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Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Do You Know the Difference?

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Spear Phishing vs Phishing: What is Phishing?

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Phishing is a hacking technique analogous to “casting a net” in the digital world.

Phishing is a form of cybercrime that involves someone impersonating a legitimate institution contacting a target or targets via phone, email, or text message in order to trick individuals into disclosing sensitive information such as personally identifiable information, credit card and banking specifics, and passwords.

The data is then exploited to get access to vital accounts, resulting in financial loss and identity theft.

Attackers can gain access to your online accounts and personal information, as well as obtain permission to alter and compromise connected systems – such as POS terminals and order processing systems. Furthermore, in some cases, entire computer networks are hijacked until a ransom fee is paid.

Sometimes hackers are only interested in obtaining your personal and credit card information for monetary gain. In other cases, phishing emails are sent in order to obtain employee login information or other sensitive information for use in more malicious attacks against a small group of people or a specific company.

How Does Phishing Actually Work?

Phishing begins with a phony email or other communication intended to entice a victim. The message is designed to appear to have come from a reliable source. If the victim is duped, he or she is coerced into providing confidential information, which is frequently on a scam website. Malware is often downloaded onto the target’s computer.

Cybercriminals begin by identifying a group of people they wish to target. Then they craft email and text messages that appear legitimate but contain dangerous links, attachments, or lures that dupe their targets into performing an unknown, risky action. In a nutshell:

*Phishers frequently employ emotions such as fear, curiosity, urgency, and greed to persuade recipients to open attachments or click on links.

*Phishing attacks are designed to appear to be initiated by legitimate businesses and individuals.

*Cybercriminals are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated.

*A single successful phishing attack is all it takes to compromise your network and steal your data.

Phishing Strategies

Spear-Phishing-vs-Phishing

To steal information, cybercriminals employ three primary phishing techniques: maliciously crafted links, malicious attachments, and fraudulent data-entry forms.

Web Links Created with Malice

Links, also identified as URLs, are commonly used in emails, but they are widespread in phishing emails. Malicious links redirect users to bogus websites or websites infected with malicious software, also known as malware. Malicious links can masquerade as trusted links and be embedded in email logos and other images.

Malicious Attachments

While these file attachments appear to be legal, they include malware that may corrupt computers and their contents. All data on a computer may become locked and unavailable in the event of ransomware, a type of virus.

On the other hand, a keystroke logger could be installed to record everything a user types, including passwords. It is also crucial to recognize that ransomware and malware infestations may migrate from one conputer to other networked apparatus such as servers, external hard drives, and even cloud services.

Fraudulent Data Entry Forms

Users are prompted to enter sensitive information such as user IDs, passwords, credit card information, and phone numbers in these emails. Once users submit that information, cybercriminals can use it for personal gain.

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: What is Spear Phishing?

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Spear phishing is an email spoofing assault that targets a specific business or individual in order to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. Spear phishing attempts are more likely initiated by perpetrators seeking financial gain, trade secrets, or military information than by random hackers.

Spear phishing messages, like emails sent in regular phishing attacks, appear to come from a trusted source. Phishing messages typically appear to be sent by a well-respected and well-known company or website with a large user base, such as Google or PayPal.

With respect to of spear phishing, the email source is likely to be someone within the recipient’s own company, such as someone in a position of power or a person the target knows personally.

How does Spear Phishing Actually Work?

The success of spear phishing attacks is due to familiarity. Attackers gather information about potential targets via the Internet, social networks, and social media, including personal and professional relationships and other personal details.

The attacker uses this information to create a genuine, personalized message to persuade the target to respond to the sender’s request. The sender may ask for a direct email response from the recipient, or the communication may be a scam or contain contain a malicious link or attachment that allows malware to be installed on the target’s device.

When the target clicks on the attachment or link, they are directed to a malicious website intended to dupe them into disclosing sensitive information such as account information, passwords, or credit card information.

Social media is a haven for spear phishers. Hundreds of thousands of users share personal information regularly, making it an ideal location to gather information about potential targets. However, not every user is a potential target for spear phishers. Instead, bad actors seek information about high-value individuals.

This sensitive information typically includes Social Security numbers, bank account passwords, and other elements of identity theft that provide the spear phisher with the information required to access the target’s accounts or commit crimes using their stolen credentials.

Spear phishers use sophisticated machine learning algorithms to study text patterns and other details available on social media sites to identify high-value individuals. The technology narrows the cone of spear phishing targets to a subset of people who most closely match the type of target sought by the spear phisher.

Once the subset of high-value targets has been identified, the spear phisher sends an email convincing enough to persuade the target to open an attachment with embedded malware that collects personal information.

How Can You Spot a Spear Phishing Attack?

Spear-Phishing-vs- Phishing
Spear Phishing vs Phishing

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Because of the personal details in the messages, spear phishing techniques can be more challenging to detect than phishing attacks. However, some of the characteristics shared by phishing emails are also shared by spear phishing emails, such as:

*The sender’s email address has been spoofed. It appears that the email address is from trusted individual or domain. Still, closer inspection reveals a typo or substituting one alphanumeric character for another closely resembling it, such as the letter I for the numeral 1.

