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What Is Phishing & How Are Hackers Using It?

While the number of people falling for sending personal information to the crown prince of Nigeria in hopes of receiving his promised wealth and riches seems to be dropping. Phishing remains a major issue. In fact, the number of phishing campaigns pursued by hackers around the world increased 65% in the past year.

What exactly is phishing? Hackers mimic the emails, forms and websites of legitimate companies in an effort to lure people into providing their private, personal information, like credit card numbers, social security information, account logins and personal identifiers. Victims typically don’t realize they were compromised until long after the event. Frequently only after their identity or finances were affected. In the past, an attack was carried out relatively quickly. As soon as the victim gave up their information, the hacker moved in and stole money from the compromised account. Today, it’s often more lucrative for hackers to sell that information on the Dark Web. Resulting in longer lasting and even more devastating attacks.

3 Types of Phishing Attack

Spear Phishing

Phishing attempts directed at specific individuals or companies have been termed spear phishing. Attackers may gather personal information about their target to increase their probability of success. This technique is by far the most successful on the Internet today, accounting for 91% of attacks.

Threat Group-4127 used spear phishing tactics to target email accounts linked to Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 presidential campaign. They attacked more than 1,800 Google accounts and implemented domain to threaten targeted users.

Clone Phishing

Clone phishing is a type of attack whereby a legitimate and previously delivered email containing an attachment or link has had its content and recipient address(es) taken and used to create an almost identical or cloned email. The link within the email is replaced with a malicious version. Then it’s sent from an email address spoofed to appear as though it came from the original sender. It may claim to be a resend of the original or an updated version to the original. This technique is used to pivot (indirectly) from a previously infected machine and gain a foothold on another machine. By exploiting the social trust associated with the inferred connection due to both parties receiving the original email.


Phishing attacks are directed specifically at senior executives and other high-profile targets within businesses. The term whaling was coined for these kinds of attacks. In the case of whaling, the masquerading web page/email will take a more serious executive-level form. The content will be crafted to target an upper manager and the person’s role in the company. The content of a whaling attack email is often written as a legal subpoena, customer complaint or executive issue. Whaling scam emails are designed to masquerade as critical business emails sent from a legitimate business authority. The content is meant to be tailored for upper management and usually involves some kind of falsified company-wide concern. Whaling phishers have also forged official-looking FBI subpoena emails. They claimed that the manager needs to click a link and install special software to view the subpoena.

Ever gotten an email from the bank or medical office asking to update information online or confirm a username and password? Maybe a suspicious email from your boss asking you to execute a wire transfer. If so, that is most likely a spear phishing attempt and you’re among the 76% of businesses that were victims of a phishing attack in the last year.

Method of Delivery

Phishing scams aren’t always received through email. Hackers are getting trickier and trickier with their preferred method of execution. In 2017, officials caught onto attacks using SMS texting (smishing)Voice phishing (vishing) or social engineering. A method where users are encouraged to click on various kinds of unexpected content for a variety of technical and social reasons.

Ransomware: The Consequence

Phishing is the most widely used method for spreading ransomware. It has increased significantly since the birth of major ransomware viruses like Petya and Wannacry. Anyone can become a victim of phishing or in turn, ransomware attacks. However, hackers have begun targeting organizations that are more likely to pay the ransoms. Small businesses, education, government and healthcare organizations often don’t have valid data backups, making them unable to roll back to a pre-ransomed version of their data. Instead, they have to pay their way out or cease to exist. Phishing campaign victims are often branded as untrustworthy. Many of their customers turn to their competitors, resulting in even greater financial loss.

Why are effective phishing campaigns so rampant despite public awareness from media coverage?

Volume: There are nearly 5 million new phishing sites created every month, according to Webroot Threat Report. There are now even Phishing as a Service companies, offering phishing attacks in exchange for payment. One Russian website, “Fake Game,” claims over 61,000 subscribers and 680,000 credentials stolen.

They work: Over 30% of phishing messages get opened, and 12% of targets click on the embedded attachments or links, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. In short, hackers have gotten really good at looking really legitimate.

It is simple to execute new phishing campaigns and sites can be built by sophisticated hackers in a matter of minutes. While we think there are far more legitimate ways to be earning money. These individuals have made a living out of duplicating their successful campaigns.

If you have any questions about phishing attacks, give us a call. You can also download our FREE guide on How To Spot An Email Phishing Attack!

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