What is Phishing? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Phishing? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Phishing?

Ever received an email from your bank warning you of suspicious activity, only to find out it wasn’t your bank at all? Welcome to the world of phishing, where cybercriminals are constantly seeking new ways to deceive you into revealing sensitive information.

In this post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of phishing, its different forms, and most importantly, how to recognize and prevent these attacks.


  • Phishing is a cybercrime in which targets are contacted by email, phone, or text by someone posing as a legitimate institution.

  • The objective is to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking, and credit card details.

  • Awareness, caution with unsolicited communications, and multi-factor authentication are key defenses against phishing attacks.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding Phishing

Phishing is a major concern for companies and customers in today’s digital world. With the primary objective of making money, phishing attacks have skyrocketed worldwide, especially during the pandemic. Industries that store credit card information or have the means to pay out large sums of money are usually the most affected.

Falling for a phishing email can lead to identity theft, financial theft, and even theft of trade secrets for businesses.

Defining Phishing

Phishing is a scam where someone pretends to be a trusted source in order to get your personal information. These attacks are meant to trick users into giving away financial info, system credentials, or other sensitive data. Email phishing is the most common form of phishing. If it’s effective, it can have significant impacts such as identity theft, credit card fraud, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and major economic losses for both individuals and businesses.

Phishing attacks use various electronic communications like email and social media to send deceptive messages. The purpose of these messages is to lure victims into giving out confidential information. These messages often use social engineering techniques like forgery, misdirection, and lying to manipulate users into divulging sensitive data or downloading malware. Attackers usually play on people’s fears and a sense of urgency in their subject lines to grab their victims’ attention.

The Evolution of Phishing

Phishing began in the mid-1990s when hackers used deceptive emails to get information from unsuspecting users, with AOL accounts being their initial targets. During the 2000s, bank accounts were the primary targets of phishing attacks.

Phishing attacks are constantly adapting with technology, and from 2019 to 2020, reported phishing attacks skyrocketed by an estimated 110%. This continuous evolution of phishing techniques makes it crucial for individuals and organizations alike to stay informed and vigilant.

By understanding the history and development of phishing attacks, we can better prepare ourselves to recognize and prevent them in the future.

Anatomy of a Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks often use malicious web links, malicious attachments, and fraudulent data-entry forms to deceive users. The aim of a phishing attack is to get personal information or credentials, usually through email phishing. Attackers use tactics like phony hyperlinks, impersonation, and scare tactics to manipulate victims into taking action without fully thinking it through.

Clicking on a malicious phishing link can lead to ransomware being installed, account credentials being stolen, or even an endpoint being compromised.

Deceptive Emails

Phishing emails are designed to look genuine and deceive people into giving away confidential information. “We need some information updated in your user profile.” “We’ve encountered some issues with your order. Your closing documents and invoice are attached for you to review. These emails usually set up fake login pages that look like they come from a legitimate source, with the goal of getting businesses to unwittingly send money through bogus invoices or grab account credentials.

Cybercriminals use professional marketing techniques and impersonation tactics to make their messages look legit. They include the impersonated sender’s logo, disguise the “from” email address to make it look like it’s from the impersonated sender, and spoof the sender’s domain name. Posing as internal tech support in a phishing email could also be used to fool people into downloading malicious software.

Malicious Links and Attachments

Malicious links and attachments in phishing emails are infected files that can compromise your computer and its files or take you to fake websites or sites with malware. Attachment types often found in phishing emails include web pages, shell scripts, or Office documents with malicious macros.

One example of a malicious link in a phishing email is a message claiming you need to visit a FedEx location with a printed copy of an attached postal receipt to receive a parcel that couldn’t be delivered. Attackers also use fake websites that look like they belong to a trustworthy place, like a bank, work, or school, to steal login credentials or personal information. Phishing pages requesting Google credentials, for instance, are designed to steal accounts.

Impersonation and Social Engineering

Impersonation is when someone pretends to be someone else to get information or access, while social engineering involves psychological manipulation to get people to give up sensitive information. In email phishing attacks, cybercriminals often pretend to be big account providers like Microsoft or Google, or even someone from your own workplace. They use impersonation and social engineering to trick victims into giving up sensitive information or money.

Being aware of these tactics and understanding how attackers use impersonation and social engineering to manipulate victims is crucial in recognizing and preventing phishing attacks. By staying vigilant and questioning any unusual requests, we can protect ourselves from falling victim to such scams.

