What does Phishing mean?

How phishing works

Phishing attacks are scams that often use social engineering bait or lure content. For example, during tax season, bait content involves tax-filing announcements that attempt to lure you into providing your personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account information.

Legitimate-looking communication, usually email, that links to a phishing site is one of the most common methods used in phishing attacks. The phishing site typically mimics sign-in pages that require users to input login credentials and account information. The phishing site then captures the sensitive information as soon as the user provides it, giving attackers access to the information.

Another common phishing technique is the use of emails that direct you to open a malicious attachment, for example a PDF file. The attachment often contains a message asking you to provide login credentials to another site such as email or file sharing websites to open the document. When you access these phishing sites using your login credentials, the attacker now has access to your information and can gain additional personal information about you.

Invoice phishing

In this scam, the attacker attempts to lure you with an email stating that you have an outstanding invoice from a known vendor or company and provides a link for you to access and pay your invoice. When you access the site, the attacker is poised to steal your personal information and funds.

Payment/delivery scam

You are asked to provide a credit card or other personal information so that your payment information can be updated with a commonly known vendor or supplier. The update is requested so that you can take delivery of your ordered goods. Generally, you may be familiar with the company and have likely done business with them in the past, but you are not aware of any items you have recently purchased from them.

Tax-themed phishing scams

A common IRS phishing scams is one in which an urgent email letter is sent indicating that you owe money to the IRS. Often the email threatens legal action if you do not access the site in a timely manner and pay your taxes. When you access the site, the attackers can steal your personal credit card or bank information and drain your accounts.


Another frequently-used phishing scam is one in which an attacker sends a fraudulent email requesting you to open or download a document, often one requiring you to sign in.

Phishing emails that deliver other threats

Phishing emails can be very effective, and so attackers can using them to distribute ransomware through links or attachments in emails. When run, the ransomware encrypts files and displays a ransom note, which asks you to pay a sum of money to access to your files.

We have also seen phishing emails that have links to tech support scam websites, which use various scare tactics to trick you into calling hotlines and paying for unnecessary "technical support services" that supposedly fix contrived device, platform, or software problems.

Targeted attacks against enterprises

Spear phishing

Spear phishing is a targeted phishing attack that involves highly customised lure content. To perform spear phishing, attackers will typically do reconnaissance work, surveying social media and other information sources about their intended target.

Spear phishing may involve tricking you into logging into fake sites and divulging credentials. Spear phishing may also be designed to lure you into opening documents by clicking on links that automatically install malware. With this malware in place, attackers can remotely manipulate the infected computer.

The implanted malware serves as the point of entry for a more sophisticated attack known as an advanced persistent threat (APT). APTs are generally designed to establish control and steal data over extended periods. As part of the attack, attackers often try to deploy more covert hacking tools, move laterally to other computers, compromise or create privileged accounts, and regularly exfiltrate information from compromised networks.


Whaling is a form of phishing in which the attack is directed at high-level or senior executives within specific companies with the direct goal of gaining access to their credentials and/or bank information. The content of the email may be written as a legal subpoena, customer complaint, or other executive issue. This type of attack can also lead to an APT attack within an organization. When the links or attachment are opened, it can assist the attacker in accessing credentials and other personal information, or launch a malware that will lead to an APT.

Business email compromise

Business email compromise (BEC) is a sophisticated scam that targets businesses often working with foreign suppliers and businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments. One of the most common schemes used by BEC attackers involves gaining access to a company’s network through a spear phishing attack, where the attacker creates a domain similar to the company they are targeting or spoofs their email to scam users into releasing personal account information for money transfers.

In the next article I will explain techniques and tricks to protect yourself in Phishing threads.