What is Phishing? How Do Phishing Attacks Work?

In today’s advanced digital environment, employees and contractors can enter their work systems and programs using a simple set of documents. While this makes the work easier for employees and contractors, it also exposes organizations to a specific type of cybercrime: phishing!

Phishing is a method of collecting personal information from individuals using deceptive emails and websites. Phishing is one of the most common cyber attacks. In this article from SPY24 App, we will talk about phishing, Different types of phishing, and how to protect yourself against phishing.

What is phishing?

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that is usually carried out through email and aims to steal login information, system access, and other sensitive information such as credit card data for identity theft.

How do phishing attacks work?

One notable feature of phishing attacks is the element of surprise. These emails are received when the victim is not expecting them. Attackers can schedule emails to be received by victims at times when they are distracted by other things like work. Constantly focusing on suspicious emails is impossible, and scammers know this well.

According to the FBI’s annual report on cybercrime in 2020, phishing attacks accounted for 32.35% of all cyber attacks last year, which was actually the highest number and 241,342 phishing incidents occurred. This number has increased more than tenfold in the past five years, while it was 19,465 in 2015.

In a phishing attack, hackers use written communications (such as email or instant messaging) to steal personal information from a credible source. The goal is essentially for the email recipient to be fooled into thinking that the message is something they want, click on the link, or download the attachment. Usually, this process involves the following steps:

  • The hacker gains access to a legitimate website or creates a fake domain.
  • The attacker designs a message that encourages recipients to click on the link sent to that site and sends this message to multiple email addresses.
  • If someone clicks on the link or is asked to enter their username and password, or downloads malware that collects information stored in their device or browser memory.
  • The attacker uses these credentials to steal sensitive data from the person.

Despite the advances made in email filters over the years, and Google filtering 100 million spam emails daily for Gmail users, phishing attacks are still common for two main reasons:

  1. Creating convincing emails and fake websites does not require complicated expertise.
  2. They are easily scalable, which ultimately makes them much more effective than trying to penetrate a server over time.

It is repeatedly said that humans are the weakest link in security and are always vulnerable to phishing attacks. For example, scammers have invested in people’s great fear of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years.

0.1% of phishing emails that pass through email filters are still lucrative enough for scammers, meaning that users should be even more vigilant in the coming years.

Risks of Phishing Attacks:

Although phishing attacks are designed to target individuals, if a phishing attack is successful, it can have irreparable consequences for both individuals and organizations.

Internet criminals can gain access to personal and corporate programs by using user information. They can lock owners out of their accounts by changing their passwords. They can also make it harder to access accounts by adding multi-factor authentication with their own devices.

The dangers of phishing attacks

This becomes particularly problematic when attackers send seemingly legitimate emails to various users, putting the entire network at risk.

Once inside the organization’s network, hackers can use the licenses they have obtained from individuals to install malware that can shut down corporate systems or steal money and intellectual property.

Because of the level of control that managers have in their organizations, a phishing attack can have a severe impact on the company. These attacks have caused millions of dollars in damages to organizations.

In addition to financial losses and loss of corporate capital, customer data is at risk in some cases, and corporate credibility has been damaged.

What are the different types of phishing attacks?

It’s important to note that terms like “Instagram phishing,” “account phishing,” “bank card phishing,” and so on all refer to the misuse and theft of confidential information online. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common types of phishing attacks, which include:

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Email Phishing

Most phishing attacks occur through email messages. The attacker lures the user into clicking on a malicious link or installing malware and providing personal information. This is the most popular and frequent type of phishing attack, where the attacker tries to impersonate the organization by registering several fake domains and sending thousands of requests to it. There are various methods for identifying phishing emails, but the most important one is always to check the email address and see if the message contains an attachment or link.

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Spear Phishing

In these attacks, the attacker usually has personal information about the victim and uses it to make their message more effective to intervene in the victim’s activities. It can be said that in these attacks, a seemingly reliable source is used to deceive victims, with the difference being that a person or group of people are targeted in these attacks instead of sending a few general messages to a few users in hopes that someone might fall victim. Human resource employees and IT managers are the perennial targets of these attacks because they have higher and wider access to the organization.


These attacks target senior management and other prominent roles in an organization with confidential messages (such as tax returns) to use their information for more effective attacks. Whaling attacks are only effective if the attacker tries harder than usual to deceive the whale (ambitious goals) and convince them to disclose sensitive and valuable information. After success, attackers can use the target’s privileges and attack other employees in the organization without creating suspicion.


