What is Spear Phishing and How is it Different?

Hackers are getting better and better each day. They employ various ways of gaining access to your system. Adware, spyware, and countless malware varieties are smart enough to penetrate security layers. One of the most effective methods is beyond the technical aspects of computers.

Social engineering is a psychological manipulation to trick users. It aims to make you click or download malware which will eventually affect your system. Social engineering involves collecting enough information and presenting them to fool users.

It attempts to make you believe that a website or software is trustworthy. Additionally, the popularity of social media makes it easier to gather information about a person. People seem to get more and more careless in being aware of their privacy.

One such method is spear phishing. It may sound very similar to phishing. However, spear phishing is one of the most potent phishing methods out there. It is also tough to detect.

What is Spear Phishing?

Security software firm Trend Micro reports that 91% of cyberattacks begin with spear phishing email. The report in 2012 continues to get worse as large-scale security attacks on companies get worse.

Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing. It typically aims to infiltrated specific organizations through emails or other types of communications. Hackers often want to gain access to confidential information. Examples of such are company secrets, financial information, and customer contact information.

Cybercriminals will often start by identifying specific people in the company to target. These people are typically those who are in charge of company information or infrastructure. They will research information about the person, their friends, careers, and even recent activities. It allows them to create an email which looks legitimate.

The compelling emails will fool the recipient into clicking links or attachments. It may claim to be an urgent email from someone famous or something similar. It will establish a connection between the hacker and the company system. They bypass the usual VPN and antivirus set by the company by appealing directly to the employees.

The cybercriminals can now access much information. They can even broadcast attacks to the organizations' customers through its network.

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Spear Phishing Vs Phishing

Phishing

Spear Phishing

Phishing targets a broader audience.

Spear Phishing targets an individual or organization

Phishing and spear phishing are both online attacks. Typically, it is common to spot phishing attacks through emails. But, some are in social media, messaging apps, and even posing as a real website. However, the purpose and methods between the two are entirely different.


Phishing targets a broader audience. It is a general term which refers to any attempt to trick victims into sharing personal information. It may include passwords, usernames, credit card information, and a lot more. Cybercriminals would often disguise as trustworthy sources such as banks, internet services, and stores. They usually send emails, call, send SMS messages, and add someone from social media. It is exploratory. And, it aims to gather information from as many victims as possible.


On the other hand, spear phishing is a specialized phishing attack on an individual or organization. Cybercriminals customize spear phishing attacks against a specific victim.


Hackers will pretend to be sources or people familiar to their victims. They may use the names, letterheads, signatures, addresses, and other usual information to appear legitimate. Spear phishing aims to collect as much information from the individual or organization before launching a much strong attack. It is more difficult to spot a spear phishing attack because of its highly specific methods.

Spear Phishing Vs Whaling

Spear Phishing

Whaling

Spear Phishing targets people with valuable information like corporate accountant, IT executive etc.

Whaling targets high-profile individuals like corporate executive, politicians, and celebrities etc.

Spear phishing and whaling are quite similar. The only difference is their targets. Spear phishing often targets people who have access to valuable, often internal, information. Whaling targets high-profile individuals. Examples are corporate executives, politicians, and even celebrities.


Whaling is often used to collect as much information as possible. It uses typical spear phishing methods such as email spoofing, social engineering, and content spoofing. Hackers spend a lot of efforts and time to appear legitimate. They can use the information to blackmail a person or gain significant information about their assets.


The term "whaling" itself is a play on words. It describes targets as the "big fishes" in their organizations.

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Cases of Spear Phishing

One famous example of spear phishing is the Democratic National Committee cyber attacks back in 2016. Wikileaks leaked emails stolen by hackers from DNC in July 2016. It started with hackers sending emails to 1,000 targets. Someone inside DNC opened the attachment and installed malware on their system. Then, the hackers exported the emails to their servers.


Another compelling case of spear phishing is the W-2 Spear Phishing Attacks. More than 50 companies fell victim to highly-customized spear phishing campaign between 2015 to 2016. W-2 US tax records of employees working in the targeted companies were compromised. It targeted employees working under high-ranking executives. The information is valuable and can even be sold in the dark web.

How to Protect yourself?

You can protect yourself and your organization by following a couple of steps. While it is difficult to filter everything, you can decrease the possibility of being a victim.

Educate about Spear Phishing

Organizations should implement data protection programs. It includes data security best practices which protect company assets. It should consider both hardware and software security protection. However, the essential part is the education of its employees.


The ability to spot attempts at spear phishing attacks reduces potential disasters. Employees are the best protection and the worst vulnerabilities of the organization. Hackers can easily bypass the best security layer through uninformed employees inside the company.

Protect your Privacy

Social engineering is one of the most significant elements of spear phishing. Hackers collect information from practically everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts are easy targets as information sources. Examine your online profiles and what information you share. Critical data such as email, birthday, credit card information, and even full name are in danger of being used. You can check how to protect your Facebook account.


Moreover, make sure that you are using secure passwords. It is strongly recommended to use passwords with random numbers, letters, and characters. You can also use active password managers such as KeePass.

Increase Security

Individuals and organizations should always have robust security suite in their systems. Antivirus suites are not enough anymore. And having only one security software is often not enough to protect you from threats.

You should have an anti-malware which can protect yours from wide varieties of threats. A good option for a robust anti-malware program is MalwareFox. It scans for threats including adware, spyware, and different types of malware in your system. It is not demanding on your system which makes it easy to run in the background.


MalwareFox also protects your computer real-time. It includes browser protection which removes threats early on. The security program also examines any files your download. MalwareFox analyzes the behavior of suspicious files and promptly blocks it. It prevents actual infection from both identified and unknown threats.

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Final Thoughts

There are countless threats online. It is more dangerous for organizations as they have assets which need protecting. The combination of education and layers of protection reduces the chances of being a victim. Knowing the existence of spear phishing is the beginning of your security.

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