Be Aware of Threats

Want to know if the University of Illinois really sent you that email? Call the Technology Services Help Desk at 217-244-7000 and ask!


Phishing is a type of fraudulent communication. A phishing message tries to get the recipient to click a malicious link, call a scammer’s phone number, enter password credentials, or send money. Phishing attempts are constantly evolving. Phishing messages can reach us through email, text, voice call, direct message, and social media.


Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. These incidents, often involving sensitive or personal information, can result in financial loss and an erosion of trust. There has been an increase in incidents of malicious cyber actors using ransomware to access data.

Don’t Get Hooked

Like a fisherman using a lure to hook a fish, identity thieves try to lure you into giving up personal information by making what looks like a legitimate request from an organization you trust. These might look like they are from a bank, credit card company, or even the University. Unfortunately, phishing scams can be highly effective.



  • Hackers impersonate a real organization or person to obtain your login credentials. You may receive an e-mail asking you to verify your account details with a link that takes you to an imposter login screen that delivers your information directly to the attackers.

Spear Phishing

  • Spear phishing is a more sophisticated phishing attack that includes customized information that makes the attacker seem like a legitimate source. They may use your name and phone number and refer to the University in the email to trick you into thinking they have a connection to you, making you more likely to click a link or attachment that they provide.


  • Whaling is a popular ploy aimed at getting you to transfer money or send sensitive information to an attacker via email by impersonating a real University employee. Using a fake domain that appears similar to ours, they look like normal emails from a high-level official, typically the President, Chancellor, Provost, Dean or CFO, and ask you for sensitive information (including usernames and passwords).

Shared Document Phishing

  • You may receive an email that appears to come from a file-sharing sites such as Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive alerting you that a document has been shared with you. The link provided in these emails will take you to a fake login page that mimics the real login page and will steal your account credentials


  • Vishing (voice phishing) is a form of criminal fraud conducted over the phone. The personal connection can make vishing attacks seem more believable. Cybercriminals typically try to get you to provide private personal and financial information. They also use vishing calls to gather information about an organization and its employees to reap financial rewards.  


  • Keep your password private.
  • Only click on or download email attachments from people or companies you know.
  • Don’t click on unfamiliar links. Visit official company websites by typing their URL (website address) directly into a browser.
  • Read carefully. If an email has a lot of misspelled words and really bad grammar, it’s probably a scam.
  • Strangers don’t send millions of dollars to random people (you) on the internet.


Phishing can be easy to spot

Phishing emails are often completely out-of-the-blue emails that ask you to click on a link and enter your password, may have a lot of misspelled words, or want you to download an attached picture or document.

See an example of a phishing email: .

It’s probably a phishing scam if:

  1. The email is unexpected yet reads like you’ve been having an ongoing conversation.
    • You remember when you purchased something or talked to someone. The scammer hopes you don’t remember.
  2. The email asks you to “update your account” by clicking on a form and entering your password, credit card number, or account number.
    • Banks, stores, credit cards, and the University of Illinois will never ask you for sensitive information (passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, etc.) over email.
  3. The sender’s email address is the name of a legitimate company + common email provider. Example:
    • Banks have their own domains. They don’t send emails from common email providers like or
  4. The email has a generic greeting like “Dear User” or “Dear Most Honorable Friend and Confidante.”
    • Legitimate companies personalize their greetings to their customers.
  5. There are misspelled words and bad grammar.
    • Scammers tend to be lazy. They don’t take time to proofread.
  6. A few words are turned into a link instead of a long web address.
    • Hover your cursor over the link without clicking it to see where it’s really taking you, or even more secure, visit the company site directly and find the information you seek.


Delete phishing emails immediately. You can also report phishing phone calls and emails:

What does phishing look like?

sample phishing email
example of a phishing email targeting educational institutions

2022 saw a large increase in phishing attempts targeting universities. A number of the campaigns have centered around job opportunities. 

Proofpoint, the university’s contracted vendor for online cybersecurity training, tracks these outbreaks and provided the following information.

  1. An employment fraud threat involves an attempt to recruit someone under the premise of a legitimate job offer. Threat actors will craft fraudulent job offers, hoping to steal money or personal information, or to recruit an individual to unknowingly comply with illegal activities such as money laundering. Threat actors will typically pose as recruiters or employers and try to entice victims with a variety of opportunities.
  2. A new variation of this scam involves a fake executive personal assistant position with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Spoofed or compromised university email addresses were used to send fake recruitment emails with links to a Google form. Posing as an applicant, a Proofpoint researcher completed the form. The attacker responded, claiming that the “applicant” had been chosen despite no interview taking place, attributing this to “the realities of the ongoing COVID-19 Virus.”


Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. These incidents, often involving sensitive or personal information, can result in financial loss and an erosion of trust.

There has been an increase in incidents of malicious cyber actors using ransomware to access data.

SPECIAL TIP: Check your software applications for the most recent versions. Outdated apps and operating systems are the target of most ransomware attacks. If your apps need to be updated, you’ll probably be prompted to update them. Go ahead. If there’s an option to automatically update in the future, select that option. Because some apps don’t have auto-updating features, it’s best to check them all. 

Ransomware is a serious and increasing threat to all government and private sector organizations, including critical infrastructure organizations. In response, the U.S. government launched, a centralized, whole-of-government webpage providing ransomware resources, guidance, and alerts.


Be careful as you use the internet.

  • Be wary of unfamiliar websites.
  • Examine URLs carefully.
  • Ensure attachments are genuine and from an expected source.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links.

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency recommends:

  • Know what personal and sensitive information is stored on your systems and who has access to it.
  • Limit the data by only storing information you need for business operations.
  • Ensure data is properly disposed of when no longer needed.