What is Phishing? A Complete Guide

A top view of a laptop with three credit cards on top of it held by a phishing hook

What is Phishing? A Complete Guide Train your employees to watch out and repport phishing emails. Get a Quote Download Datasheet Email Security What is Phishing? A Complete Guide Phishing is a type of online fraud where attackers use social engineering tactics to trick individuals into sharing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal data. Read our blog to best know how to protect yourself from these phishing attacks. By Cian Fitzpatrick | April 13, 2023 Phishing refers to a cybercrime where individuals are contacted through email, phone, or text by individuals posing as credible institutions. The aim is to coax them into sharing sensitive data such as personal information, bank account and credit card details, and passwords. This information is then used to access crucial accounts, potentially causing financial harm and identity theft. Phishing Definition To deceive the victim into clicking on a malicious link, phishing employs impersonating a trustworthy source through email, instant messages, or text messages. This can lead to installing malware, system freezing by a ransomware attack, or revealing confidential data. In addition, cybercriminals use phishing as a means to infiltrate corporate or governmental networks, often as part of a more extensive attack like an advanced persistent threat (APT) event. Hackers override security measures, introduce malware, and acquire privileged access to confidential data by compromising employees. A phishing attack can have severe consequences, including unauthorised purchases, theft of funds, and identity theft. If an organisation is targeted, it can result in significant financial losses, damage to reputation and consumer trust, and a decline in market share. Depending on the extent of the attack, a phishing attempt can escalate into a security incident that can be challenging for a business to recover from. How does Phishing work? Attackers send malicious email messages or other communication methods that resemble legitimate ones. The more the message appears real, the greater the chance of success. The attackers’ goals are usually to obtain personal information or credentials, creating a sense of urgency in the message to make users feel threatened. This manipulative technique leads to the victim’s compliance even to unreasonable demands. Organisations must train staff to recognise the latest phishing tactics; it only takes one person to fall for a phishing attempt and trigger a severe data breach. It is why phishing is considered one of the most challenging and critical threats to mitigate. Dangers of Phishing Personal phishing risks Personal phishing targets individuals through phone calls, emails, or text messages. Attackers pose as trustworthy entities like government agencies, banks, or famous companies to obtain sensitive information like credit card details, usernames, and passwords. This information can be used to steal money or commit identity theft. Personal phishing attacks can devastate individuals as they lack the same level of security as large organisations. Individuals should be cautious of unsolicited messages and regularly update their passwords to protect themselves. Organisational phishing risks Organisational phishing is a cyber attack that targets businesses, governments, and institutions using fake emails, text messages, or phone calls to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials, financial data, or other confidential details. Attackers use this data to steal funds or launch advanced attacks. Phishing attacks can result in severe financial and reputational damage, particularly when involving sensitive data or intellectual property. Organisations must implement robust security measures, including employee training, to reduce the risk of falling prey to these attacks. Common Traits of Phishing Phishing is an illegal technique used to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. Here are some common indicators of a phishing attempt that you should be aware of to stay safe: Requests for sensitive information Generic greetings or lack of personalisation Spelling or grammatical errors Unofficial or unfamiliar sender information Urgent requests or sense of urgency Unfamiliar or mismatched URLs Suspicious or misleading hyperlinks Threats or scare tactics Requests for immediate action Tempting or too-good-to-be-true offers   Protect your business from phishing attacks today by signing up for our Managed Phishing Awareness Training program. Click Here Phishing Attacks: Statistics and Examples The 2022 Cost of Data Breach Report by IBM affirms that data breaches are mostly due to the usage of stolen or compromised credentials. Such credentials were the primary attack method in 19% of breaches this year, a slight decline from 20% in 2021.  In 2022, 19% of data breaches were primarily caused by stolen or compromised credentials, showing a small decline from 2021’s 20% statistic. The average cost of breaches resulting from this type of attack was $4.5m, and it took 243 days to detect and 84 days to control, which is 16.6% longer than the average time to identify and manage a data breach. Phishing was the second most frequent cause of data breaches, accounting for 16% of incidents and costing $4.91m. Examples: In August 2022, Acorn Financial Services suffered a security breach when an employee was targeted in a phishing attack. The attackers stole login credentials and accessed sensitive information, including client details. Acorn conducted an investigation and informed affected customers. The breach could have been prevented or minimised with a phishing detection system in place. Twilio experienced a security breach in August 2022. The breach was caused by an SMS phishing attack in which employees were directed to a fake authentication site that looked like Twilio’s real site. The employees unknowingly entered their login credentials on the fake site, which allowed the attackers to gain access to Twilio’s internal resources and customer data. The attackers compromised 93 Authy accounts and potentially exposed 1,900 accounts on the encrypted communication app Signal, but they wouldn’t have been able to access message history or contact lists. Types of Phishing Attacks 1) Spear phishing Spear phishing involves targeting specific individuals in an organisation, typically those with high-level access, through email. This tactic aims to deceive victims into providing confidential information, transferring funds, or downloading malicious software. 2) Business email compromise (BEC) Business email compromise (BEC) involves the perpetrator pretending to be someone the recipient trusts, such as