Keepnet Labs Logo
Keepnet Labs > blog > what-is-phishing-vs-spear-phishing

What is Phishing vs Spear Phishing?

Explore the differences between phishing and spear phishing in our blog post. Learn how to spot phishing threats, understand their tactics, and use effective strategies to protect yourself.

What is Phishing vs Spear Phishing?

Phishing and spear phishing are attack types that target people to steal sensitive data. This data can be bank details, social security details, or PII information.

In phishing, attackers send out broad, generic messages pretending to be from well-known companies or banks. They trick people into giving away their information or downloading harmful files. These messages reach many people through emails, texts, phone calls, QR codes, and apps. But they don't tailor them to individuals.

On the other hand, spear phishing is a highly targeted form. It involves detailed research and customization toward the intended victim or organization. Spear phishing emails may address the victims by name and contain specific information to make the attack more convincing. These attacks target certain employees to get into company networks or get important information.

Picture 1: What is phishing vs spear phishing attacks?

Spear Phishing vs. Phishing: What’s the Difference?

Spear phishing and phishing mainly differ in how they target victims and their level of detail. Phishing tries to trick as many people as possible, like casting a wide net into the sea, hoping some fish will fall for it. On the other hand, spear phishing is more like hunting; it carefully targets the victims using personal details.

Spear phishing attacks are detailed in research and use techniques. It is much harder to recognize and prevent. This focused approach makes spear phishing especially dangerous for organizations. Since hackers use it to break into specific networks or steal highly sensitive information.

Picture 2: Difference between phishing and spear phishing attacks.

Understanding And Avoiding Spear Phishing and Phishing Attacks

Security awareness training is key to understanding and avoiding spear phishing and phishing attacks. Companies should provide training to help employees identify and handle phishing and spear phishing attacks.

Using security measures like MFA, Anti-Spam Filters, and Sandbox tools can lower the chance of successful attacks. Additionally, keeping systems updated effectively lowers the risk of successful attacks.

The Growing Threat of Spear Phishing Attacks

Spear phishing attacks are growing. Spear phishing attacks are increasing, as reported by CISA. The past few years have seen a notable rise in these attacks.

Let's learn how these attacks are growing:

  • Spear Phishing is Getting Smarter: Hackers are getting good at sending fake messages that look like they're from friends or companies we trust. They find out things about us to make these messages super convincing.
  • Lots of People are Getting Tricked: A big study from Verizon in 2023 found that more than 1 out of every 3 times hackers try to trick someone, they succeed. That's a lot! And when businesses get tricked, it can cost them a huge amount of money, like over a billion dollars in one year.
  • Advanced Techniques Used: Attackers employ social engineering. They use information from social media and other sources to increase the credibility of their fake messages.
  • Money Motives: Hackers use spear phishing to make a lot of money. They deceive people into giving away private information they can sell or use to take money from their bank accounts.
  • They Seem Trustworthy: Spear phishing emails look like they're from people or companies you know and trust. That's why they can easily fool you, making these tricks more successful and tempting for hackers.
  • Not Knowing the Danger: Many people and places, like schools or businesses, are not prepared to identify and need more time to spot these malicious phishing emails. This makes it easier for hackers to trick them.
  • Security Slip-Ups: When online safety steps, like using passwords that need more than one step to log in (like a code sent to your phone), aren't used or kept up to date, it's like leaving the door open for hackers to get in through spear phishing.

5 Ways to Protect Your Organization Against Spear Phishing

Protecting your organization from spear phishing requires technology, education, and proactive strategies.

Here are five effective ways to safeguard against these targeted attacks:

  • Implement Phishing Simulation Sofware: Conduct regular phishing simulation tests for all employees. These are controlled attacks that mimic real spear phishing attempts without the harmful consequences. They help employees recognize and respond to phishing attempts, reinforcing the training in a practical context. Analyzing the results can also help identify areas where further training is needed.
  • Enhance Security Awareness Training: Develop an ongoing cyber security awareness program that includes training on recognizing spear phishing attacks. Regular updates to this security awareness training can address the latest phishing techniques and security threats.
  • Use Advanced Email Filtering Tools: Deploy sophisticated email filtering solutions to detect and block phishing emails before they reach the inbox. Look for tools that analyze email content for phishing indicators, like suspicious links or attachments.
  • Adopt Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implement multi-factor authentication for accessing organizational systems and data. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more verification factors to gain access.
  • Create a Culture of Security: Foster an organizational culture where security is everyone's responsibility. Encourage employees to stay alert, report suspicious emails, and share information about potential threats.
Picture 3: 5 ways to prevent spear phishing

Check out this YouTube video to learn the difference between phishing and spear phishing.

Watch our video to see how our phishing simulator can help increase employee awareness of phishing and spear phishing.



Schedule your 30-minute demo now!

You'll learn how to:
tickTrain your employees to be safer online with hands-on phishing tests, including emails, phone calls, multi-factor authentication (MFA), QR codes, callbacks, and text messages.
tickChoose from a vast selection of training materials from over 10 security-aware companies, so you're not stuck with just one option.
tickUse automatic reports to see how your employees are doing and compare your company's cybersecurity to others in your industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between phishing and spear phishing attacks?

arrow down

Phishing and spear phishing are cyber attacks that steal sensitive information but have different methods and targets. Phishing involves sending mass emails that appear to come from reputable sources to trick individuals into providing personal information. Spear phishing is a focused attack where hackers tailor their messages to seem more believable using victims' information. Understanding the difference between phishing vs. spear phishing attacks is crucial for implementing effective cybersecurity measures.

How can I identify a spear phishing email vs. a regular phishing attempt?

arrow down

Identifying a spear phishing email versus a regular phishing attempt involves looking for personalized information and context. Spear phishing emails often contain specific details about you, such as your name, job position, or references to recent activities, making them seem more legitimate. On the other hand, regular phishing attempts are typically more generic and may contain vague greetings or requests. Awareness of these signs is key to recognizing and protecting against spear phishing vs. general phishing efforts.

What are the most effective strategies to protect against phishing and spear phishing scams?

arrow down

Protecting against phishing and spear phishing scams requires combining technological solutions and user education. Implementing advanced email filtering tools, regularly updating software to patch security vulnerabilities, and using multifactor authentication can significantly reduce the risk. Educating employees or users about the characteristics of phishing vs. spear phishing scams, encouraging skepticism with unsolicited communications, and promoting the practice of verifying the authenticity of messages are also effective strategies.

What role does social engineering play in phishing vs. spear phishing attacks?

arrow down

Social engineering is critical in phishing and spear phishing attacks, exploiting human psychology to deceive individuals into breaking standard security procedures. In phishing, social engineering might induce a sense of urgency or fear, prompting the victim to act quickly without thinking. In spear phishing, attackers use detailed knowledge about the victim, acquired through social media or other means, to craft a highly personalized and convincing message. Understanding social engineering tactics in phishing vs. spear phishing contexts is vital for prevention.

Can antivirus software detect phishing and spear phishing emails?

arrow down

Antivirus software can detect phishing and spear phishing emails by scanning for malicious links or attachments. Spear phishing attacks can sometimes go undetected by antivirus software because they are sophisticated and targeted. To stay safe from phishing and spear phishing emails, use email filtering and teach users about the signs of phishing emails.

iso 27017 certificate
iso 27018 certificate
iso 27001 certificate
ukas 20382 certificate
Cylon certificate
Crown certificate
Gartner certificate
Tech Nation certificate