what is spear phishing
Updated on 25th Mar, 22 69 Views

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What is Spear Phishing?

Spear phishing is the malicious act of sending mails and electronic communications to targeted individuals, organizations, or businesses with the intention to steal data or information. It is generally initiated with the motive to steal data for malicious purposes. However, there are times when spear phishing is initiated to install malware on targeted computer systems. It is of prime importance to note that spear phishing can be initiated by anyone, individuals as well as businesses.

How Does Spear Phishing Work?

Spear phishing emails have become difficult to detect in the past few years. Spear phishing attackers collect email addresses, personal information, friend lists, location, etc., by scanning social networking sites. With this information, the attackers are able to pose as a friend or someone familiar and send malicious messages to the particular individual.

These messages are often sent with a sense of urgency to gain immediate attention. People are usually asked to open a malicious link or attachment. The link takes the individual to a fake website where they would be required to submit sensitive information. The attackers could pose as friends or family, ask for account passwords, and then use it to extract sensitive information. If the attackers succeed in gathering sensitive information about an individual, they can access the individual’s bank accounts or create a new identity using that information.

Phishing vs Spear Phishing

Oftentimes, the terms phishing and spear phishing are used interchangeably, but is there any difference between the two? This section will elucidate the same.

The key difference between phishing and spear phishing is the extent of personalization in the attack.

Phishing is a broad term that includes many types of cyberattacks that are generated via email, SMS, voice calls, etc. Predominantly, phishing-related cyberattacks are generated to gain access to information, such as passwords, usernames, and credit card details, for malicious reasons. The sender poses as a reliable and reputable entity such as a bank. Usually, the messages are sent in bulk to the target audience.

On the other hand, a spear phishing attack targets one individual at a time. The messages received by the victim will be from seemingly trustworthy individuals or entities in their life.

Comparatively, spear phishing deceives more people than phishing. This is due to the fact that the message has been generated from a known source, unlike phishing where an unknown source is the source of the message.

Signs of Spear Phishing

It is important that we know how to identify spear phishing. Spear phishing emails are usually distinct, company to company, but there are some similarities that we can look out for:

  • An incorrect or similar email address
  • A sense of urgency in the email such as expired passwords, express shipping, etc.
  • Asking for fast-track payments
  • Different words and terminologies

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Spear Phishing Examples

It is of importance to note that in the year 2020, almost 75 percent of organizations reportedly experienced cyberattacks, and a whopping 96 percent of those cyberattacks were spear phishing.

There are various spear phishing techniques that attackers use to lure individuals. Thus, it is crucial to spot the attempts of spear phishing and avoid the same to protect your organization’s data.

Now, let us look at some examples of spear phishing:

  • One of the most common examples of spear phishing is in the form of an email urging you to sign a digital document. The email would resemble your organization’s email standards. Usually, the email would imply that there is some new update in the organization, and, thus, you need to sign the email immediately. Since the email has an uncanny resemblance, you might click the link and type in the required details without giving it a second thought. Your credentials will be asked through a faux homepage of your organization. This is prevalent in organizations that employ hundreds of people, since many would not think twice to bother the HR or manager to question the validity of the email. After receiving the credentials, the hacker would gain access to the organization’s details through you.
  • Another common example of spear phishing, which is similar to the above-mentioned spear phishing example, is emails that would usually seemingly represent service-provider organizations such as Microsoft.
  • Another type of spear phishing is where an email would state that the sender is a fresher at the organization; but, in reality, it is a way to gain your trust and make you share the fresher’s credentials or other confidential information.

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What Makes Spear Phishing Harmful?

There are several effects of spear phishing, the financial impact being the most prominent one. The losses incurred by various organizations, due to spear phishing, scale in millions.

For example, Facebook and Google have lost over $100 million in recent years due to spear phishing.

Moreover, lately, spear phishing has been targeting financial transactions and has resulted in loss of billions.

But how to prevent spear phishing that causes severe losses? The following section of the blog will answer the same.

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Spear Phishing Prevention

The following are the ways that you can use to prevent yourself from being a victim of spear phishing:

  • Be updated on the latest spear phishing attacks in the market. Use simulation tools to educate your workers as well on the same. Oftentimes, simulation tools are available for free as well.
  • Make sure that the cyber security mechanisms employed by you are of top quality. Most importantly, ensure that the security measures are authorized.
  • Ensure that your cyber security system is updated.
  • Install malware protection and anti-spam software.
  • Incorporate cyber security awareness campaigns, education, project management, support, and training in your corporate culture.

You can also use anti-spear-phishing tools as a preventative measure. Let us take a look at some of them:

  • BrandShield Anti-phishing

This anti-spear-phishing tool focuses on protecting your brand and corporate trust. This tool is beneficial in monitoring social media and other relevant aspects of similar nature to detect phishing sites. This tool is effective in the detection of brand impersonation as well.

  • Avanan

This anti-spear-phishing tool is beneficial for enhancing the security of Office 365, G Suite, etc. This tool is also used in other organizational protection aspects such as monitoring user and platform configurations, watching for changes in files in cloud storage, email filtering, account takeover protection, and configuration security.

  • Mimecast

This anti-spear-phishing tool protects your organization from spear phishing attacks. Mimecast is beneficial in aspects such as backing up enterprise email services. This helps in the maintenance of service continuity in case of a successful attack.

Conclusion

It indeed is true that spear phishing can cause monetary loss to your organization. By properly implementing cyber safety measures, you can protect your organization’s data to a great extent.

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