6 Common Phishing Attacks and Their Impact on Organizations

Brandi Hawkins
Published 04/25/2023
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6 common phishing attacks to avoidPhishing is one of the most common fraud techniques today. It happens when cyber criminals send messages through email or other platforms impersonating a real and legitimate person or organization. And if the victim falls into the scam, they end up downloading malware or providing personal details to the attackers.

According to a 2022 State of Phish report by Proof Point, 83% of the study’s respondents said their organizations received a successful email-based phishing message in 2021. That’s how prevalent these attacks are. And the results can be detrimental:

To help safeguard your data, we’ve compiled a list of the most common types of phishing attacks. We’ll tell you how they happen and the measures you can take to protect yourself.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of cybercrime where bad actors trick people into giving away sensitive information or downloading malicious software. It’s the most common form of computer crime, and attackers use deceiving tactics such as emails, text messages, and phone calls.

The goal of phishing is to access private accounts, steal identities or infect computer systems with malware. To prevent it, you need to educate yourself and others on the dangers of these scams, use security measures, and take legal action when possible.

The consequences of phishing can be severe, both for individuals and organizations. They can lead to financial loss, identity theft, and loss of customer trust. Don’t let phishers fish for you. Be vigilant, stay informed, and take action to protect yourself.



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6 Common Types of Phishing Attacks

Let’s now get into the interesting part. Here are the six most common types of phishing attacks to watch out for:

1. Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a cyber-attack where bad actors send targeted emails that appear to be from a trusted source to trick individuals into giving away sensitive information or downloading malicious software. Attackers use previously acquired personal information about the target to make the email appear legitimate.

Phishing and spear phishing attacks have seen a significant increase since 2020. According to another study by Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 74% of organizations in the United States experienced a successful phishing attack, with 96% of those attacks delivered via email.

The amounts involved in spear phishing can be staggering.

Evaldas Rimasauskas ran a spear phishing scheme between 2013 and 2015. He posed as a supplier for Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese hardware supplier. He sent fraudulent invoices to Facebook and Google for several years and amassed $122 million in stolen funds.

Organizations and individuals can protect themselves by educating their personnel about spear phishing tactics. Using security measures such as network access rules, password protection, and regular phishing simulations can also protect your organization against spear phishing.

2. Vishing and smishing

Vishing and smishing are two forms of phishing that target victims through text and voice. In a vishing attack, people try to steal your personal information through a phone call. They often pretend to be from a legitimate company.

Smishing, on the other hand, uses text messages or email to lure victims to a malicious website where they steal information or install malware. Both vishing and smishing attacks are conducted by criminals who use deception to access valuable information.

Smishing attacks have been on the rise in recent years. According to a report by Kroll, 74% of companies experienced smishing attacks in 2021. That’s a significant increase from the 61% reported in 2020.

Companies should create mandatory security awareness training programs to protect themselves from smishing. Remember to recognize the warning signs. Never respond to suspicious requests. Also, report threats to the relevant authorities.

3. Email Phishing

Listen, email phishing is a real problem. Hackers send convincing emails to steal your personal information and money. They are, by far, the most common type of phishing.

Email phishing can be very tricky, often mimicking legitimate sources. But don’t get caught off guard. Be cautious with emails from unknown senders, never click on suspicious links, and watch out for requests for personal information.

And when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact the Federal Trade Commission. Keep your information safe, and don’t fall for the phish.

4. Clone Phishing

Clone phishing is a sneaky one. Hackers clone legit emails and throw in malicious links or sensitive info requests to steal identities or mess up entire networks.

Here is an example. Most organizations send invoices to their clients all the time. They’d typically do their due diligence to verify email addresses and ensure those invoices go to the right person.

However, cybercriminals can gain access to such emails. So what they do is they clone the email and then use the doppelgänger for phishing. The difference is they’ll change the attachments and links, replacing them with malware.

Therefore, the emails used in clone phishing usually look so real. That means you must know the signs and verify before you click. Always double-check the sender, wait to click on links until verified, and follow up separately if something looks off.

Keep your info secure, and don’t fall for the clone. And remember, don’t open attachments or click links from unknown senders, even if it looks like it’s from a trusted source. Stay vigilant and protect yourself.

5. Whaling

A whaling attack is a sophisticated cyberattack targeting an organization’s high-level executives. The goal is to steal money or sensitive information or gain access to their computer systems for malicious purposes.

It uses social engineering tactics such as spear phishing, bait-and-switch scams, pretexting, and other methods of deception. These attacks are particularly successful because they impersonate a high-level person within the company and trick the target into giving away confidential data or making money transfers.

To protect against whaling attacks, it’s important to educate key personnel like CFOs, project managers, etc., about the threat, scrutinize emails for telltale signs such as spoofed email addresses, and implement dual-authorization policies about transferring money or releasing sensitive information.

Additionally, companies should train all employees in cybersecurity awareness, employ multistep verification for sensitive information and transactions, implement data protection policies and anti-phishing tools, and monitor social media accounts for potential risks.

6. Social Engineering Attack

Social engineering attacks are a sneaky tactic cybercriminals use to exploit human error and gain access to sensitive information. These attacks typically rely on psychological manipulation, such as baiting, scareware, and pretexting.

Baiting is when an attacker lures a victim into a trap by offering something attractive, like free software or a discounted product.

Scareware is when an attacker uses false alarms or threats to trick the victim into installing a fake or malicious product.

Meanwhile, pretexting happens when an attacker establishes trust with the victim by pretending to be someone who has authority, like a co-worker or bank official, and collects information through a series of lies.

These attacks are especially dangerous because they rely on human error rather than exploiting vulnerabilities in software and operating systems. Stay vigilant and educate your team on how to detect cybercriminals and the signs of these attacks to protect yourself.

For example, the sender may ask something unexpected or unexpected while creating a sense of urgency. Watch out for these signs, and don’t give away personal information if something looks off.

Phishing attacks and other information security incidents can cause significant harm to individuals and organizations, so it’s important to be prepared.

In Closing

Phishing is a real problem that can result in serious financial losses and damage your brand reputation. And although cybercriminals come up with new forms of attacks all the time, the classic types of phishing remain the most common.

Hopefully, this quick guide has opened your eyes to the vulnerabilities you’ll need to protect yourself.

About the Author

Owen Baker is a content marketer for Voila Norbert, an online email verification tool. He has spent most of the last decade working online for a range of marketing companies. When he’s not busy writing, you can find him in the kitchen mastering new dishes.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.