Types of Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks come in various forms, including spear phishing, whaling, and smishing. Spear phishing is a targeted attack that looks like it’s coming from a trustworthy source, usually aimed at getting passwords or financial info.

Whaling is a type of phishing attack that specifically targets executives or other important people in an organization, aiming to gain access to confidential information or commit fraud.

Smishing is a type of phishing attack that uses SMS messages to try to get people to download malicious apps or content, without being associated with a virus being downloaded directly.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a focused attack on a particular individual or organization, using personalized messages based on data collected about the victim. Having information about the victim can make spear phishing emails more effective and make it easier to manipulate the victim into taking certain actions. For instance, targeting a mid-level financial specialist is a way to get access to more valuable targets, like financial executives who possess more sensitive information.

Understanding the tactics used in spear phishing attacks and recognizing the signs of a targeted phishing attempt can help individuals and organizations better protect themselves from falling victim to these attacks. By staying vigilant and questioning any unusual requests, we can reduce the likelihood of a successful spear phishing attack.


Whaling, a kind of spear-phishing attack, focuses on prominent people, like CEOs or CFOs, using fake tax returns and extremely personalized messages. The goal of whaling is to gain access to confidential information, commit fraud, or otherwise compromise high-profile targets within an organization.

By understanding the tactics used in whaling attacks and recognizing the signs of a targeted phishing attempt, executives and other high-profile individuals can better protect themselves from falling victim to these attacks.

Smishing and Vishing

Smishing, a type of phishing attack, involves sending text messages disguised as trustworthy communications from businesses. These messages aim to trick users into revealing sensitive information or downloading malicious content. Since texts are sent in plain text and often seem more personal, users may be more susceptible to SMS scams.

Vishing, on the other hand, is a type of phishing attack where someone calls you to try to get your personal information, such as bank account or credit card numbers. By being aware of these tactics and understanding how attackers use smishing and vishing to manipulate victims, we can protect ourselves from falling victim to these scams.

Recognizing Phishing Attempts

To recognize phishing attempts, look out for misspellings and grammar mistakes, and check if the domain of the email address matches what you’d expect. Be cautious of emails that demand immediate action, like clicking a link, calling a phone number, or opening an attachment, as they could be phishing attacks.

By being vigilant and questioning any unusual requests or scare tactics, we can protect ourselves from phishing attacks.

Suspicious Email Elements

An email can seem suspicious if it has a public email domain, asks for personal info, has a sense of urgency, has generic greetings, has spelling errors, or has suspicious attachments or links. Public email domains are often utilized by phishers to make their emails seem more trustworthy, while generic greetings like “Dear Customer” or “Dear User” instead of the recipient’s name can be another red flag.

Phishing emails may also request personal info like passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account details, and use scare tactics to make you feel like you have to act fast to get what they want. By being aware of these suspicious email elements and understanding how attackers use them to manipulate victims, we can better protect ourselves from phishing attacks.

Unusual Requests and Urgency

Phishers often use unusual requests and urgency to manipulate victims into taking action without fully thinking it through. They may pressure users into transferring funds or providing login credentials by creating a sense of urgency or threatening negative consequences if their demands aren’t met immediately.

It’s important to be aware of these tactics and be on guard against emails that require you to click, call, or open an attachment immediately to protect yourself from phishing attacks.

Prevention and Protection Strategies

Implementing prevention and protection strategies is crucial in defending against phishing attacks. Employee training and education about how to identify and avoid phishing attacks are some of the best prevention strategies. In addition, using anti-phishing software and multi-factor authentication can help keep you safe from phishing attacks.

Endpoint monitoring and protection is critical for detecting potential security threats and taking swift action when devices are compromised. Keeping security software up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates is also essential for protecting against the newest threats.

Employee Education and Training

Training employees to recognize phishing is an essential part of phishing awareness and education in order to make sure your organization doesn’t become a victim. Our customers have had an incredible experience with our Anti-Phishing Training Suite and Continuous Training Methodology. It has resulted in a significant decrease in successful phishing attacks and malware infections, up to an impressive 90%. The results can be used to set up spam filters and boost our training and education efforts throughout the organization.

