How to Identify the Differences Between Phishing and Spear Phishing

By Axis Marketing

computer data on screen

Often, the terms phishing and spear phishing are used interchangeably. However, there is a key distinction between these two types of attacks, and it’s important to have some basic background knowledge.

Here's how to identify the differences between phishing and spear phishing:



Phishing is a general term that refers to any cyber attack where a hacker disguises themselves as a trusted source in order to acquire sensitive information. Typically, under traditional phishing attacks, hackers send fraudulent, malicious emails to as many people as possible. It’s not unusual for phishing attacks to target thousands of individuals at once in the hopes of netting just a few victims.

Phishing attacks take a quantity over quality approach. Despite the randomness of the attacks, phishers can gain highly sought information on their victims through mass, easy-to-reproduce emails. The goal of these emails is to compromise data or a larger network through the greatest cyber security vulnerability of all—users themselves.

Effectively, instead of going through the hassle of breaking strong, digital defences, hackers use phishing attacks to trick someone into giving them access to a network or data.

To fool the victims, attackers customize phishing emails to make them appear legitimate, sometimes using logos or dummy email accounts to improve the effectiveness of the attack. Usually, phishers will pretend to be a trusted source, like a hospital, bank or employer.


Spear Phishing:

While phishing attacks are effective, they are designed to be broad and affect as many individuals as possible. As a result, they are generally written vaguely and are easy to spot. Spear-phishing attacks are much more convincing, targeted and sophisticated.

With spear phishing, cyber criminals narrow down the scope of their attack to a smaller group, sometimes just a handful of individuals. By doing this, hackers can do research and make the phishing email much more convincing based on a victim’s profile or online activity.

Malicious hackers can find most of the information needed to carry out a spear-phishing attack right on the internet, particularly on company websites and social networking sites. It’s not uncommon for phishers to use a target’s personal information (e.g., name or address) or the personal information of their friends, family and colleagues as leverage in an email.

Because spear-phishing attacks are highly customized, they are far more likely to succeed than traditional phishing attacks. What’s more, spear-phishing attacks often have specific goals.

For instance, a phisher may target certain individuals based on whom they work for, the type of information they have access to or their financial status. Spear-phishing attacks may focus on a particular company, organization, group or government agency based on the potential ROI.




Cyber Assessments:

With the increased usage of technology in people’s lives to stay connected while mostly working from home, cybersecurity threats have also become a growing issue and require proper assessments to manage any security gaps and risks that can harm your business.

Therefore, it’s important to conduct proper cyber assessments to mitigate the possibility of having your company’s cybersecurity system breached.

Get a FREE Cyber Risk Assessment to see if you're properly protecting your business from cyber risks:

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Tags: Cyber

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