or a false sense of urgency
  • Website links featuring odd extensions like .co instead of .com

Spoofed email addresses imitating colleagues or leadership are a huge red flag. Another giveaway is impersonal greetings like “Hello Sir/Madam” since most companies don’t communicate this way internally. Visually, poor image quality on logos or bizarre formatting can signify a phishing attempt.

Protecting Your Inbox

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The most direct measure a startup can take against phishing is adopting email security protocols that fortify inboxes:

  • Enable two-factor authentication using SMS or an authenticator app so employees can confirm login attempts.
  • Train staff never to click links or download attachments in emails unless verified as legitimate.
  • Implement DMARC and SPF protocols that authenticate email senders, preventing spoofing.
  • Use an email firewall to filter out and quarantine suspicious messages with odd links, attachments or requests.
  • Deploy AI that examines sentence structure and formatting to detect scam emails.
  • Blacklist known phishing terms and domains so they’re blocked from employee inboxes.

Ongoing education and advanced email security together offer the best defense against increasingly savvy phishing tactics.

Safeguarding Company Data

Limiting employee access to sensitive data based on their roles is a key anti-phishing tactic, just like only giving hotel room keys to registered guests. Set permissions so sales teams can only access client details for their accounts, avoiding a full customer data dump if they’re phished. Have IT teams enable two-factor authentication for accessing databases, like adding PIN codes to room keys.

Caution staff against oversharing company information publicly online or with strangers who contact them, like keeping hotel room doors locked. Make clear that inquiries about financial data, technical specifications and other IP should be forwarded to the PR team to handle, like having guests go to the front desk instead of room doors.

Secure your website and internal apps so visiting phishing sites can’t steal passwords via cross-site skimming, just like securing lobby payment kiosks from card skimmers. Enforce strong passwords changed every 90 days to protect accounts, like making guests set new room codes during extended stays.

Training Employees to Spot Phishing

Include phishing awareness in new hire orientation like hotels review emergency protocols. Send simulated phishing emails to test staff response rates, like fake fire alarms. Offer refreshers on spotting red flags as scams evolve, like updating evacuation maps.

Teach employees tricks like hovering over embedded links to preview destinations, just like reviewing map routes suggested by strangers. Show examples of reported phishing emails and walk through anomalies, like depicting thieves disguised as guests. Urge them to question odd requests in messages to verify legitimacy, like confirming maid service schedules slipped under the door.

Promote a culture of vigilance around links and attachments, like advising travelers to be wary of solicitors. Make it clear it’s better to double check than risk a virus, just like verifying shuttle drivers are hotel-sanctioned. Maintain an open dialogue so staff are comfortable flagging suspicious messages.

Maintaining Vigilance on Social Media

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Monitor for fake social accounts impersonating leadership or the company, like watching for someone posing as the hotel concierge. Verify official profiles through contacts at social platforms, like liaising with travel sites to expose fraudulent listings. Report imposters attempting to phish employees via social media, similar to reporting phone scammers impersonating front desk staff.

Evaluate new social media connections requesting access to company accounts with extra scrutiny, just like vetting rental applicants thoroughly. Look for slight differences in handles or branding that signal frauds, such as incorrect hotel names. 

Request video calls to confirm identities if needed, like requiring ID confirmation at check-in. Limit account access to core team members only, like restricting staff areas to authorized personnel.

Stay on guard as scammers migrate to new platforms. Keep social media security policies current and seek out new protections from phishing threats. Remind staff it’s better to take preventative measures against phishing socially, just like advising guests to store valuables in safety deposit boxes.

Key Takeaways: Outsmart the Scammers

With phishing attacks multiplying each year, no startup can afford to ignore the threat of having their data and dollars hooked by scammers. But as this article has revealed, fighting back is completely within your capabilities. By combining employee education, email security protocols, access control and social media vigilance, your startup can tackle phishers head-on.

Don’t become another phishing statistic hemorrhaging millions due to a single deceptive click. Implement comprehensive phishing defenses that empower your workforce to recognize and resist attacks. 

Leverage the latest technical safeguards to lock down inboxes and authenticate communications. The success of your startup hangs in the balance. Stay focused, stay protected, and let your business thrive while scammers are left fishing for their next target. With brains, vigilance and the right tools, you can land your startup safely on the shores of prosperity and leave phishers floundering behind.

Kokou Adzo is the editor and author of He is passionate about business and tech, and brings you the latest Startup news and information. He graduated from university of Siena (Italy) and Rennes (France) in Communications and Political Science with a Master's Degree. He manages the editorial operations at

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