Employee awareness training is essential for thwarting phishing attacks. Employees should be trained to check for trust badges or stickers from reputable cybersecurity or antivirus companies before visiting a website. By educating employees about phishing and teaching them how to identify and report phishing attempts, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these attacks.

Implementing Security Measures

Email security solutions are up-to-date email filtering tools that can help protect against malicious content in emails, such as malware. These solutions can help protect against potential phishing attacks. They scan emails for malicious links, attachments, spam content, and suspicious language. Email security solutions are designed to protect user data. They use advanced technology such as sandboxing and quarantining to identify suspicious emails and automatically block them. This way, malicious codes don’t end up entering user systems.

In addition to email security measures, implementing multi-factor authentication, creating strong passwords, and keeping software and antivirus programs up-to-date can help protect against phishing attacks. By employing a comprehensive security strategy, individuals and organizations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing attacks.

Conducting Phishing Simulations

Phishing simulation is the latest training for employees, providing a practical way to show them what a real attack looks like. Conducting phishing attack tests helps assess the success of security awareness training programs and assists users in recognizing attacks. Regularly testing employees for phishing attacks is essential to keep up with the ever-changing threat landscape and ensure they’re prepared for real phishing attacks.

By conducting simulated phishing attacks, organizations can identify areas where additional training is needed and reinforce awareness among employees. This proactive approach to phishing prevention helps create a security-conscious workforce that is better equipped to recognize and respond to phishing attempts.

Responding to Phishing Incidents

It is essential to report if you think you are being targeted by a phishing campaign. The right people should be informed of this situation. Reporting phishing emails when you recognize them is one way to protect yourself from phishing attacks. By doing so, you can help prevent other individuals and organizations from falling victim to the same phishing campaign.

In addition, utilizing security measures like two-factor authentication and strong passwords can help keep you safe from phishing attacks.

Reporting Phishing Attacks

Reporting phishing attacks means letting the relevant authorities or organizations know about a phishing attempt. You can do this by filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), reporting to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or sending the phishing email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at reportphishing@apwg.org. Report any fraud or phishing attempts to the FTC. They are dedicated to helping consumers and businesses combat such criminal activities.

If you suspect a phishing email on a corporate network, it’s crucial to report it to the IT staff. By quickly reporting phishing incidents, individuals and organizations can help track and combat these attacks, ultimately reducing the risk of future incidents.

Damage Control and Recovery

Damage control and recovery is the process of taking steps to reduce the impact and recover from a phishing attack. Ensuring that employees know how to identify phishing emails, how to report them, and how to protect their personal information is crucial for damage control. Implementing email filtering tools and keeping an eye on credit reports, changing passwords, and notifying the appropriate people can help reduce the impact of identity theft, credit card fraud, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and financial losses.

By taking swift action and implementing damage control measures, individuals and organizations can mitigate the impact of a phishing attack and recover from any potential losses. Staying proactive and informed about phishing threats and best practices can help reduce the risk of future incidents.


In conclusion, understanding the various forms of phishing, recognizing the signs of phishing attempts, and implementing prevention and protection strategies are essential in defending against these attacks. By staying vigilant and informed about phishing threats, individuals and organizations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these scams. Remember, knowledge is power, and with the right tools and awareness, we can all play a part in combating phishing attacks.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is phishing in simple words?

In simple words, phishing is an online scam that tries to trick its victims into sharing their personal information or clicking on a dangerous link. Attackers typically use email messages that seem to come from trustworthy sources.

What are the types of phishing?

Phishing attacks come in many forms, but the most common types are spear phishing, whale phishing, smishing, and vishing. Spear phishing is targeted at specific individuals or businesses, while whale phishing targets high-level executives. Smishing and vishing are SMS and voice-based scams. Together, these types of phishing are responsible for the majority of malicious activity online.

What is phishing in an email?

Phishing in an email is a type of cyberattack where malicious actors disguise themselves as a reputable entity or person and send emails containing malicious links or attachments with the intent of stealing sensitive information. These emails often appear legitimate, making them difficult to recognize and resist.

However, there are some key indicators that can help you identify a phishing email. These include suspicious email addresses, poor grammar and spelling, and requests for personal information. Additionally, if the email contains a link or attachment, it is important to verify the source before clicking on the link.

What does a phishing attack do?

A phishing attack is an attempt by a malicious actor to trick users into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Attackers often use fake emails, websites, and other social engineering tactics to lure victims into disclosing their information.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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