Spear Phishing

Unlike broad phishing attacks, spear phishing attacks are designed to target specific individuals or organizations.  Cyber criminals have done their research and once the victim clicks, the damage is done. Learn more about spear phishing, and whaling, and get helpful tips to protect your organization from spear phishing attacks.

What Is Spear Phishing?

A spear phishing attack is a deceptive electronic message (typically an email) that is targeted at a specific individual or organization. In a spear phishing attack, the victim receives a seemingly innocent email. It might look like a message from Human Resources or an alert from a bank. Without thinking too much about it, it can be easy to click on a link or attachment that is actually malicious. But once you click, the damage is done.

Opening a link or downloading an attachment from a spear phishing email releases malicious code onto your computer. From there, criminals can steal your information, take control of your device, or spread viruses onto other computers in your network.

Spear phishing attacks are targeted. The attackers have done their research, usually through social engineering. They may include personal information like the recipient’s name, hometown, or place of employment to make the deceptive emails look more valid.

What Are Some Examples of Spear Phishing?

A spear phishing email, at first glance, can appear to be from a trustworthy source. The sender might appear to be a brand where you shop often or an internal email from a coworker. In reality, though, these emails can take you to bogus websites that are full of malware just waiting to infect your computer.

Here are some examples of what a spear phishing email might look like:

  • An email from your Internet provider asking you to verify your home address
  • An email from your banking institution asking you to input your bank account number
  • An email from your HR representative asking you to confirm the passwords to your work accounts

Note that even if you don’t input any of this information, just clicking any link in a phishing email is enough to inject malware into your computer.

Spear phishing emails might look convincing at first, but if you take a closer look, there are a few red flags that are easy to spot. For example, most spear phishing emails are very poorly written. You may notice several typos, low-quality graphics, and links with suspicious URLs. That’s why it’s so important to carefully examine every email you receive before clicking the links within.

Spear Phishing vs. Phishing: What Are the Differences?

Spear phishing and phishing attacks are very similar. In both scenarios, a criminal is trying to get the recipient to unknowingly accept malicious code. The difference lies in the approach to sending these messages.

Phishing emails are sent to multiple recipients at once. Criminals utilize a broad-strokes approach by sending the same email a long list of targets. These messages are general and do not contain any personal information about the designated recipient.

Spear phishing, on the other hand, is more targeted. The criminal has done their research and includes personal information about whoever they are sending the email to. The target may be an individual, a business, or an organization.

This is what makes spear phishing attacks more dangerous. Because they include personal information about the recipient’s personal and professional life, that person may be more likely to trust the email and consequently open links or download attachments.

Spear Phishing vs. Whaling: What Are the Differences?

Another similar type of cyberattack is referred to as whaling. In a whaling attack, the criminal targets a single high-profile individual. This might be the CEO of a company, a celebrity, or another well-known public figure. The goal of a whaling attack, like most other cyberattacks, is to steal money or gain sensitive information.

In a whaling attack, the sender will spend a great deal of time learning about their target before sending the message. They may comb through that person’s social media accounts or execute lower-profile spear phishing attempts to gain information on their target’s co-workers or employees.

By obtaining information on the people around their target, the sender can make the message sound more convincing. They may pose as another high-ranking executive asking for confirmation on a specific project that another team is working on. Because the attacker mentions specific names or projects within the organization, the target will be more likely to fall for the scam.

Spear phishing is different in that the target is a lower-profile figure.

How Can You Protect Your Organization from Spear Phishing Attacks?

Cyber criminals are crafty, cunning, and constantly developing new ways to scam employees into revealing sensitive information. Luckily, there are steps business owners can take to prevent these attacks from happening.

Here are some best practices for protecting your organization against a spear phishing attack.

  • Employee Training. Ensure all employees within your organization are aware of what spear phishing is and how to spot a phishing attempt. Furthermore, employees should know what to do if they receive an email that looks dangerous.
  • Phishing Drills. Once employees have been trained, you can put their knowledge to the test by running spear phishing drills. In this exercise, IT administrators can execute a security drill that will test your end users with phishing attack simulations. These tools, like Sophos Phish Threat, also provide educational material to be used in training.
  • Invest in Cybersecurity Tools. Stay ahead of attackers by investing in cybersecurity tools that are tailored to your company’s needs. These tools include antivirus software, firewalls, threat detection, and more.
  • Run Regular Updates. It’s important to implement, maintain, and update the security technology that you invest in. If you don’t run regular updates, you could be leaving your systems vulnerable to attack. For businesses with many employees, it may be helpful to have the IT department force update your software on a regular basis. That prevents employees from opting out or delaying much-needed software updates.

How Can Sophos Help Protect Your Organization from Spear Phishing Attacks?

It can be overwhelming to think about all the cyber threats that exist, especially if you are a business owner with much at stake. That’s why you need a quality threat management solution, like Sophos Managed Detection and Response.

Sophos MDR is a unified cybersecurity tool that makes cybersecurity simple. It provides your business with 24/7 threat hunting, detection, and response backed by a dedicated team of experts. The Sophos MTR team proactively hunts for and validates potential threats, uses all available information to determine the scope and severity of the threat, and then acts on your behalf.

If you’re ready to safeguard your business with the proactive defense and elite expertise that only Sophos MDR can provide, request your no-obligation quote today.