What is Spear Phishing?

What is Spear Phishing

Imagine two fishermen catching fish on a lake. One is throwing a net and is catching a variety of fish, most of them small. Maybe he catches something big enough, but maybe not. 

The other fisherman, on the other hand, has a different approach. Instead of casting a net in the lake without much planning and hoping that he catches something useful to bring home to dinner, he brings a fishing rod with him. He even has a special bait because he doesn’t want to catch just any fish. He wants a particular one. A big one.

Who do you think will eat better that evening?

What is the Difference between Regular Phishing and Spear Phishing?

This, in essence, is the difference between phishing and spear phishing.

In 2012, according to Trend Micro, over 90% of all targeted cyber attacks were spear-phishing related.

In regular phishing, the hacker sends emails at random to a wide number of email addresses. Just like our first fisherman friend with his net. 

And, just like the fisherman number one, the hacker doesn’t have very high hopes of catching a very big fish. He might catch a few smaller ones, but usually nothing to write home about.

How Does Phishing Work?

So how does a “regular” phishing attack work?

You probably received a phishing email a few times in your inbox. Usually, they appear like a legitimate business sent them. For example, you might get an email from your bank, internet service provider, or mobile carrier telling you that you need to login to your account because of some security breach or unscheduled maintenance.

There’s even a link you can click to get to the website and log in. When you click the link it will send you to a website page that looks almost identical to the one from the real bank.

Everything looks legitimate, so you go to the login page and type your username and password. Unfortunately, you realize too late that both the email and website were fake and created by the hacker to steal your account information so he can use them later.

For instance, the hacker can sell your login information on a black market on the dark web or use the information himself to hack your account and steal your money.

The “Problem” with Regular Phishing and How Spear Phishing Solves it

Phishing, as you can see, is very simple in both theory and practice. The problem, at least for the hacker, is that it is too random. Some get caught by it, some don’t, but there’s also no guarantee for the hacker that he’ll catch anything good. For instance, the hacker might send the email to someone who isn’t a client of that bank. 

Why would a bank that you’re not a client be sending you emails?

Most likely, you would just immediately hit the delete button on that email and forget all about it in two seconds.

The problem with phishing is that it’s not incredibly well-targeted. 

However, what if you get an email that addresses you by name, knows where you work, your company title and some other information that your real bank would know?

You would be much more inclined to open that email and respond to it, right?

That’s what a hacker using the spear phishing tactic does. He’s like the fisherman that knows what kind of bait to bring to catch a specific fish because he did his homework. 

Yes, he’ll only catch one fish or victim, but it’s going to be a big one and he has a  much better chance of catching it than a hacker trying with a normal phishing attack.

How to Protect Your Email Against Spear Phishing Attacks?

According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report from 2019 (PDF), spear phishing emails are used by 65% of all known cybercrime groups as their primary mode of attack.

As you can see, spear phishing attacks are nothing to scoff at and take lightly. Companies lose millions of dollars because of it. For instance, ProofPoint’s 2020 “State of the Phish” survey found that 90% of all organizations that participated in the survey faced a spear phishing attack in 2019.

So what can you do to prevent the same from happening to you and to protect your email from a spear phishing attack?

The number one thing to do is to encrypt your important and sensitive information and emails.

There are a few things that you can (and probably should) encrypt):

  • Your hard drive.
  • Passwords for your online accounts.
  • Internet activity (you can use a VPN or mask your IP address).
  • External storage such as USB or hard disc drives
  • Important files. Here’s how to send documents securely over the net by the way.

But the most important thing to encrypt, however, is your email communication. If a hacker manages to intercept your in-house emails with coworkers and employees or with clients revealing sensitive information about you and your company, that can cause a lot of problems for you.

So what’s the solution? 

The solution is to use a secure encrypted email service like CTemplar that will protect your emails both in transit and at rest from any hacker. 

CTemplar is an anonymous armored email that uses the strongest available, 4096-bit OpenPGP encryption to protect your emails and give you the piece of the mind while emailing. 

CTemplar also offers several other security features, including the strongest anti-phishing protection around. You can set up a phrase to be shown in your account that will alert you to any phishing attempts and prevent you from getting hooked.

Protect your emails from hackers and other malevolent third parties like the government or ad agencies trying to look into your personal and sensitive information and sign up completely anonymously for CTemplar today.