What is Phishing?

Meaning & Definition


Phishing is a cyberattack technique in which malicious actors use deceptive tactics to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial information, or personal data. The term “phishing” is a play on the word “fishing,” as it involves luring potential victims with bait to “hook” their information. Phishing attacks are typically carried out through email, but they can also occur via other communication channels, including text messages, social media, or even phone calls.

Common characteristics and methods of phishing attacks include:

  • Deceptive Emails

Phishing emails are designed to look like they come from legitimate sources, often mimicking well-known companies, financial institutions, or government agencies. They may use official logos, formatting, and language to appear convincing.

  • Urgent or Threatening Language

Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency or threat, pressuring recipients to take immediate action. For example, they may claim that an account will be suspended or that there has been unauthorized activity.

  • Hyperlinks

Phishing emails contain links that, when clicked, take the recipient to a fake website that closely resembles a legitimate one. These fake websites are used to collect login credentials and other information.

  • Attachments

Some phishing emails contain malicious attachments that, when opened, can infect the recipient’s computer with malware, such as ransomware or keyloggers.

  • Spoofed Sender Addresses

Attackers may manipulate the “from” address in email headers to make it appear as if the email is from a trusted source, a practice known as email spoofing.

  • Social Engineering

Phishing attacks often leverage social engineering techniques to manipulate the recipient’s emotions or curiosity. For example, they may promise prizes, job opportunities, or fake charitable causes.

  • Vishing and Smishing

In addition to email-based phishing (known as “phishing”), attackers can use voice (vishing) or SMS/text messages (smishing) to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that benefit the attacker.

  • Spear Phishing

This is a more targeted form of phishing in which attackers customize their messages for specific individuals or organizations, making them even more convincing. They may research their targets to create highly tailored and believable phishing attempts.

  • Clone Phishing

In clone phishing, attackers take a legitimate email and create a nearly identical copy with a malicious link or attachment.

  • Credential Harvesting

The primary goal of most phishing attacks is to steal login credentials, such as usernames and passwords. Once attackers have this information, they can access accounts, steal personal or financial data, or engage in further malicious activities.

Phishing attacks are a significant cybersecurity threat, and individuals and organizations should be vigilant in recognizing and mitigating them. Prevention measures include education and training to help people recognize phishing attempts, using email filtering and security software, and practicing good online hygiene by verifying the legitimacy of requests for sensitive information or actions before responding.

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