Advanced phishing

Preventing spear phishing: What you need to know

by Egress
Published on 25th Jun 2021

According to the SANS Institute, 95% of all attacks on enterprise networks are the result of successful spear phishing attacks. 

Due to the growing sophistication of these types of targeted attacks, businesses are at increased risk of unknowingly releasing private information into the hands of criminals.

Learn more about spear phishing in this article, and find out what you can do to help keep your data safe online.

What is spear phishing?

Spear phishing is a more sophisticated form of phishing where criminals target a specific individual with a malicious email. Attackers research their victims by snooping through their social media profiles and corporate websites. With the personal information found on these sites, spear phishers choose a trusted contact to impersonate, like a manager or colleague and begin crafting a personalized fraudulent email.

At first glance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a genuine email and a spear phishing attack. Cybercriminals could go as far as copying signature images and adopting the right tone of voice to trick you into clicking an infected link or downloading malware-laden attachments.

Spear phishing is an effective, dangerous form of fraud that is becoming more and more popular with the rise of virtual communication. Understanding the risk it poses and how you can avoid these scams is critical to ensuring your data is kept secure.

Who does spear phishing target?

Although everyone is at risk of being a spear phishing target, organizations are particularly susceptible to these cyberattacks due to the amount of information freely available on company websites and professional networking sites like LinkedIn. It’s very easy for cybercriminals to find out about staff members, company jargon, events, and customers without raising any red flags.

With details such as the email structure, company logo, a colleague’s name, and information about a recent event, attackers can craft a personalized email to convince an otherwise savvy recipient into clicking a malicious link.

This is what makes spear phishing emails so successful, as they’re much harder to detect than traditional phishing emails. They’re carefully designed to circumvent any spam filters you may have enabled — which is half the battle for a successful spear phishing attack. Once the email reaches your inbox, you’re the only person who can prevent a data breach.

What are the goals of spear phishing?

While most spear phishing attacks aim to steal your data through a malicious link, there are other reasons why attackers use spear phishing:

Spear phishing can have devastating effects on a business, so it’s vital to learn how to stay protected against these attacks.

How to prevent spear phishing attacks

1. Keep private information private

The success of spear phishing attacks is driven by the wealth of personal information now available online. From professional social networking sites to corporate websites, attackers don’t have to look hard to find information that will help build trust with an unsuspecting target. 

Think twice before posting personal details on social media, and be aware that a cybercriminal could use anything you post to trick you into handing over sensitive data.  

2. Understand the basic signs of phishing

It’s crucial to understand the basics of spear phishing scams and how you can spot them to avoid falling into their trap. 

For example, it’s worth double-checking the sender’s email address and domain name. If it doesn’t match the sender, or it uses a public domain, you may be dealing with a phishing scam.

It’s also a good idea to keep your eyes peeled when dealing with links. You can spot infected links on a desktop computer simply by hovering over them to find out the real URL and where it leads to. If it directs you to a suspicious website or one that doesn’t match the displayed link, avoid it — it’s most likely a scam.

Although seemingly minor details, these basic steps could help thwart spear phishing scams. 

Try for yourself - take our Spot the Phish quiz

3. Enhance your email security

It’s wise to enable spam filters on your email server as an extra layer of defense. However, they’re by no means 100% effective against sophisticated, targeted attacks like spear phishing.

Egress Defend, on the other hand, is a tool with enhanced detection capabilities for targeted attacks. Unlike traditional spam filters, Egress Defend uses machine learning and natural language processing to analyze the content and context of emails. It can therefore detect even the most sophisticated of spear phishing attacks to keep your data protected.

4. Prioritize cybersecurity training

Over 90% of cyberattacks are successful because of employee error, and the most common method used in these attacks is spear phishing. 

Humans are your first line of defense against phishing attacks. So, empowering your employees with the knowledge they need to spot spear phishing emails — and using phishing simulations to help train them — can reduce the risk of data leaks and breaches in your organization.

It’s also crucial to implement a fixed reporting protocol so that employees can safely report an attack without falling victim to the scam. 

Learn more about spear phishing to stay safe online

Spear phishing is evolving and becoming more sophisticated. To stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and keep your data secure, explore our phishing hub for expert advice.