Phishing is a form of fraud in which an attacker masquerades as a reputable entity or person in email or other communication channels. The attacker uses phishing emails to distribute malicious links or attachments that can perform a variety of functions, including the extraction of login credentials or account information from victims.
How phishing works
Phishing attacks typically rely on social networking techniques applied to email or other electronic communication methods, including direct messages sent over social networks, SMS text messages and other instant messaging modes.
Phishers may use social engineering and other public sources of information, including social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, to gather background information about the victim's personal and work history, his interests, and his activities.
Pre-phishing attack reconnaissance can uncover names, job titles and email addresses of potential victims, as well as information about their colleagues and the names of key employees in their organizations. This information can then be used to craft a believable email. Targeted attacks, including those carried out by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, typically begin with a phishing email containing a malicious link or attachment.
Spear phishing is an email or electronic communications scam targeted towards a specific individual, organization or business. Although often intended to steal data for malicious purposes, cybercriminals may also intend to install malware on a targeted user’s computer.
This is how it works: An email arrives, apparently from a trustworthy source, but instead it leads the unknowing recipient to a bogus website full of malware. These emails often use clever tactics to get victims' attention. For example, the FBI has warned of spear phishing scams where the emails appeared to be from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Many times, government-sponsored hackers and hacktivists are behind these attacks. Cybercriminals do the same with the intention to resell confidential data to governments and private companies. These cybercriminals employ individually designed approaches and social engineering techniques to effectively personalize messages and websites. As a result, even high-ranking targets within organizations, like top executives, can find themselves opening emails they thought were safe. That slip-up enables cybercriminals to steal the data they need in order to attack their networks.