Spear Phishing Attacks? Tactics, examples, and techniques

Spear Phishing Attacks

Keeping your small to midsized organization cyber secure is getting more challenging every year.

And the hackers are no longer the kid wearing a hoodie in their parents’ basement.

In their place, you’ll find a sophisticated network of companies, nation-states, and organized cyber-criminal organizations that employ full-time employees with one simple task … to break into your systems.

These cyber criminals use social engineering

Social engineering is a manipulation technique used by cybercriminals to trick people into sharing personal and confidential information.

Social engineering relies on trust, a basic human instinct. Hackers use this to gain access and commit other cybercrimes. Spear phishing uses these social engineering and is a type of phishing scam that uses emails created to look like it is coming from a trusted sender.

In a Spear Phishing attack, attackers target specific individuals or groups within organizations. It is also a form of email communications scam that targets a specific organization or even a group of individuals or companies.

With a Spear phishing attack, scammers intend to steal data for malicious purposes, and sometimes cybercriminals also plan to install malware on a target user’s device to steal their data. You can learn more about the different types of malware and ways to combat them by clicking here.

Diving deep into the world of Spear Phishing

Diving deep into the world of Spear

Spear phishing is a cybercrime that carries out targeted attacks against individuals and businesses using their email. Criminals use savvy tactics to gather personal data about the targets and send emails that sound familiar and trustworthy.

These emails usually have attachments containing malicious links to ransomware, malware, or spyware. Additionally, the email blatantly asks the recipient to respond urgently, like sending personal data such as a banking password or transferring a specific sum of money.

In cases of Spear Phishing, victims mistakenly believe they know the sender and trust them because the emails are written in an extremely familiar tone and refer to personal information about the recipient.

And that’s why common folks who are unaware end by responding to the request.

Spear phishing vs. Phishing vs. Whaling

How does a Spear-Phishing Attack work

Phishing and spear phishing serve similar illicit purposes, even though spear phishing attacks target many more people. While spear phishing emails are sent to a select group or an individual, phishing emails target a large group of people.

By limiting the targets, the spear phisher can include personal information such as the target’s first name, financial document, or job title, making the malicious emails seem trustworthy.


On the other hand, whaling attacks use the same personalized technique. A whaling attack is a spear phishing attack administered at high-profile targets, such as politicians, C-level executives, or celebrities.

In some cases, customized whaling attacks can also target and use email spoofing, social engineering, and content spoofing methods to access fragile data.

How does a Spear-Phishing Attack work?

Hackers use reconnaissance methods in their research to expand the likelihood of a successful attack. Also, bear in mind that spear phishing attacks have a personalized nature, making them dangerous and easy to fall for

Phishing attackers frequently gather personal information about their target on social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. They sometimes even map out their target’s network of personal contacts, giving them more context for crafting a trustworthy message. More sophisticated attackers can also use machine learning algorithms to scan enormous amounts of data and identify high-level individuals they mostly want to target.

When spear phishers are equipped with your data, they can craft a seemingly legitimate email to grab their target’s attention. And because of personalized messages, most people let their guard down and don’t think twice before clicking on a link and downloading an attachment. However, this mistake may lead to serious consequences like stolen personal information or malware infection.

4 Ways to Identify Spear Phishing Attacks

Ways to identify a spear phishing attack include:

  • Inspecting the Subject Line

You can find one of spear phishing attempts’ biggest giveaways within the subject line itself. The majority of the time, the subject lines attempt to bait people with a sense of familiarity or terms of urgency.

The five most often used subjects in spear phishing emails:

  • Are you available (10%)
  • Payment status (5%)
  • Request (36%)
  • Follow-up (14%)
  • Urgent or Important (12%)

All these terms express some sense of familiarity, and some even go as far as using “Re:” or “Fwd:” making it appear as though it is part of a previous conversation.

  • Check the Email Sender

Check the email sender

One of the most frequent forms of spear phishing attacks is impersonation. Therefore, the most used spear phishing tactic is creating a website with a domain name replicating a well-known organization. Generally, letters are misused to fool unsuspecting users, and websites are completely identical to the actual site.

  • Message Content

A spear-phishing email mainly consists of your personal information, like contact addresses, pets’ names, phone numbers, or practically anything relating to you that you wouldn’t think anyone can find online.

Attackers often opt to play the long game with sophisticated targeted emails to build relationships with their victims and gain trust.

  • Links and Attachments

Many attachments in spear phishing emails include embedded malware or forms where you must enter your most sensitive information. Malware generally comes in the form of a .exe file, .zip files, PDF, Word, or Excel documents.

You can check the validity of attachments by looking at where the email came from easily by hovering your mouse over the ‘from’ address. Using images instead of text is one of the latest techniques hackers use to avoid detection from protection and security software.

Next Steps

Spear phishing is simply one of a hundred ways cyber criminals and hackers will try and breach your organization.

It is critical that your IT provider includes regular, even monthly, phishing training to protect your organization.

That phishing training should be part of a fully-layered cyber security system that protects your organization and your people … including all your remote or hybrid workers.

Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more about cyber security, what questions to ask, and how to protect your organization, check out our cyber security page.

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If you would like to learn more about The Security Shield, our enterprise-level fully-layered cyber security solution created for small to mid-sized organizations, check out this link:

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If you have more immediate needs, please reach out, and let’s discuss your current IT and cyber security situation.

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