What Is Spear Phishing?

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Spear phishing is a type of email scam where cybercriminals pose as a trusted individual or organization in order to gain sensitive information from their target. This article will explain what spear phishing is, how it works, and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.

What is spear phishing?

Spear phishing is a targeted email attack that attempts to trick the recipient into clicking on a malicious link or attachment. The attacker usually spoofs the email address of a legitimate sender, such as a company executive or trusted website, to make the email appear more believable.

Spear phishing attacks are becoming more common and more sophisticated, and they can be very difficult to detect. If you receive an unexpected email from a trusted sender, be sure to hover over any links before clicking to confirm that the URL is legitimate. And, never open attachments from someone you don’t know.

How does spear phishing work?

In spear phishing, cybercriminals carefully craft emails that appear to come from a legitimate source, such as a trusted friend or well-known organization. The email may contain personal information or details that make it seem even more authentic. When the victim clicks on a link or opens an attachment in the email, they may be taken to a malicious website or have malware installed on their device.

Spear phishing can be difficult to detect, as the emails can look very similar to legitimate communications. However, there are some things you can look for that may indicate a spear phishing email:

  • The email address may be slightly different from the legitimate address (e.g., using a different domain name)
  • The message may contain personal information that indicates it was written specifically for you
  • The email may contain threats or urgent language designed to create a sense of urgency
  • The email may have attachments or links that you weren’t expecting

Types of spear phishing attacks

There are four main types of spear phishing attacks:

  1.  Phishing emails that contain malicious attachments or links. These emails look like they come from a legitimate source, but when the attachment or link is clicked, it downloads malware onto the victim’s computer.
  2.  Emails that spoof a legitimate website in an attempt to get victims to enter their login credentials. This type of attack is also known as “web page phishing.”
  3.  Emails that claim to be from a trusted individual within an organization (e.g., a boss, co-worker, or vendor) and ask the recipient to click on a link or open an attachment.
  4.  “Whaling” attacks that target high-profile individuals within an organization (e.g., CEOs, CFOs, etc.). These attacks are usually more sophisticated than other types of spear phishing attacks and can result in serious financial or reputational damage to the victim and their organization.

Phishing is a type of cyberattack that involves tricking someone into clicking on a malicious link or opening an attachment in an email. Spear phishing is a targeted version of this attack, where the attacker carefully crafts their message to seem like it comes from a trusted source. This makes spear phishing emails much more believable, and thus, much more dangerous.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from spear phishing attacks:

  • Be aware of the signs of a spear phishing email, such as personalization, urgent language, and unexpected attachments.
  •  Don’t click on links or open attachments from unknown senders.
  •  If you’re not sure whether an email is legitimate, contact the sender directly to confirm.
  •  Keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date.
  • Be cautious when giving out personal information online. Only provide information to websites that you trust.
  • By following these tips, you can help keep yourself safe from spear phishing attacks.


Spear phishing is a targeted email attack that can have devastating consequences for both individuals and organizations. By understanding what spear phishing is and how it works, you can arm yourself against these attacks. Keep in mind that spear phishing emails are often very well-crafted and can be difficult to spot. If you’re ever unsure about an email, err on the side of caution and don’t click any links or download any attachments.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.