16 January 2024 • Cyber security
Imagine receiving an email that appears to be from a trusted colleague or vendor, except it’s a fake. It was designed to extract confidential information or infect your system with malware. Welcome to the world of spear phishing, a sophisticated form of cyber attack that’s on the rise and targeting businesses just like yours.
What is spear phishing?
Spear phishing is a targeted attack where cyber criminals create emails, appearing as credible and coming from trusted sources. These e-mails are set up to deceive recipients into providing sensitive information, clicking on malicious links, or initiating unauthorized transactions. Unlike traditional phishing which works as a wide net hoping to catch anyone, spear phishing is the sharpshooter of cyber threats. Cyber criminals are aiming directly at specific individuals or organizations with personalized approaches.
The rise in spear phishing attacks is a critical concern for businesses, with alarming statistics highlighting the urgency. 88% of organizations faced at least one spear phishing attack in a single year, and 95% of successful attacks involved spear phishing. Financially, the cost of phishing attacks tripled in six years, with an average annual cost reaching $14.8 million for a large company. An earlier and famous case saw over $100 million stolen from Google and Facebook through spear phishing, emphasizing that no organization is immune to these sophisticated attacks.
Spear phishing versus general phishing
While general phishing is like a cyber criminal throwing a wide net, hoping to catch anyone, spear phishing is more like a sniper, taking aim with information focused on you or your business. General phishing might involve generic emails sent to thousands, hoping a few will click on a malicious link. Spear phishing, however, involves researching the target, often using information gathered from social media or other sources, to create a believable and targeted fake e-mail.
The difference is significant because it means that spear phishing is not just a danger due to its frequency or reach, but because of its precision and potential to cause serious harm. It’s not just about stealing small bits of data anymore. It’s about significant breaches that can do greater harm to businesses.
Understanding the spear phishing threat
Unlike general phishing with its wider nets, spear phishing is focused on you. Emails are created to look as legitimate as possible. Attackers gather information about their target, making emails or messages appear as if they’re from a trusted colleague, partner, or institution.
Imagine receiving an email from what seems to be your boss or a long-standing client. It’s urgent, asking you to click on a link or provide sensitive information. This isn’t a far-fetched scenario; it’s a common tactic used in spear phishing. The message will be personalized, perhaps mentioning a recent meeting you attended or a project you’re working on. It feels real, urgent, and demands your immediate attention.
Now, consider the case of Ubiquiti Networks Inc., an American network technology company. In June 2015, the company fell victim to a spear phishing attack that resulted in $46.7 million in financial losses. The attackers carried out the attack by impersonating employees and making fraudulent requests targeting the company’s finance department. Employees were tricked into transferring funds to overseas accounts held by third parties, believing they were following legitimate requests from executives, thanks to spoofed email addresses and look-alike domains. Although the company’s actual systems were not compromised, this incident highlights the relative ease with which attackers can trick victims into performing actions directly, using widely available information on the internet to produce realistic spoofed emails.
Your best possible defense: spear phishing training
Spear phishing is a relevant and dangerous threat. Your defense? Spear phishing training. It’s not just a necessity, it’s vital for your company. Let’s provide your team with the security essentials.
These are key components of your employee training:
- Recognition skills: make sure your team can identify suspicious emails. Highlight typical signs: mismatched URLs, poor spelling, or unexpected requests. Make it a game: spot the phish and reward vigilance.
- Scenario-based learning: don’t just tell; show. Use real-life examples of spear phishing attacks. Test them. What went wrong? How could they have been spotted? Real stories make real impacts.
- Response protocols: knowing is half the battle. Ensure your team knows exactly what to do when they spot a threat. Should they delete the email, report it, or call IT? Clear, simple steps can make all the difference.
At Guardey, we use gamification to engage employees and provide memorable training. We inject a sense of competition and fun. Leaderboards for the best-performing colleagues motivate to do all the challenges. Make security awareness a point of pride.
Implementing spear phishing training: try Guardey
To strengthen your organization against the attacks of spear phishing, implementing a robust awareness program is critical.
Guardey offers spear phishing training consisting of two elements:
- Spear phishing simulations
- Security awareness training
During the spear phishing simulations, we sit together with the organization to set up an email based on social engineering. Afterward, you’ll get a report that shows you exactly how many people clicked or even filled in personal data.
During our weekly security awareness challenges, users spend about 3-5 minutes answering cyber security questions on a wide range of topics, including phishing. This teaches them how to recognize phishing, which includes being tested on recognizing real-life examples.
Start your spear phishing training today
Your employees are the frontline defenders against these dangerous attacks. By empowering them with knowledge and regular updates, you build a human firewall that’s as robust as any software solution.
Every email your employees open, every link they hover over, they should be armed with the knowledge and skepticism necessary to protect your organization’s digital assets. It’s not just about avoiding risks; it’s about creating an environment where cyber security is everyone’s business.
With Guardey, your team can now learn how to recognize spear phishing and how to act in response. Feel free to reach out to us or start a free trial.