Difference between Spear Phishing and Whaling

Both spear phishing and whaling are types of cyberattacks. Spear phishing is a type of phishing attack in which scammers install malware on the targeted user’s system in addition to stealing data for fraudulent objectives, whereas whaling is a cyberattack on high profile persons such as CEOs, CFOs, celebrities, politicians, etc. Whaling is a relatively highrisk strategy as compared to spear phishing.

Read through this article to find out more about spear phishing and whaling and how they are different from each other.

What is Spear Phishing?

Spear Phishing is a type of email phishing attack where a personalized email is sent to a specific person or to the organization. The user is tricked to click on a malicious link which seems to be legitimate. When the user clicks on the link, and puts his/her details, then the attacker steals that sensitive information like login credentials, credit, and debit card details or any other sensitive information.

In spear phishing, the email appears to be from an authentic source, but it directs the receiver to a fraudulent website containing malware. Another important point about spear phishing is that it’s a manual attack, but more sophisticated.

What is Whaling?

Whaling is again a type of email phishing attack where top officials like CEO, COO, CTO, etc. are targeted. The attacker sends a mail with a malicious link that looks to come from an authentic source. In whaling, scammers try to dupe their victims into taking some adverse actions. Scammers frequently try to obtain sensitive information or infect user’s systems with malware.

Whaling emails contain critical business issues, and these attacks are always personally addressed to targeted individuals using their title, position, etc. An example of whaling attack is tax scam.

Difference between Spear Phishing and Whaling

The following table highlights how Spear Phishing is different from Whaling −

Key Spear Phishing Whaling
Targets Spear Phishing targets a specific group of people. Whaling targets top officials of an organization.
Focus Spear phishing focuses on stealing login credentials/ sensitive information. Whaling focuses on fetching trade secrets which can affect a company's performance.
Designing Spear Phishing emails are prepared for a group of people. Whaling emails are highly customized for specific persons.
Target Spear Phishing targets low profile individuals. Whaling targets high profile individuals.
Prevention To prevent spear phishing, we should educate people about such an attack To prevent whaling attack, education, awareness helps and each URL should be checked before opening.
Yield Spear phishing targets are high yield. Here, the victim may share extra-sensitive information. Whaling yields high-value results immediately depending on the ranking of the person involved.
Example An email containing a fake link to retry the payment process of a failed payment. A carefully crafted email that appears to be sent from a high-profile person of an organization asking about payroll details on employees.


To conclude, the intent of both spear phishing as well as whaling is to steal sensitive data of an individual or an organization. The most significant difference between the two is that spear phishing targets lowprofile individuals or a specific group of people, whereas whaling targets highprofile individuals like CEOs or CTOs of an organization, etc. to share sensitive information.