7 Types Of Phishing Attacks & How To Spot Them

by | October 16, 2021 | How to, ATTACK Simulator Guides, Cybersecurity

As a tale as old as time, phishing is as old as the Internet itself. Cybercriminals launched the first phishing attacks as early as the 90s, stealing passwords and financial information. Since then, malicious operations that plague both individuals and companies have ramified into a wide array of scams.

Stay tuned, and let’s dive right into the most common, effective, and potentially catastrophic seven types of phishing attacks that are ravaging organizations and individuals altogether.

There are many types of phishing attacks that plague Internet users and companies every day.

How Does Phishing Work?

Phishing is a cyberattack in which the bad guys pose as a trustworthy entity or person, using various ways of online communication to distribute malicious links or attachments that can perform a variety of functions, but to one single end: stealing the victim’s data for financial gain.

This type of online fraud uses subtle and cunning social engineering strategies to determine a person to take action going against their best interests and hand over sensitive information, which phishers use in further attacks.

While modern attacks use the same core social engineering tactics, cybercrooks use more evolved, sophisticated strategies.

7 Most Common Types Of Phishing Attacks And How To Dodge Them

1. Email Phishing

Perhaps the most common attack strategy, email phishing earns scammers good money. Phishing emails are often highly sophisticated and hard to tell from the real deal. They are designed to evade detection during an email filter’s front-end tests by having the right Sender Policy Frameworks and SMTP controls.

The links usually lead to malicious websites that either steal credentials or install malicious software, a.k.a. malware, on the victim’s device. The downloads, typically PDF files, have malicious content that installs the malware once the target opens the document.

How to spot it:

If an email…

  • Repeatedly asks the recipient to take urgent action;
  • Has spelling/grammar errors;
  • Starts with an unfamiliar greeting;
  • Comes from an unknown sender;
  • Contains suspicious links, attachments, and domain names;
  • Contains logos that seem off;
  • Seems too good to be true;
  • Asks you to provide sensitive data;

Then it’s most likely a phishing email.

2. Spear-Phishing

Spear-phishing is a targeted attempt to steal sensitive information from a specific victim, such as account credentials or financial information, for malicious reasons.

This is accomplished by obtaining personal information about the victim, such as their connections, birthplace, employer, frequented areas, and recent internet purchases. Attackers then use email or other forms of online communication to impersonate a trustworthy friend or entity to obtain critical information. This is the most effective method of obtaining sensitive information on the Internet, accounting for 91% of all attacks.

Unlike usual phishing attacks, spear-phishing is highly targeted and requires significant research on the victim before launching the attack.

How to spot it:

  • Unusual requests: Be wary of internal requests coming from employees in other departments or seem out of the ordinary considering job function.
  • Shared drive links: Be cautious of links to documents stored on shared drives like Google Suite, O365, and Dropbox because these can lead to a fake, malicious website.
  • Password-protected documents: Any documents that require a user login ID and password could be an attempt to steal your credentials.

3. CEO Fraud

CEO fraud is a complex form of phishing attack that scammers use to trick employees into transferring money or providing confidential company data.

Cybercriminals will impersonate the company CEO or other executives and require employees, usually in the HR or accounting departments, to send out a wire transfer, update account data, or provide account information.

How to spot it:

  • Unusual requests: If an executive has never contacted you before, be cautious of taking the solicited action.
  • Recipient email: Since many people use email applications that connect all their email addresses, make sure that any request that appears normal is sent to a work email not personal.

4. Vishing

Voice Phishing or vishing consists of hackers making phone calls to users and requiring them to dial a specific number. The goal is to obtain bank account information through the phone using a fake caller ID.

How to spot it:

  • Caller number: The caller’s phone number might be from an unusual location or blocked.
  • Timing: The call takes place during a season or event that causes stress or pressure.
  • Solicited action: The call asks for personal information that is unusual for the type of caller.

5. Smishing

SMS Phishing (Smishing) is an attack carried out via SMS. A smishing text will attempt to lure the target into giving away personal information after accessing a link that leads to a malicious website.

How to spot it:

  • Delivery status: A text prompting the recipient to take action to modify a delivery will include a link. You should go directly to the delivery service website to check the status and to be safe.
  • Strange area code: Check the area code before responding to a text or taking the requested action.

6. Pop-Up Phishing

Malicious advertising or pop-up phishing uses active scripts created to download malware or forcefully push unwanted content on the victim’s device. The most common methods exploit Adobe PDF and Flash.

How to spot it:

  • Irregularities: Check for spelling errors or unusual color schemes.
  • Go full-screen: Malicious pop-ups can shift a browser to full-screen mode so any sudden change in screen size can indicate a compromise attempt.

7. Clone Phishing

This is another type of targeted email phishing attack that leverages services that the target has previously used. The bad guys are aware that most businesses require employees to click links as a part of their daily tasks. For instance, many companies use DocuSign to exchange electronic documents, so scammers may create fake emails for that specific service.

How to spot it:

  • Unusual timing: Be cautious of any unexpected email from a service provider.
  • Sensitive data: Watch out for emails asking you for personal information that the service provider wouldn’t solicit.

Prevent Phishing Attacks With ATTACK Simulator’s Security Awareness Training

You need security awareness training for your employees for many reasons:

  • To prevent cyberattacks and breaches
  • To strenghten your technological defenses
  • To attract more customers
  • To make you more socially responsible
  • To empower your employees
  • To meet compliance standards
  • To prevent downtimes and maintain a good reputation

Over one billion phishing emails are sent out each day, and many of them bypass security filters. Thus, you need to be able to rely on your employees to stay vigilant and spot phishing scams.

You can successfully defend your business partly by training your employees on cybersecurity matters and especially phishing attacks, and partly by adopting more rigorous security measures, such as implementing multi-factor authentication and user behavior analytics.

Our realistic phishing simulations will expose your employees to life-like hands-on fake phishing attacks.

Here are some awesome perks of choosing us:

  • Automated attack simulation – we simulate all kinds of cyberattacks: phishing, malware, ransomware, spear-phishing, identity theft, online privacy attacks, online scams etc.
  • Real-life scenarios – we evaluate users’ vulnerability to give company-related or pesonal data away using realistic web-pages.
  • User behavior analysis – we gather user data and compile it in extensive reports to give you a detailed picture of your employees’ security awareness level.
  • Malicious file replicas – our emails contain malware file replicas, to make the simulation as realistic as it can be.
  • Interactive lessons – if employees fail to recognize our traps and fall into one, they will be redirected to landing pages with quick reads on the best security practices.
  • We impersonate popular brands on our simulated phishing pages – the user will be more tempted to click on the URL or open the attachment in the email.

ATTACK Simulator’s Security Awareness Training program will help you equip your employees with the necessary security knowledge and up-to-date security practices to keep your company safe from scammers and avoid potentially irreparable damage.


Feature Image: Image by Miranda Bleijenberg from Pixabay

Web illustrations by Storyset

Data illustrations by Storyset

People illustrations by Storyset

Online illustrations by Storyset

by Diana Panduru

Content writer for Attack Simulator. Passionate about all things writing and cybersecurity, and obsessed with driving. I sometimes indulge in pencil drawing, poetry, and cooking for fun.

There’s no reason to postpone training your employees

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