*There is a sense of urgency, especially when performing a task that violates company policy. Attackers create a sense of urgency to take advantage of the recipient’s desire to do good or be helpful.

For example, an attacker may request the username and password for an internal application while posing as the target’s direct supervisor to promptly fulfill an urgent request from upper management rather than waiting for the information technology (IT) team to reset their password.

*In the body of the message, poor grammar, typographical errors, or unusual language appear. The message content does not sound like anything else sent by the alleged sender. The tone is too casual, or the jargon is inappropriate for the recipient’s location or industry.

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: What’s the Difference?

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Spear phishing is easily confused with phishing because both are online attacks on users with the goal of obtaining confidential information.

Phishing is a broad term that refers to any effort to trick victims into sharing sensitive data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card information for malicious purposes. The attackers frequently masquerade as a trustworthy entity and contact their target via email, social media, phone calls (often referred to as “vishing” for voice-phishing), and even text messages (often referred to as “smishing” for SMS-phishing).

Phishing attacks, unlike spear phishing attacks, are not tailored to their victims and are typically sent to large groups of people simultaneously. Phishing attacks aim to send a spoofed email (or other form of communication) that appears to be from a legitimate organization to a large number of people, hoping the target will click on that link and provide personal information or download malware.

Spear phishing attacks target a specific victim, and messages are tailored to address that victim, ostensibly coming from a familiar entity and containing personal information. Spear phishing necessitates more thought and time than phishing.

Attackers who use spear phishing attempt to obtain as much personal data about their victims as possible to make their emails appear legitimate and increase their chances of fooling recipients.

Because of the personal nature of these emails, identifying spear phishing attacks is more complicated than identifying phishing attacks on a large scale. As a result, spear phishing attacks are becoming more common.

What is a Phishing Example?

Every day, three billion fraudulent emails are sent in an attempt to compromise sensitive information. In addition, according to the Phishing Benchmark Global Report for 2021, one of every five phishing email recipients is likely to click on the malicious link attached.

Typical phishing emails include:

Deactivation of an Account

PayPal notifies the target via email that their account has been hacked and will be deactivated unless their credit card information is verified. The phishing email’s link directs the victim to a bogus PayPal website, where the stolen credit card information is used to commit additional crimes.

Credit Card Compromise

The cybercriminal knows the victim recently purchased something from Apple, for example, and sends an email that appears to be from Apple customer support. The email informs the victim that their credit card information may have been compromised and that they must confirm their credit card information to protect their account.

Transferring Funds

The company CEO is currently on vacation and is sending an urgent email. The email requests that the recipient assist the CEO in transferring funds to a foreign partner. In this phishing email, the victim is told that the fund request is critical and necessary to secure the new partnership. The victim transfers the funds without hesitation, believing she is assisting the company and the CEO.

Request for Social Media

A Facebook friend request arrives from someone with whom you share Facebook friends. You don’t recognize the person immediately, but you assume the request is legitimate because you share friends. This new friend then messages you on Facebook which contains a link to a video, which, when viewed, installs malware on your computer.

Bogus Google Docs Login

A hacker creates a bogus Google Docs login page and then sends a phishing email in an attempt to trick someone into logging into the fake website. “We’ve updated our login credential policy,” the email might say. The sender’s email address is a fraudulent Google account, [email protected]. Please log in to Google Docs to confirm your account.”

What is a Spear Phishing Example?

Scammers may pose as a business you know and trust, such as a bank or a store you’ve visited. They may offer fantastic deals, inform you that you owe or are owed money, or that your account is about to be frozen. They may even pretend to be someone you know directly or indirectly. Posing as someone from your old school or a member of your religious group, for example, may encourage you to open up.

Typical spear phishing emails include:

An Email from an Online Store

An email from an online store informs you of a recent purchase. It could contain a link to a login page where the scam artist simply steals your credentials.

Text Message or Phone Call from your Bank

An automated text message or phone call from your bank informing you that your account has been compromised. It instructs you to call a number or click a link and provide information to confirm that you are the legitimate account holder.

Email Stating that your account has been Deactivated

An email advising you that your account has been deactivated or is about to expire and that you must click a link and enter your credentials. Recent sophisticated examples of this type of scam included Apple and Netflix.

Email Requesting Donations

An email requesting donations to a religious organization or charity related to something in your personal life.

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: Preventing All Types of Phishing Attacks

Nobody wants to be a phishing victim. However, there is a good reason why such scams will continue: they are highly profitable for cybercriminals.

Phishing scams have been around since the beginning of the Internet, and they are not going away anytime soon. Fortunately, there are precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Here are ten basic safety guidelines to follow:

Spear-Phishing-vs-Phishing
Spear Phishing vs Phishing

1. Stay Up to Date on Phishing Techniques – New phishing scams are constantly being developed. If you do not keep up with new phishing techniques, you may unintentionally fall victim to one of them. You are far less likely to be caught up in one if you learn about it as quickly as possible. Maintain an eye out for updates on new phishing scams.

2. Think Before You Click! – When you’re on trusted sites, clicking on links is acceptable. Clicking on links in arbitrary emails and instant messages, on the other hand, is not a good idea.

