What is the Difference Between Phishing and Spear Phishing?

Posted DateMay 4, 2022
Posted Time 3   min Read

You’ve probably heard of phishing before. But there are different types of security threats online. And even as applied to a phishing attack, there are different things to look out for, like spear-phishing.

So, what is the difference between phishing and spear phishing? That’s what we’ll be looking at here.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing activity is typically conducted through malicious or fake emails and websites. Cybercriminals will attempt to obtain sensitive information about you, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

Phishing is also known as “spoofing,” as hackers often take recognizable brands and companies and make their communications look like they’re coming from legitimate sources. They will often add some urgency to their request, e.g., “we’ll be closing your bank account soon if you don’t send over your account information immediately.”

Just because you’re in the know doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be fooled. Fake emails and websites are made to look as real and legitimate as possible. Victims end up responding to requests or clicking on links and logging into an account while their sensitive data is stolen.

If your passwords are leaked, scammers may be able to log into your accounts on other websites and steal information.

What Is Spear Phishing?

Phishing is more general. To leverage the built-in analogy, if you went to the lake to fish, though you might have a specific species of fish in mind, your approach would be more general than targeted. You’ll use your bait or lures to attract fish.

You may not catch any fish. You might catch the intended fish. You may also catch fish you didn’t intend to catch.

Spear phishing is targeted. The cybercriminal has their eyes on a specific individual or organization they’re looking to exploit, just as a spear fisherman needs to observe their target fish before moving closer. Thus, hackers will set sights on their target and go after their login credentials.

But that’s not all. A spear phisher may also be after trade secrets, specific business processes, or other data they can exploit. They may use this information to better their own position or sell it to the highest bidder.

What’s the Difference Between Phishing and Spear Phishing?

There isn’t always a lot of effort into general phishing attacks. It generally involves sending emails in mass and waiting for victims to get caught in a trap by responding to an email or entering their login credentials at a fake website.

There is often more thinking and planning behind a spear-phishing attack. Though it takes more work, the reward can also be greater, depending on the targeted individual or organization.

Spear phishing attacks differ from standard phishing attacks in that there are often more victims in a phishing attack, while there are generally fewer in a spear-phishing attack. This isn’t always true, though, as spear phishing can potentially bring entire organizations to ruin, and there can be a far-reaching impact to such an event.

But it’s fair to say that spear-phishing attacks are always targeted, whereas phishing attacks usually aren’t.

Phishing & Spear Phishing: Key Statistics

Phishing attacks are becoming more widespread with each passing year. Here we’ll look at a few key stats:

  • Tessian says employees receive an average of 14 malicious emails per year
  • CISCO suggests that in 86% of organizations, at least one person clicked on a phishing link
  • Verizon found 96% of phishing attacks arrived via email

Protecting Yourself from Phishing and Spear Phishing Attacks

When it comes on phishing attack prevention, your first line of defense is always to treat every email you receive with suspicion. Attacks can be harder to identify than you might think, and even the most cautious people sometimes fall for fake emails.

Additionally, you can protect yourself by:

  • Educate your broader community, organization, or company on the topic. When people know what to look out for, they’re less likely to succumb to scams.
  • Installing phishing prevention software on your devices. This should take care of most spoofed emails arriving in your inbox. But don’t forget – actual attacks will still seem to come from legitimate sources and will be harder to identify.


Phishing and spear-phishing attacks are on the rise. It has never been more important for individuals and organizations to educate themselves on the risks and protect themselves from potential threats.

Once cybercriminal grabs hold of sensitive information, there’s no telling how much damage they can potentially do. It leaves the victim or victims vulnerable to future threats.

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