These attacks take place through mobile phones and involve sending false text messages and fake phone calls. The attacker pretends to be an investigator from a company or credit institution and asks the victim to provide their payment card information. In smishing attacks, the attacker sends text messages with deceptive content, and in vishing attacks, deceptive content is presented during phone calls.

For example, a fraudster may pretend to be a researcher from a bank or credit institution and inform the victim of a breach in their account. Then they ask them to verify their identity by providing their credit card details. They may even ask the victim to transfer their funds to a special account (fraud) instead.

Social Engineering Phishing

In these attacks, fake social media accounts belonging to well-known organizations are used to deceive users. Fake website addresses, posts, and simulated tweets can all be used alongside urgent messages to encourage individuals to disclose sensitive information or download malware. On the other hand, criminals can also use data that people post on social media to conduct targeted attacks.

In this type of fraud, the attacker creates an account similar to a well-known brand and responds to users’ social media messages with complaints about the target brand. They then send a link that leads to a malicious website or continue talking to the user to obtain personal information. READ More: Instagram Hack with a Phishing (Creating a Fake Instagram).

How does phishing work?

Most phishing attacks are carried out through email. The attacker likely obtained a list of compromised emails and sends out bulk phishing emails, hoping to deceive at least some of the recipients.

How do phishing attacks work?

The sender often tries to present themselves as a legitimate entity, such as a personal services company for an individual or a supplier for a business.

The goal of sending the email is to trick the user into responding to the email or typically clicking on a link that redirects them to a fake website that looks similar to a legitimate website. The user is then encouraged to enter their credentials and the attacker can steal their password.

Depending on how far the attacker has progressed with the fake website, they may also obtain additional information needed for identity theft. For example, they may create a dashboard similar to a legitimate website and request credit card information, social security number, address, etc., to use in future attacks.

In addition to general phishing attacks, there are other types of phishing attacks that you should also be aware of.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a targeted attempt to steal sensitive information such as usernames and passwords or financial information from a specific victim, often with malicious intent.

This is achieved by obtaining personal information about the victim like their place of residence, phone number, places they frequently visit, or recent online purchases. The attacker then impersonates a trustworthy person or organization, usually through email or other online messages, to obtain sensitive information. This is the most successful method of obtaining confidential information online, accounting for around 91% of attacks.

Unlike victims of spear phishing, victims of generic phishing attacks are not targeted and emails are often sent en masse. The goal of phishing attacks is to send a fraudulent email to a large number of people in the hopes that someone will click on the link and provide personal information or download malware. Whereas spear phishing attacks target specific victims and the messages are tailored in a way that specifically addresses that victim.

Spear phishing requires more thought and time compared to generic phishing. Attackers try to obtain as much personal information about their victims as possible so that the email they send seems legitimate and increases their chances of fooling the recipients. Detecting and identifying spear phishing attacks is more difficult than identifying generic phishing attacks done at a large scale. For this reason, spear phishing attacks are on the rise.


A step further than spear phishing, whaling attacks target prominent individuals like private sector CEOs or high-ranking government officials.

Whaling attempts often try to trick subordinates of the target into performing an action. FBI reports show criminals often try to gain control of a chief financial officer or CEO and forge their accounts.

Whaling attacks are a specific type of spear phishing attack where scammers target prominent people. Whaling aims higher by going after CEOs, senior executives, celebrities, and other high-profile accounts that are akin to a “big fish.” This is different from typical phishing attacks or even spear phishing that targets a wider range of people.

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The motive behind whaling attacks is usually financial gain. Scammers steal money by accessing and taking over bank accounts, credit cards, wire transfers, or other financial assets of the targeted individuals. Alternatively, whalers seek access to privileged and sensitive information for espionage purposes.

Since whaling targets high-profile individuals, attackers put extra effort into researching the target and using socially engineered emails that appear legitimate. They also piggyback on the trust subordinates have in their superiors to try and get them to execute malicious requests.

Organizations can defend against whaling attacks through employee education and awareness training, multi-factor authentication for financial transactions, monitoring email security threats, and implementing fraud detection systems. High-profile individuals also need to be careful about what information they share publicly and be vigilant of suspicious emails.

How can we prevent organizational phishing?

One of the biggest preventative measures that organizations can take to protect their employees and businesses is education about the dangers of phishing and how to identify suspicious attacks. After implementing strong educational measures, preventing phishing success comes down to placing identity and access management at the center of your security strategy.

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Implementing preventive security measures

By combining additional layers of security in organizational programs such as the deployment of unified authentication (Single Sign On) and adaptive MFA, organizations can actively stop phishing in their tracks.