Hover over any links you’re uncertain about before clicking on them. Do they go where they’re supposed to go? A phishing email may purport to be from a legitimate organization, and when you click the link to the site, it may appear identical to the legitimate site. The email may request information from you, but it might not include your identity. The vast majority of phishing emails will begin “Dear Customer,” so watch out for these emails. When unsure, contact the source as opposed to clicking a potentially harmful link.

3. Install an Anti-Phishing Toolbar – Most common Internet browsers support anti-phishing toolbars. These toolbars quickly check the websites you visit and compare them to known phishing sites lists. The toolbar will alert you if you visit a dangerous website. This is a free additional layer of protection against phishing frauds.

4. Check a Site’s Security – It’s understandable to be afraid about disclosing critical financial information online. You should be OK provided you are on a secure and trusted website. Before entering any information, check that the URL of the website starts with “HTTPS protocol” and that there is a closed lock symbol near the address bar.

Look for the site’s security certificate as well. If you receive a warning that a website may contain dangerous files, do not open it. Never open attachments from suspicious emails or websites. Even search engines may provide links that lead viewers to a phishing website selling low-cost merchandise. Should the user purchases on such a website, cybercriminals will gain access to the user’s credit card information.

5. Check Your Online Accounts with Regularity If you haven’t accessed an online account in a while, someone else may be having a field day with it. Check-in with each of your online accounts regularly, even if it isn’t technically necessary. Make it a habit to update your passwords regularly.

You should check your statements regularly to avoid bank phishing and credit card scams. Obtain monthly financial account statements and carefully review each entry to ensure no fraudulent transactions have occurred without your awareness.

6. Maintain an Up-To-Date Browser – Security fixes for major browsers are often published. They are made accessible in response to security weaknesses discovered and exploited by phishers and other hackers. As soon as updates become available, download and install them. Stop ignoring messages telling you to update your browsers.

7. Employ Firewalls – High-quality firewalls act as barriers between you, your computer, and intruders from the outside world. When used in unison, they dramatically limit the possibility of hackers and phishers penetrating your computer or network. Both a desktop and a network firewall are suggested. The first is a software kind, whereas the second is a hardware type.

8. Pop-Ups Should Be Avoided – Pop-up windows commonly masquerade as legitimate website components. All too frequently, though, these are phishing efforts.

Many major browsers allow you to prevent pop-ups or allow them on a case-by-case basis. If they do manage to slip through, do not click the “cancel” option; such buttons usually link to phishing sites. Instead, click the little “x” in the upper right hand section of the screen.

9. Never Give Out Personal Information – You should never send personal or financial information over the Internet as a general rule.

When in doubt, go to the company’s main website, get their phone number, and call them. The majority of phishing emails will direct you to pages where you must enter financial or personal information. An internet user should never enter sensitive information through email links.

Never send sensitive information via email to anyone. Make it a habit to check the website’s address. A secure website will always begin with “HTTPS.”

10. Use Antivirus Software – Antivirus software has numerous benefits. Unique signatures in antivirus software guard against known technology workarounds and flaws. Just make sure your software is up to date. New definitions are constantly being added because new scams are always being invented.

Antivirus software scans every file that arrives on your computer via the Internet. It aids in the prevention of system damage.

You should not be frightened about phishing schemes. You should be able to enjoy a worry-free online experience if you keep the preceding tips in mind.

What Should You Do If You Responded to a Phishing Email?

Go to IdentityTheft.gov if you think a fraudster has your personal data, such as your banking account number, Social Security number or credit card number. Based on the information you lost there, you’ll see the appropriate measures to follow.

If you feel you clicked on a bad link or opened an attachment that downloaded dangerous malware, you should update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan and remove anything that appears to be a problem.

Phishing Email Protection for Home PCs and Macs that We Use

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: As we have stated throughout this article, phishing in any form is one of the most common online attacks and an excellent example of a social engineering attack at work. Its goal is to persuade users to share sensitive personal information such as login credentials, financial information, and health information, among other things.

Despite growing awareness of phishing scams, people continue to fall victim to them and share personal information they should not.

In a time where data is the new money, you can’t afford to bet on its security. We indeed don’t; thus, we rely on Sophos Home and its unrivaled defense against phishing attacks.

Here’s the deal – Sophos Home provides comprehensive protection against advanced phishing attacks, ensuring that you and your family do not become a victim to a phishing scam.

They use the growing SophosLabs blacklist database to ensure you don’t access dangerous phishing sites, lowering your chances of encountering such sites and providing a much safer browsing experience.

It goes a step further and uses AI and deep learning to evaluate files before they run to prevent “zero-day” attacks. If you click on a malicious link, Sophos will protect your home PCs and Macs.

Sophos Home Premium also includes advanced malware protection to protect your home computer from advanced malware, ransomware, viruses, and malicious threats designed to steal valuable data. It provides layered defense against the most dangerous cyber threats, ensuring your online safety and security.

To learn why we put our trust in Sophos Home for comprehensive protection against advanced phishing attacks, do yourself a favor and click this link to learn more.

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