Spear Phishing Email Definition

The next step is to create a custom email message. The message may contain a link to an attacker-controlled website or a link to malware. Some attackers combine email with social engineering to convince a target to perform an action such as sending money, downloading malware, or providing credentials. Spear phishing can easily be confused with phishing as both are online attacks against users aimed at obtaining confidential information. Phishing is a broader term for any attempt to trick victims into sharing sensitive information such as passwords, usernames, and credit card details for malicious reasons. Attackers often pose as a trusted 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). Spear phishing is an email or email communication scam that targets a specific person, organization, or business. While cybercriminals are often designed to steal data for malicious purposes, they may also intend to install malware on a target user`s computer. Spear phishing techniques can be harder to identify than phishing attacks because of the personal details in the messages that give them a touch of validity. However, some of the common characteristics of phishing emails are also common to spear phishing emails, for example: attackers using a spear phishing strategy could trick the company into sending millions of dollars to an offshore bank account or critical network credentials. Money transfers to a bank account controlled by an attacker are devastating, but stolen network credentials could be even more damaging.

Two-factor authentication and intrusion detection systems help prevent further damage after a successful phishing attack, but a malicious actor usually uses other methods to steal data. Injecting malware into the network or exfiltrating data with stolen credentials are other options. Being a cybersecurity pioneer doesn`t mean you`re resistant to spear phishing. RSA Security fell victim to a spear phishing attack when an employee opened an Excel spreadsheet with an embedded Adobe Flash object. The malicious Flash object exploited a zero-day Flash vulnerability and installed a backdoor on local computers. The backdoor gave attackers access to credentials and threatened security for defense contracts such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Familiarity makes spear phishing attacks successful. Attackers collect information about potential targets on the internet and from social networks and social media sources, including their personal and professional relationships and other personal data. The attacker uses this information to create a custom message that appears genuine to convince the target to respond to the sender`s request. The sender may request a direct email response from the user, or the message may be a scam or contain a malicious link or attachment that installs malware on the target`s device. When you click on the link or attachment, the target is redirected to a malicious website designed to trick them into sharing sensitive information such as passwords, account information, or credit card information.

Cybersecurity awareness training and ongoing training are key to reinforcing the importance of cyber knowledge of email and the inbox. First, let`s discuss standard phishing to identify the differences. In general, phishing campaigns do not have a specific target. For example, an attacker could create an e-mail message that uses the PayPal logo and content that resembles a legitimate PayPal representative. The email usually doesn`t contain the user`s name, and the attacker doesn`t even know if the recipient has a PayPal account. The message can simply ask the target user to reply or click on a link to a malicious website. While standard phishing is effective for small gains, spear phishing takes a more targeted approach for larger gains. They typically target users with elevated privileges within an organization, such as accountants, human resources staff, and senior executives. These attacks require much more research in the target organization to understand which messages will work. Spear phishing can also be used in combination with social engineering to be more effective. Here`s how it works: an email arrives, seemingly from a trusted source, but instead directs the ignorant recipient to a fake malware-filled website.

These emails often use clever tactics to grab victims` attention. For example, the FBI warned against spear phishing scams where emails appeared to come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Another example of phishing is used by Google and Microsoft to trick users into sending money to an attacker`s bank account. The email claims that the user has earned money from Google or Microsoft, and to receive money, the target user must send a small fee for shipping costs. While Gmail is good at filtering these messages, users can find them in the spam inbox and respond to them. These messages should never reach the intended recipient in a business environment and should be quarantined instead of reaching a spam inbox. To identify high-value people on social media, harpooners use sophisticated machine learning algorithms that examine text patterns and other details available on social media sites. The technology limits the funnel of spear phishing targets to a subset of people who most closely match the type of target targeted by the harpooner. Spear phishing uses much more persuasive messages than standard attacks. For example, attackers claiming to be the CEO could trick financial managers into sending money to their bank account. Fake invoices could be used to trick employees of accounts payable into sending money to the attacker. To steal credentials, an attacker can create messages that make IT appear to be requesting information.

To mislead users, messages must appear to come from a legitimate person that the recipient knows, which is why social engineering can also be used. There are now a lot of articles about it, and it`s the essence of social engineering users. If they have not received high-quality safety awareness training, they are easy targets for harpooners. The attacker searches for their targets, finds out who they communicate with regularly, and sends a personalized email to the target that uses one or more of the 22 social engineering red flags to trick the target into clicking a link or opening an attachment. Imagine you receive an email from your partner`s email address in the subject line: Honey, I had a small accident with the car and in the body: I took pictures with my smartphone, do you think it will be very expensive? A malicious actor identifies the company`s website or the target organization`s web pages that contain the company`s contact information. Using the available details to make the message appear genuine, the author writes an email to an employee on the company`s contact page that appears to be from someone who might be requesting sensitive information, such as a network administrator. The email asks the employee to log in to a fake page by asking for their username and password, or click on a link that downloads spyware or other malware. If a single employee falls into the harpooner`s trap, the attacker can impersonate that person and use social engineering techniques to gain more access to sensitive data. Unlike spear phishing attacks, phishing attacks are not tailored to their victims and are usually sent to masses of people at the same time.

The goal of phishing attacks is to send a fake email (or other communication) that appears to come from a genuine organization to a large number of people, betting on the likelihood that someone clicks on this link and enters their personal information or downloads malware. Spear phishing attacks target a specific victim, and messages are modified to target that victim who claims to be from an entity they know well and contains personal information. Spear phishing requires more thought and time than phishing. Spear phishing attackers try to obtain as much personal information about their victims as possible to make the emails they send legitimate and increase their chances of fooling recipients. Due to the personal level of these emails, it is more difficult to identify spear phishing attacks than phishing attacks that are carried out on a large scale.