Limiting the level of attacks

By automating user lifecycle management, attacks on individuals who mistakenly have high-level access can be prevented. Using an identity and access management system, it is determined what resources each person has access to, to what extent, and within what time frame.

Increasing speed in dealing with attacks

By reviewing identity verification events in real-time, unauthorized account access can be quickly addressed. Organizations can use alert services to quickly become aware of suspicious activity such as password changes and multi-factor authentication in their user accounts and take necessary action. Additionally, by applying adaptive authentication policies for all users, remedial actions can be taken quickly in the event of phishing attacks, thereby reducing damage.

Implementation of preventive security measures

Spoofing and phishing attacks

Spoofing is a type of attack in which the attacker pretends to be someone else to attack the victim. In most phishing attacks, spoofing is used as a social engineering tool, but not all spoofing attacks are phishing attacks.

For example, spoofing attacks are also used as attack vectors for ransomware attacks. In a typical ransomware attack, the victim receives a damaged attachment email containing malware that encrypts their computer files after execution. The attacker then demands a ransom to return the victim’s files.

In the cyber world, it is very important for every individual and organization to be aware of phishing attacks and the best defense against them. As we mentioned earlier, phishing attacks are a complex method that endangers important information through emails or websites claiming to be trustworthy and from trusted organizations.

In the following, we mention some of the most important points for protecting individual’s and organizations’ information against phishing attacks.

Preventing Phishing Attacks – What are the Methods to Combat Phishing Attacks?

If you feel that your organization is susceptible to phishing attacks, these methods can help minimize the likelihood of successful attacks and damage to your company. When under attack by phishing, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind before showing any initial reactions. Remember that phishing comes in various forms and does not necessarily mean that your identity has been entirely stolen.

The best defense against phishing attacks

Make Sure Your Personal Information is Secure

To ensure the security of your personal information against phishing attacks, you must be very careful when entering personal information, login credentials, and any sensitive information inside a website. Here are helpful tips to protect your personal information:

  • Check if the website is legitimate or not.
  • Do not provide information if the website is not familiar to you.
  • Do not share your login credentials with others.
  • Use strong and unique passwords.
  • Do not use the same password for multiple different accounts.

Only Enter Personal Information on Secure Websites

If you intend to provide sensitive information or financial information to a website, you must first ensure that the website is secured by an SSL certificate. A secure URL started with Https://. For example

Tip 1: Click on the lock icon next to the website address and check the SSL certificate of the website. If the certificate does not match the URL or the certificate has expired, your information may be at risk.

Tip 2: Even if you know the website is legitimate but receive a warning that the site is unsafe, there is a possibility that your information could be compromised.

Therefore, by ensuring the website is secure, you can enter your information with confidence.

Delete suspicious emails and do not click on them

You may receive an unsolicited email from an unknown source that appears suspicious and contains phishing attempts. A suspicious email may contain a virus or malware script that redirects you to a vulnerable website and steals your information.

  • If you want to prevent phishing emails, delete emails that confuse you.
  • If you think the email you received is suspicious, you can contact the sender directly to make sure they sent this email.
  • In addition to deleting an email, you can mark it as spam or as a suspicious sender. It’s best not to click on these types of emails.

Never provide personal information on the internet

To prevent phishing attacks, you should never share sensitive personal or financial information such as login credentials or banking credit card information online. Phishing emails often redirect you to pages that require financial or personal information.

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As an internet user, you should never enter confidential information via links in incoming emails. Make checking a valid and secure website address using SSL certification a habit for yourself.

Check email addresses for accuracy

Phishing scammers often try to send email addresses as official or legal users. However, with careful review, cases such as:

  • The recipient’s email address may be misspelled. For example, instead of receiving an email from, you receive it from
  • Another case is that the company name may be misspelled. For example, you will receive an email from “” instead of “”

Therefore, before clicking on this type of email link to enter your personal information, you must carefully check the email address.

Arrange training and awareness about cybersecurity for your employees

Every organization should arrange regular awareness workshops and training programs on cybersecurity. The workshop and training program may include topics such as:

  • Cybersecurity and its importance.
  • Cybercrime and its various types
  • What is phishing? Types of phishing attacks
  • What is the best defense against phishing attacks?
  • Various tools and techniques for cybersecurity.

Therefore, employees will be aware of cyber threats and can protect themselves from cyber attacks as well as ensure the security of their personal information.

