Spear Phishing: What is it and How Can You Avoid it?

  • By Rita
  • Apr 29, 2022

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is unlike other forms of phishing. These cybercriminals collect personal information to create elaborate scams. This tactic makes it more likely for their targeted individuals to fall victim to it. Discover what spear phishing is and what helps protect you from spear phishing. 

What Is Spear Phishing? 

Spear phishing uses electronic communications - specifically email - to scam a targeted individual, business, or organization. This scam is typically done by cybercriminals or hackers. Their primary goal is to steal data for malicious purposes or install malware on the targeted user's computer. 

The cyber attacker achieves their goal by assembling a seemingly authentic email and sending it to the targeted individual. They conduct pre-attack research on their victims regarding their company or personal life. This way, when their target sees the email is from someone they know, they automatically trust its contents. 

For example, an employee may receive an email supposedly from someone within the company. The email could instruct them to follow a link or download the attached file. However, upon following these instructions, they fall victim to these attacks. 

Spear phishing has a higher success rate than other forms of phishing. This is because spear-phishing attacks are more focused as opposed to targeting a wide range of individuals. However, the time invested in researching each individual ensures a higher chance of success. 

How To Spot the Signs of an Attack

How to spot phishing

Spear phishing can be a problematic scam to identify at first glance. Thus, you must read your emails thoroughly. Now that you've learned what the spear-phishing definition is, here are some useful tips to help you recognize it before responding to emails. 

  1. Double Check the Sender’s Email Address

    When launching spear-phishing attacks, the sender’s email address will always differ from the legitimate email address. The difference is always slight so that the receiver doesn’t notice.

    For example, the fake email address may be service@american.bank.com. In contrast, the actual email address is service@americanbank.com. Search the email address in your browser or email history to ensure it’s legitimate.

  2. Check the Contents of the Email

    Some cybercriminals tend to make grammar and spelling mistakes in their emails. Of course, anyone can make mistakes. Still, it's essential to observe how the person they’re impersonating usually talks. This includes tone, structure, and signature.

    Ask yourself if the tone and grammar are appropriate for the person, organization, or company it’s supposedly from. Check if the email content seems odd, inappropriate, or unusual. If it does, double-check with related contacts. However, do not check by responding to the email.

  3. Is the Sender Asking You for Personal Financial Information?

    Beware of emails asking for personal details. Some spear phishing attacks involve gaining access to your banking details. If the sender requests personal financial information, do not comply.

    Be sure to double-check with someone else in the organization. Alternatively, you could contact the sender using another method of communication. Always be sure you can trust the sender before sending personal information. The sender may use this information to steal your money.

  4. Is There a Sense of Urgency in the Email?

    Most scammers will act as if the matter is urgent. These emails usually request help, money, financial information, or passwords. Sometimes they'll even urge you to follow a link within 24 hours. They’ll insist that if you do not, your account will be deactivated.

    Scammers use these "urgency" tactics to make people too panicked to realize something is off. If they give the victims time to think it over, they will most likely figure things out. Ask yourself whether the request makes sense before taking any action. Additionally, you could double-check with a related contact. 

How To Protect Yourself

Spear Phishing Protection

Anyone can become a victim of spear phishing. Its direct and personal approach makes it challenging to identify. However, it’s everyone’s responsibility to learn what helps protect them from phishing attacks

It’s already hard to recognize spear phishing attacks. Sometimes cybercriminals do their job so well that we can’t comprehend that it’s a scam. Fortunately, there are other ways to protect yourself against these scams. 

  1. Think Before You Act

    As mentioned before, be wary of emails imploring you to act immediately, asking for personal financial information, and offering deals that are too good to be true. Double-check the email address and ensure that you trust the sender before clicking on links and attachments.

  2. Install and Update Security Software

    Equip your computer with regularly updated anti-virus software, anti-spyware, firewalls, and email filters. These security systems will warn you about any potential threats to your device.

    Aside from this, updating your regular software will also be beneficial for you in this regard. This is because they contain critical patches that protect you against cybercriminals.

  3. Beware of Hyperlinks

    Avoid clicking on any hyperlinks in emails. Unless you are sure the sender is trustworthy, it may be a scam. Instead, type the URL directly into your address bar. You may also check the URL by hovering over the hyperlinked text. This will reveal the full address.

  4. Use Stronger Authentication

    Set up more robust authentication methods for your accounts. This will make it harder for scammers to access your personal information. For example, you could opt for a one-time PIN sent to your mobile device. Now, the cybercriminal would need more than a username and password to log in.

  5. Make Your Passwords Long and Strong

    Make your password as strong as possible. Combine capital and lowercase letters while adding numbers and symbols. This will make your accounts much more secure. Another important tip is to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. This could make you vulnerable to security breaches.

  6. Contact the Sender

    Sometimes the scam is so elaborate that it's difficult to tell whether the email is trustworthy or not. You can try and find out by using a different method of communication before responding. Alternatively, you could check with a related contact. This may include a relevant contact within the supposed sender's company. You could even contact their customer service department.

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