What is Spear Phishing?

If you're familiar with the concept of cybercrime, you might have heard of the term "spear phishing" before. But what does it mean? How does it differ from other cybersecurity threats, and what can you do to protect your organisation's data, people, and assets from spear phishing? In the points below, we'll cover what spear phishing is, how you can protect yourself from these attacks, and what to look out for.

What is spear phishing and how does it differ from regular phishing attacks?

Spear phishing uses a technique called “social engineering”. Social engineering exploits human error and manipulates people into accessing sensitive information. Spear phishing involves the cybercriminal sending well-crafted albeit fraudulent emails or messages to a specific individual or organisation. The objective is to trick the recipient into giving away sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial data. These attacks are usually carried out by cybercriminals who have carefully researched their target beforehand in order to make their emails and messages seem more credible.

Regular phishing attacks, on the other hand, are not targeted at any specific individual or organisation. Instead, these attacks involve mass-emailing large groups of people with the hope that someone will take the bait and click on a malicious link or attachment. While spear phishing attacks can be much more damaging than regular phishing attacks, both types of attack can have serious consequences for businesses and individuals alike.

How can you protect yourself from spear phishing attacks?

There are a few steps you as an individual can take to reduce your likelihood of falling victim to a spear phishing attack:

  • Make cybersecurity a primary focus to enable better IT hygiene
  • Be vigilant of any unsolicited emails or messages you receive, even if they appear to be from a trusted source
  • Consider what personal information you share online on social media platforms and learn how to use social media safely
  • Enable Multi-Factor Authentication
  • If in doubt, always contact the sender directly to verify the legitimacy of the email or alert your IT team before taking any further action

As for businesses, here are some ways in which you can protect your organisation and its employees from the threat of spear phishing:

What are some common methods used in spear phishing attacks?

  • Creating fake websites that look identical to the real website of the organisation or individual being targeted
  • Sending socially engineered emails or messages that appear to be from a trusted source, such as a colleague, friend, or family member
  • Designing a well-crafted email that creates a sense of urgency i.e. paying an illegitimate invoice quicker than usual
  • Creating false social media profiles in order to gain access to private information
  • Using malware or viruses to infect computers and devices with malicious software

What should you do if you think you’ve been the victim of a spear phishing attack?

In this scenario, it’s important to act quickly to minimise the damage. You should immediately:

  • Change any passwords or credentials that may have been compromised
  • Back up all documents as they can be deleted when recovering from a spear phishing attack
  • Contact your bank or financial institution if you think any of your financial details may have been stolen
  • Report the attack to the ACCC’s ScamWatch

Protect yourself from the threat of spear phishing, with InfoTrust

InfoTrust provides comprehensive cybersecurity services to organisations in Australia, from awareness training programs and incident response services to penetration testing and more. Contact us for more information.

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