Have a security policy for your organization and business

A security policy will guarantee the security, stability, and trustworthiness of an organization. If an organization does not have a security policy, preparing and implementing one is crucial. A security policy can include the following topics:

  • Physical and network security of the organization
  • Password creation and management policy
  • Providing security awareness training to all employees
  • Safe use of email and social media accounts, etc.

Therefore, having this security policy should ensure your security.

Be aware of phishing techniques

An internet user should be aware of phishing attacks and also know what the best defense against phishing attacks is. Phishing scams are constantly evolving. Without knowing phishing techniques, you cannot protect your personal information from intruders. Therefore, always follow and read important resources to learn about new phishing scams.

Update your browser

Keeping your web browser up-to-date is very important for both security and ensuring proper loading of web pages. Old web browsers can have serious security issues such as phishing, viruses, trojans, spyware, adware, and other types of malware.

Security patches are constantly released for popular web browsers. It only takes a few minutes to access an update, download it, and install it.

Update your operating system and security patches

Your computer’s operating system and security patches have important security functions that can help you protect against phishing attempts. Keeping your operating system and security patches up-to-date can ensure the strongest security level for you.

Follow these steps: Start>control panel>system and security and click on Windows Update. In the left-hand window, click on Check for updates and wait for Windows to search for the latest updates for your computer. If an update is found, click on Install Updates.

Use antivirus software

Antivirus software is a program that helps protect your computer from viruses, worms, Trojans, and other unwanted cyber threats. This program scans every file that enters your computer via the Internet and helps you prevent damage to your system.

To prevent phishing attacks, use Anti-Spyware and Firewall and continuously update programs.

If you are using Windows 7, you can install Microsoft Security Essentials. If you are using Windows 8 or Windows 10 and 11, Windows Security or Windows Defender Security Center is already installed on your computer.

Install an anti-phishing toolbar

The Anti-Phishing toolbar is a layer of protection against phishing scams and is completely free. This toolbar provides easy search access for information about sites you visit and protects against phishing.

Most popular web browsers have anti-phishing toolbars such as Netcraft Toolbar, McAfee SiteAdvisor, Finjan SecureBrowsing, Bitdefender TrafficLight, and more. These types of toolbars are quickly executed on the sites you visit and compare them to a list of known phishing sites.

Use a web application firewall (WAF)

WAF is a cybersecurity tool designed to protect programs, APIs, and mobile applications by filtering and monitoring malicious HTTP traffic between a web application and the Internet.
By using WAF, your website, applications, and data will be protected. It allows legal traffic (such as customers) but blocks malicious traffic (such as phishing attacks).

Encrypt your data

Encryption is a process by which your information is transformed into data using an encryption algorithm that only authorized users can access and makes it unreadable for unauthorized users. This process protects sensitive data such as credit card numbers, banking information, login credentials, etc. by encoding and converting the data into unreadable ciphertext.

In summary, blocking access to unauthorized websites, educating employees, restricting internet access, and creating and enforcing a security policy will prevent and protect against phishing attacks.

Conducting a Phishing Attack Test

By conducting a phishing test, security teams can evaluate the effectiveness of cybersecurity awareness training programs. Even if you feel that your employees know how to handle suspicious messages, it is important to regularly test them to ensure they are prepared to face real attacks. The threat landscape is constantly evolving, and cyber attack mitigation techniques must also evolve.

Why does phishing increase during crises?

Criminals rely on deception and anxiety to succeed in phishing activities. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic provide a great opportunity for criminals to lure victims towards their phishing scams.

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During a crisis, individuals are on edge. They need information and constantly seek guidance from employers, governments, and other relevant authorities. An email that appears to be from one of these entities and contains new information or guidelines about the crisis is likely to go less scrutinized than before. Therefore, with just one click, the person’s device could be compromised and their account put at risk.

Keep Phishers Away!

To deal with cybercriminals who have become increasingly sophisticated, organizations must adopt a more comprehensive and robust security approach. To be successful, it is critical that they train their employees along the way and place identity and access management at the center of their security strategy.


In this article of SPY24, we explained what phishing is and how its attacks are implemented. These days, due to the increase in remote work on the Internet and the widespread use of this platform, fraud attacks have also increased.

it is very important to know what phishing is. In the following article, we also talked about the types of phishing fraud attacks and how to deal with and protect them. By taking these security measures, you can avoid the risk of attack.

keleis andre

Keleis Andre is an experienced specialist in network security and the web world, with a decade of experience in the virtual space. He has expertise in about 80% of the topics related to e-commerce and works as a designer and consultant in the field of launching and developing internet businesses. Andre's experience in this area includes guiding and advising businesses to create an effective and competitive presence in the digital world.

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