Spear Phishing vs. Phishing | EasyDMARC

Spear Phishing vs. Phishing

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Hackers use various social engineering attacks to compromise and manipulate victims into divulging sensitive information. Phishing and spear phishing are examples of such tactics used by cybercriminals. 

But what’s the difference between these two email scams? And how can you protect your business and sensitive data from them? Read on to learn about spear phishing vs. phishing, their differences, and some security tips to keep your organization and data safe.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of attack where a cyber actor poses as a legitimate organization to steal sensitive information such as credit cards, login credentials, and other confidential data. In a phishing attack, the cybercriminal casts a broad net by sending fake emails to a large number of recipients at random, hoping a small proportion will respond.

Phishing attacks involve sending a mail with a malicious link that directs users to a login page that impersonates a known brand, such as your bank or social media account, like Facebook. The fake login page is designed to lure victims into thinking it’s legitimate to harvest their credentials. 

Standard phishing emails might include sweet offers like a discount on a product, or you might receive a message like, “Your account is blocked. Click here to update your password or bank details.” Besides email attacks, phishers can also target victims via text messages (smishing) or phone calls (vishing).

What is Spear Phishing?

Unlike a regular phishing attack, where fake emails are sent en masse, spear phishing is a highly targeted attack that deals with a single individual or organization. It’s a more personal attack that requires in-depth information about the victim. 

A common spear phishing attack is Business Email Compromise (BEC) or CEO Fraud, where cyberattackers impersonate an organization’s senior or level-C employees to trick junior employees into approving wire transfers. BEC is one of the costliest attacks in the cyberworld. According to the FBI, over $43 billion was lost to BEC crimes from mid-2016 to 2021. That’s just one scary phishing statistic.

A spear phisher can pick a CEO of a reputable company, then get information about them on social media platforms like Facebook or Linkedln. After that, the criminal creates an email account to impersonate the chosen target and waits for the right time to strike.

For example, while the actual CEO is on a tour or business trip, the attacker sends an email to the employee pretending to be the CEO and requests a huge wire transfer to a business partner.

Another form of spear phishing is a whaling attack, where the attacker targets senior executives with access to sensitive information.

Spear Phishing vs. Phishing

While both techniques are essentially email attacks, they have their differences. One significant distinction between spear phishing vs. phishing lies in the cybercriminal’s approach to conduct malicious activities. 

Spear phishing is a personalized attack that targets a specific group, individual, or business. On the other hand, regular phishing attacks involve sending bulk fake messages to a massive group of victims. 

Spear phishing attacks require time to research the victims on a personal level, while regular phishing attacks don’t require any personal information. Due to spear phishing’s hyper-targeted nature, it causes more damage than the traditional phishing attack. Spear phishing uses personalized content, making it more difficult for average users to detect.

How to Protect Your Organization From Spear Phishing and Phishing

Even though spear phishing can cause more severe damage than traditional phishing scams, you need to safeguard your business from both types of email scams. Below are several steps you can take to prevent all forms of phishing attacks. 

Educate Your Staff

Humans are the weakest security links, so they must be aware of the risks associated with these and other cyberattacks. Conduct regular security awareness programs to educate your employees about spear phishing vs. phishing attacks. 

Conduct Regular Penetration Testing

Education alone won’t stop these types of phishing attacks, employees must also know how to identify them. Conduct regular penetration testing to simulate real-world phishing vs. spear phishing attacks. This helps pinpoint any weaknesses in your IT infrastructure while teaching employees how to identify and handle such threats

Authenticate Your Emails

Authenticating your email is essential to prevent hackers from spoofing your domain. You can secure your email infrastructure by implementing SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. That way, only legitimate emails are delivered to recipients within and outside of your organization.

Use Multi-factor Authentication

This is one of the best ways to ensure maximum email security protection. The attacker will need more than your login credential to compromise your data. These may include using your fingerprint, a pin sent to your phone number, Face ID, or a retina scan. More often than not, hackers won’t be able to penetrate every of your authentication defenses. 

Cybercriminals often attach a link to messages to direct users to their fraudulent websites or to download malware on the victim’s system. If you’re unsure of a link, don’t click on it. When in doubt, always check a link for phishing.

Even if you’re familiar with the sender, the best practice is to double-check the link before opening the attachment. You can use our Phishing URL Checker to determine if a link is malicious or legitimate. 

Regularly Update Your Software

Out-of-date applications offer easy access for hackers to compromise your network. Update your software and applications regularly to keep the bad guys out. Install anti-spam and implement an anti-phishing solution on your device. 

Use a Strong Password

Don’t use the same password across different accounts, as this poses a security threat to your sensitive data. Using solid and long passwords across various accounts makes it significantly harder for hackers to compromise your data. A strong password combines numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special characters. You can also use a password manager to store and monitor your credentials.

Secure Your Business Email From Compromise with DMARC

Organizations are best protected when they implement a robust DMARC policy to strengthen their email security. DMARC, or Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance is an email authentication protocol that leverages existing authentication protocols, such as SPF and DKIM. It ensures that only authorized senders can send emails on your domain’s behalf. 

It’s the most effective way to secure your email and prevent spear phishing and phishing attacks. Aside from that, this authentication protocol can also enhance your brand reputation and increase email deliverability rates. 

If you’re starting DMARC implementation, you can trust EasyDMARC to help you with a seamless transition in your DMARC enforcement journey.

Various authors from EasyDMARC teams have contributed to our blog during company's lifetime. This author brings everyone together.


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