What Is Spear Phishing and How Can Businesses Prevent It?

We’ve all heard the saying: “Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

It’s good advice to remember when you get an email from a co-worker asking for secure information. If just one person in the organization falls for this scam, known as spear phishing, your business may end up facing a massive data breach.

Spear Phishing: The Latest Cyber Crime Strategy

Like other phishing attacks, spear phishing is a social engineering technique used by cyber criminals to gain access to private information, although the objectives behind them are somewhat different.

Phishing is an exploratory effort where thieves cast a wide net over many people, hoping to trick someone into giving up their personal information, like a password or a social security number. Once that information is in hand, the thief often sells this data to a third-party.

Spear phishing, on the other hand, is a targeted attack where thieves use fraudulent emails to gain access to network credentials. Once they get in, they launch a larger attack on the entire organization.

It’s Getting Personal

Spear phishing is highly effective because the thief invests time into getting to know the victim. The perpetrator often impersonates another person in the company – like an IT specialist asking the person for their login information – to make the messages seem authentic and innocuous. Thieves may also use social media accounts and access-control bypass methods, like antivirus and email filters.

The objective, of course, is to get the victim to click on a contaminated link or attachment, which opens the door for criminal activity. Sometimes these breaches are politically motivated as well. Government-sponsored hackers will tap into corporate networks, steal proprietary data, then sell it to their employers.

How to Stop Spear Phishing

Most standard security protections are useless against spear phishing because of how well the messages are disguised. They’re not easy to spot like other phishing attacks which often look suspicious, and all it takes is one mistake to put an entire business in jeopardy.

This is not just a problem that impacts large enterprises either. Small to mid-sized companies are just as likely to find themselves targeted. So what can you do?

The best defense is a strong employee training program. Make sure staff members know what spear phishing is and how it works. They should verify any suspicious messages with the sender before taking any action. Red flags might include unusual misspellings or a change in vocabulary from the sender – anything at all that seems odd.

Cyber criminals are constantly finding new, innovative ways to wedge a foot in the front door of businesses. The more personalized these attacks become, the harder it is to spot them before the damage is done. Keeping employees well trained, as well as deploying a multi-layered network monitoring system, will help keep the odds in your favor.

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