Phishing Attacks

6 min read

Phishing Attacks

Get your armour on… what you need to know to stay safe!

Like Darwin’s finches, phishing has evolved from a single technique into many highly specialised tactics, each adapted to specific types of targets and technologies. First described in 1987, phishing is now carried out via text, phone, advertising, and-of course-email.

Boiled down, all these tactics exist for the same purpose; ­to swipe confidential information from an unsuspecting target in order to extract something of value. But knowing about the hugely diverse set of today’s phishing tactics can help ordinary people, home and business internet users alike, to be more prepared for the inevitable instance when they become the target.

Did you know… Almost half of businesses (46%) and a quarter of charities (26%) report having cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months. Like previous years, this is higher among medium businesses (68%), large businesses (75%) and high-income charities (57%)

Cyber Security Breaches report 2020

Here are 10 common phishing tactics you should know about!

Standard phishing

This tactic has, in the past, been more about quantity versus quality. The audience was broad and emails were riddled with noticeable errors. phishing has developed, it’s become more sophisticated and harder to spot. Check out this ‘how to spot a phishing email’

Malware Phishing

Using the same techniques, this type of phishing introduces nasty bugs by convincing a user to click a link or download an attachment so malware can be installed on a machine. It is currently the most widely used form of phishing attack.

One hallmark of malware phishing is the attachment of a blank document requiring you to enable macros to view its contents, as in the common “package delivery failure”. This is a major red flag.

Spear phishing

Where most phishing attacks cast a wide net, hoping to entice as many users as possible to take the bait, spear phishing involves heavy research of a predefined, high-value target—like a CEO, founder, or public persona—often relying on publicly available information for a more convincing ruse.

When the target is sizeable enough, spear phishing is sometimes called ‘whaling’. Below is an example:

SMS-enabled phishing uses text messaging as a method for delivering malicious links, often in the form of short codes, to ensnare smartphone users in their scams. They often look like this…

SMS open rates hover around 98%. Compare that to around 20% for email, and it’s clear why cyber criminals like smishing

Search Engine phishing

Search engine phishing sites often promise amazing deals, career advancement opportunities, or low interest rates for loans. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.


Vishing involves a fraudulent actor calling a victim pretending to be from a reputable organisation and trying to extract personal information, such as banking or credit card information.

Most often, the “caller” on the other line obviously sounds like a robot, but as technology advances, this tactic has become more difficult to identify.

How to avoid vishing scams

  • Be skeptical when answering calls from unknown numbers
  • If they ask for personal information, don’t provide it over the phone
  • Search for the caller’s phone number online to see if it’s a known scam.
  • If the call is about a product or service you use, call the supplier directly to confirm.


Also known as DNS poisoning, pharming is a technically sophisticated form of phishing involving the internet’s domain name system (DNS). Pharming reroutes legitimate web traffic to a spoofed page without the user’s knowledge, often to steal valuable information.

Did you know…

DNS acts as the phonebook of the internet, taking a long string of numbers—the IP address—and translating it to the URLs we all know, like When cybercriminals interfere with this communication, it’s known as DNS poisoning.

Clone phishing

In this type of attack, a shady actor makes changes to an existing email, resulting in a nearly identical (cloned) email but with a legitimate link, attachment, or other element swapped for a malicious one. These attacks can’t get off the ground without an attacker first compromising an email account, so a good defense is using strong, unique passwords paired with two-factor authentication. Example below:

Man in the middle attack

A man-in-the-middle attack involves an eavesdropper monitoring correspondence between two unsuspecting parties. When this is done to steal credentials or other sensitive information, it becomes a man-in-the-middle phishing attack.

These attacks are often carried out by creating phony public WiFi networks at coffee shops, shopping malls, and other public locations. Once joined, the man in the middle can phish for info or push malware onto devices.

Business email compromise

One of the most expensive threats facing businesses today is business email compromise. This involves a phony email usually claiming to be an urgent request for a payment or purchase from someone within or associated with a target’s company.

Did you know…

Of the $3.5 billion the FBI estimates businesses lost to cybercrime in 2019, nearly half ($1.7 billion) was blamed on business email compromise.

How to protect yourself from phishing attacks

Protecting yourself from phishing attacks starts with knowing what’s out there. In fact, according to Webroot research, ongoing security awareness training can help reduce breaches by nearly 70%.

Security Awareness Training

Penntech IT Solutions offers Security Awareness Training to protect your business. Read the 7 steps for Effective Security Awareness Training for more information and get your FREE 14 day trial. You can can calculate the costs after the free trial below.

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