Spear phishing

TL;DR: A targeted phishing attack that targets a specific person or group of people by using personalised or confidential information.#

Spear phishing is a targeted type of phishing attack in which attackers specifically target individual people or organisations. In contrast to conventional phishing, which is widely distributed and intended to reach many recipients, in spear phishing the attack is tailored precisely to the selected victim. This often makes spear phishing attacks more difficult to recognise and more dangerous.

Characteristics of spear phishing:

  1. Targeted approach: The attackers collect information about the target, such as their name, position in the company, colleagues and personal interests. This information is used to make the message appear personalised and credible.
  2. Credible news: The emails or messages often appear very authentic as they contain specific details that only someone with knowledge of the victim would know. This increases the likelihood that the victim will fall for the attack.
  3. Trustworthy senders: The attackers often pose as trustworthy sources, such as colleagues, superiors, business partners or well-known institutions. They forge email addresses or use slightly modified domains that appear legitimate at first glance.

Procedure of a spear phishing attack:

  1. Information procurement: The attacker researches the target to gather as much information as possible. This can be done through social media, company websites, data leaks or other sources.
  2. Creation of the phishing message: Based on the information gathered, the attacker creates a customised message designed to trick the target into disclosing confidential information or opening malicious attachments or links.
  3. Dispatch of the message: The message is sent to the target. As it is very specific and personalised, it increases the likelihood that the target will respond.
  4. Execution of the attack: If the target clicks on the link or opens the attachment, the attacker can install malware, steal login credentials or perform other malicious actions.

Targets of spear phishing:

  • Theft of login information: gain access to the victim's accounts and systems.
  • Spread of malware: Installation of malware on the victim's computer, which enables further attacks.
  • Financial fraud: Tricking the victim into transferring money or disclosing payment information.
  • Data theft: gain access to confidential and sensitive company data.

Protective measures against spear phishing:

  1. Sensitisation and training: Regular training courses for employees to educate them about the dangers and recognisable features of phishing attacks.
  2. Email security: Use of email filters and anti-phishing tools that recognise and block suspicious messages.
  3. Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Introduction of MFA to ensure that even if credentials are stolen, access to accounts is made more difficult.
  4. Verification of the sender address: Pay attention to the sender's exact e-mail address and domain in order to recognise fake e-mails.
  5. Be careful with links and attachments: Do not click on any links or open any attachments that appear unexpected or suspicious. If in doubt, contact the sender via another communication channel to verify authenticity.

Spear phishing is a particularly insidious form of cyber attack as it targets the trust and inattention of individuals. However, through vigilance, training and technical measures, organisations and individuals can significantly reduce the risk of such attacks.