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Glossary

Phishing

What is phishing?

Phishing is a social engineering attack where cybercriminals pose as trustworthy individuals or entities to deceive victims into providing sensitive information, like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal details. Often executed through deceptive emails, websites, or messages, a phishing campaign remains one of the most prevalent cyber threats today. 

How does phishing work?

Phishing scams involve sending deceptive messages that appear to come from legitimate sources. These messages contain malicious links or attachments that, when clicked, can lead to the installation of malware, the capture of sensitive information, or the redirection to fake websites designed to collect personal data. To enhance their credibility, the threat actor often crafts their messages using familiar logos, language, and urgency, in an attempt to exploit human psychology to manipulate and deceive their victim.

What are the different types of phishing attacks?

The most common phishing attack is email phishing, where emails are sent to a large number of users. Spear phishing is a more targeted attack on specific individuals or companies. Other phishing attacks include:

  • Whaling: A phishing attack aimed at senior executives or high-profile targets.
  • Smishing: A phishing attack that uses SMS messages.
  • Pharming: Redirecting users from legitimate websites to malicious ones without the victim’s knowledge.

Who are the targets of phishing attacks?

Anyone can be a target of a phishing attack. The number of phishing attacks has grown 150% each year since 2019, indicating that threat actors don’t spend a lot of time choosing their targets. With that said, sophisticated threat actor groups typically go after high-value targets, such as employees in finance, healthcare, or government, as they’re more likely to have access to valuable information. 

What are the dangers of a phishing attack?

Phishing attacks are notorious for being the initial gateway to devastating targeted attacks. In fact, in our 2023 Ransomware Defense Report, survey respondents ranked phishing as the most risky entry point for ransomware. 

 The main danger of a phishing attack is that it exposes sensitive information to malicious actors. The stolen information can then be used for identity theft, account takeover, other follow-on attacks like ransomware, which can cause irreversible disruption to business operations.

Why are phishing attacks successful?

Phishing attacks often succeed by exploiting human tendencies, such as our difficulty in resisting a sense of urgency or fear of missing out. As the modern workforce demands access to applications and data from any location, the quest for convenience sometimes compromises security. This not only makes employees more vulnerable to phishing threats but also amplifies the repercussions of a successful attack. 

How to protect from a phishing attack

Employee training is the most significant factor in protecting against a phishing attack. Employees must know how to recognize a phishing email in order to avoid clicking on malicious links and attachments from unverified sources. Organizations can run simulated phishing exercises to test the effectiveness of their training. Additionally, it’s ideal to have an information security plan that can continuously monitor for compromised credentials and safeguard employee identities to protect corporate data.

How does SpyCloud prevent phishing attacks?

Phishing campaigns that leverage fake, malicious websites to steal credentials are bad enough. But recently, we’re seeing phishing grow in sophistication – as a method to not only steal credentials, but other valuable details (like auto-fill information) directly from your browser, similar to how infostealers operate. With high-value data like this in hand, it becomes even easier for criminals to impersonate employees and gain entry into an organization.

SpyCloud now captures phishing data and will soon be delivering it to customers as part of our continuous monitoring solutions.

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