How to prevent spear phishing in your business


Phishing attacks are changing. Increasingly, threat actors are taking a quality-over-quantity approach to phishing, ditching the mass spam in favor of crafting well-researched and highly personalized attacks tailored to a specific target.

Read on to discover how spear phishing works, the damage it can cause and what helps protect from spear phishing.

What is spear phishing?

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack in which cybercriminals impersonate legitimate organizations in order to deceive people into providing sensitive information such as credit card numbers and login credentials. This information can then be used to gain unauthorized access to the victim’s account, and can often lead to identity theft and/or financial loss. Phishing can also be used to trick people into installing malware on their devices. Every day, billions of phishing scams are delivered across a variety of channels, including email, text message, telephone, and social media.

Threat actors have traditionally taken a shotgun approach to phishing, distributing scam messages to as many targets as possible in the hopes that a fraction of them will take the bait. But this is changing. With email services getting better at filtering out phishing emails (Gmail alone blocks more than 100 million phishing emails every single day) and users cottoning on to the telltale signs of generic phishing scams, threat actors have pivoted to a more targeted approach: spear phishing.

Spear phishing is more sophisticated than regular old phishing because it’s customized to the target. Whereas regular phishing scams are distributed en masse, spear phishing attacks are painstakingly crafted to deceive a specific person, group or organization. Spear phishers often spend a significant amount of time trawling through the Internet, social media, the dark web, and data leaks, to collect as much personal information as possible about the target, including their name, job title, location, email addresses, family history, hobbies, recent purchases, and more. Threat actors can then use this information to create a highly personalized and highly believable spear phishing email, while impersonating a reputable entity – often a business, government agency, colleague, or boss – that the victim knows and trusts.

Because spear phishing messages contain accurate personal information that appears to have been sent from a trusted source, they’re often difficult to spot – even for employees with a good level of cybersecurity savvy.

The consequences of spear phishing

Spear phishing is a popular attack vector for one simple reason: it works. Spear phishing campaigns are effective, relatively easy to deploy and a successful attack can cause all sorts of headaches for the victim .

A successful spear phishing attack can lead to:

What helps protect from spear phishing?

While spear phishing attacks can be difficult to spot, there are a number of things you can do to keep your organization safe. Here are five key spear phishing prevention strategies you can implement to protect your company.

Train your team

Preventing spear phishing starts with your people. Because phishing relies on human error, providing employees with the training they need to recognize and respond to spear phishing attempts can help your business greatly reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Training should ideally be provided on an ongoing basis to ensure staff are up to date on the latest spear phishing techniques and other relevant cybersecurity threats.

Deploy endpoint anti-phishing tools

In the event that an employee falls for the bait, it’s important to have the right anti spear phishing tools in place to limit the impact and prevent a misclick from snowballing into a bigger problem. So, what helps protect from spear phishing?

Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an additional layer of security that can help to prevent spear phishing attacks. With 2FA, a user must provide a secondary piece of identification in addition to their password in order to access an account or service.

The secondary piece of identification can take many forms, including:

Some 2FA solutions also provide real-time alerts when a user attempts to log in from a new device or location, which can security administrators detect and respond to unauthorized access attempts. 2FA is a simple and effective form of spear phishing protection and should be implemented system-wide wherever possible.

Use email verification tools

There are a number of tools that can be used to verify the legitimacy of an email. They are particularly useful for stopping spammers from impersonating your business and sending emails on behalf of your domain.

They can also be used to mitigate business email compromise attacks, a specific type of phishing attack that occurs when a threat actor gains access to the email account of a high-level employee and uses the account to trick the target into sending money or divulging sensitive company information.

Email verification protocols include:


Phishing attacks are becoming scarily convincing as threat actors invest more time into creating highly personalized campaigns tailored to a specific target.

For time-poor employees already contending with an overflowing inbox, identifying a spear phishing message is often easier said than done. Still, there are many spear phishing attack prevention strategies you can use to mitigate the risks. Comprehensive staff training is crucial for empowering your people to combat phishing, while spear phishing solutions such as endpoint security tools, two-factor authentication, and email verification processes provide additional layers of assurance.

Emsisoft Enterprise Security + EDR

Robust and proven endpoint security solution for organizations of all sizes. Start free trial

Defend your business against spear phishing with Emsisoft Anti-Malware, a powerful endpoint cybersecurity solution built to protect organizations of all sizes. Download your free trial today.

Senan Conrad

Senan Conrad

Senan specializes in giving readers insight into the constantly and rapidly changing world of cybersecurity. When he’s not tapping away at his keyboard, he enjoys drinking a good coffee or tinkering in his workshop.

What to read next