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What is Spear-Phishing and How to Avoid It

Published March 08, 2021

What is Spear-Phishing and How to Avoid It

Spear-phishing is a cyber-attack with which you may not have as much familiarity. You’ve likely heard of phishing in general. This is a tactic attackers use to get employees of your organization to click suspicious links or attachments.

When a phishing attack is successful, it can be significantly damaging. Much of the time, however, phishing emails lack the organizational familiarity to convince your employees to click. 

How Spear-Phishing Differs

Online safety is compromised in a spear-phishing attack when your employees legitimately believe they are getting a message from someone within your organization. The attackers take the time to get to know the people and details of your organization.

They are then able to craft emails that sound more convincing and target specific individuals within your ranks. Electronic Frontier Foundation is just one of the many organizations to be hit with this specific technique, and that attack goes back to 2015. Attackers have only gotten more crafty since.

Vigilance is important. To make sure the employees of your organization don’t fall for it, take the following steps. 

1. Introduce the Concept

Cyber threats are all around you, and they can take sophisticated forms though unknowing employees remain the biggest threat. Teach employees that no one is above getting hacked in a spear-phishing campaign. 

Show them the concept of spear-phishing. Specifically, pay attention to these aspects.

  • Emails can look very convincing in content and tone
  • Emails might appear to come from an individual who works in the organization without any knowledge they’re being used in such a way
  • Links go to false domains that look legitimate

Spear-phishing attacks are only put in place once the attacker has studied your organization. They know whom to target and how to sound more convincing than a traditional phishing email. 

2. Encourage Reporting

Those in charge of your IT should encourage reporting of any suspicious activity. Make safety a part of the culture by encouraging reporting and to trust no one when it comes to emails with attachments and links that are not expected. 

3. Watch Requests About Confidential Information

Technology is a wonderful thing, but spear-phishing attackers are able to use it for nefarious purposes. Their major objective is to steal confidential information they can then use to gain deeper access to the organization and its entities. 

As a result, most spear-phishing emails will have a sense of urgency about them. They will use requests for confidential information to entice victims to click and respond. Teach employees to question all such emails that make these requests.

4. Beware of All Suspicious Links

As convincing as spear-phishing emails can look, they can still give themselves away in the URL. During your employee education sessions, make sure the members of your organization know to scrutinize the letters and domain extensions within an attached link. 

Knowing the architecture of company links and paying close attention to them can stop spear-phishing dead in its tracks. Even so, use of exact domains is not out of the question. Employees shouldn’t automatically trust links sent to them that they were not expecting. 

5. Pay Attention to Verbiage

Attackers are good at what they do. However, they often have trouble mimicking members of your organization exactly. If there’s something that doesn’t quite sound right about the verbiage itself, particularly as it relates to what you know about the sender, avoid clicking! 

Spear-Phishing Attacks Can Be More Effective

Spear-phishing is more sophisticated and targeted in its approach. Your employees can’t afford to let their guard down.

If you believe you’ve been attacked in such a fashion, contact Pegasus Technologies today to start fighting back.

Pegasus Technologies is the IT Team for organizations that don’t need a full-time IT department. Our technology experts build you a technology plan to keep your business running at its best. We have offices in Kennett Square, PA, Media, PA, and Wayne, PA to provide better computer support and IT services to you.

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Curt Wrigley
cwrigley@pegtec.com

Curt is the Technical Services Manager at Pegasus Technologies. Curt oversees our services, quality, and support and is in charge of training our technical team. When he's not hard at work improving our services, Curt enjoys playing the trumpet.