What is spear phishing and how can you avoid it?

Spear phishing is a sort of phishing in which hackers send emails to groups of people with common characteristics or identifiers. Spear phishing emails look to be from a reliable source, but they are intended to aid hackers in obtaining trade secrets or other sensitive information.

The distinction between spear phishing and phishing, in general, is subtle. A typical phishing attempt impersonates a significant financial institution or a social networking site. It works because a substantial percentage of the population has a bank account with a substantial market share company.

In spear phishing, an email looks to come from an entity closer to the victim, such as a specific firm. The hacker's purpose is to acquire access to information that can be trusted. It's as simple as looking up a CEO's name on a corporate website and then sending what looks to be a message from the boss to corporate domain email addresses.

How does it work?

Spear phishing attacks are designed to appear from reputable sources since they are directed to specific individuals or groups. A spear-phishing scheme takes a lot of work, just like a double agent in a movie, complete with disguises and phony passports. A spear- phishing assault operates like this −

An attacker chooses a victim and conducts research on them: Because spear phishing assaults are so specific, it takes a lot of studies to find potential victims and devise efficient frauds. Like other kinds of identity theft, social media is frequently used to locate victims, collect contact information, and create a hoax based on personal information.

A customized message is created to deceive the victim: The hoax message will be more convincing if it is individualized. Cybercriminals utilize spoofing and other tactics guided by their study to trick potential victims. Attackers can create fake emails that appear and feel like authentic companies' emails. They're also more successful because the attacks are tailored to vital details about the victims.

The victim is hooked (speared) when trust is established: Because the well-researched emails develop trust, it's simple to fall prey to spear-phishing assaults. When scams are broad, they are frequently unsuccessful and easy to spot. Victims ignore spear-phishing attacks because of their personal touch. They are drawn in by the bait and click on links that lead to bogus websites where they give up personal information or download malware such as a keylogger.

On the dark web, attackers can purchase information about potential victims to create spear-phishing scams. After a data breach or other intrusion, personal and valuable information is frequently sold on the dark web.

In a spear-phishing assault, what information does the hacker use?

Hackers utilize any information to make a spear-phishing attack more convincing. We share a lot of information online these days - our emails, job titles, social and professional networks, and so on, and all of it may be combined to create an extremely convincing spear-phishing fraud.

Although spear phishing is highly efficient, you may lessen the consequences by safeguarding your personal information and taking other actions to prevent identity theft. Using robust and safe antivirus software is another approach to escape the dangerous waters that spear phishers hunt in.

Why is spear phishing so successful?

Because, unlike wide, low-tech scams, spear-phishing attacks are highly focused and well-researched, they're effective. Personal information is used in spear-phishing attempts to construct convincing schemes.

Spear phishing attempts use your emotions to their advantage. The marketing almost always has a sense of urgency, urging victims to "act fast before it's too late."

What Are the Signs of Spear-Phishing Email Attacks?

A spear-phishing assault can be detected and avoided in numerous ways. The following is an example of a spear-phishing email −

  • A request to download a file or disclose sensitive information is typically not communicated over email.

  • An email address from a sender that does not match the firm's domain name from which the sender purports to represent.

  • An email format differs from the emails generally received from the sender's claimed person or company.

  • A link in the email that, upon closer investigation, leads to a bogus website rather than the one indicated in the email's content.

  • Attached to the email are suspicious files or unexpected invoices.

  • The email's content is unexpected or uncharacteristic of the sender.

How to prevent spear phishing?

A competent defense is the best offense. While you may not prevent every cyberattack, having a solid security plan in place is a great place to start.

Make Security Awareness Training Available

It's not a one-and-done situation regarding security training for staff. Because of the sophistication and rapid growth of cybersecurity threats, ongoing staff awareness training is critical.

Consider including cybersecurity knowledge in new employee orientation procedures and reference materials. Provide frequent refresher training to all employees, including management, to keep your sensitive data and systems safe.

Multi-Factor Authentication should be used (MFA)

Spear phishing assaults can be considerably reduced when multi-factor authentication (MFA) is used. To access protected resources, a user must submit two or more identity verification elements, reducing the possibility of spear-phishing success.

Even if a password is compromised, it is useless without the additional authentication procedures. However, as discussed in the next section, it's equally crucial not to reuse the same password across many accounts.

Backups and security patches should be performed regularly.

The importance of performing frequent backups and applying security fixes cannot be overstated. If there are no data backups to restore, recovering your data after a breach is impossible. Patch management maintains your software up to date, allowing you to take advantage of new security features as they become available from software vendors.

Password Management Policies Should Be Strictly Enforced

If your password management procedures are lax (or non-existent), your business is at risk. Consider the following best practices for password policies −

  • Password management software should be used.

  • Password sharing should be prohibited.

  • Create password complexity and length requirements.

  • Use a password generator or require unique passwords.

  • Set a password age limit.

Download and install email security software.

Last but not least, your best hope for preventing spear phishing efforts is to invest in a reputable email security program. Email security software protects your human layer by detecting typical attack signals across email and other cloud office applications and removing threats before they cause harm.

For the foreseeable future, spear-phishing will continue to evolve in sophistication and volume. To protect your organization - and your employees - from data breaches, identity theft, and corporate espionage, make sure you're using anti-phishing methods right now.

Updated on: 16-Mar-2022


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