The Eleven Types Of Phishing Attacks You Need To Know To Stay Safe

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Like Darwin’s finches, phishing has evolved from a single technique into many specialized tactics, each adapted to specific targets and technology. First described in 1987, phishing is now carried out via text, phone, advertising and, of course, email.

Boiled down, all of these tactics exist for the same purpose – to steal confidential information from an unsuspecting target in order to extract something of value.

Knowing about the hugely diverse set of today’s phishing tactics can help you be more prepared for the inevitable instance when you become the target.

Standard phishing – casting a wide net
At its most basic, standard phishing is the attempt to steal confidential information by pretending to be an authorized person or organization. It is not a targeted attack and can be conducted en mas.

Malware phishing – beware the macros
Using the same techniques, this type of phishing introduces nasty bugs by convincing a user to click a link or download an attachment so malware can be installed on a machine. It is currently the most widely used form of phishing attack.

Spear phishing – catching the big one
Where most phishing attacks cast a wide net, hoping to entice as many users as possible to take the bait, spear phishing involves heavy research of a predefined, high-dollar target – like a CEO, founder, or public persona – often relying on publicly available information for a more convincing ruse.

SMS + phishing = SMISHING – just don’t click
SMS-enabled phishing uses text messaging as a method for delivering malicious links, often in the form of short codes, to ensnare smartphone users in their scams by clicking texted links.

Search engine phishing – careful what you choose
In this type of attack, cyber criminals wait for you to come to them. Search engine phishing injects fraudulent sites, often in the form of paid ads, into results for popular search terms.

Vishing – keeping you on the line
Vishing involves a fraudulent actor calling a victim pretending to be from a reputable organization and trying to extract personal information, such as banking or credit card information.

Most often, the “caller” on the other line obviously sounds like a robot, but as technology advances, this tactic has become more difficult to identify.

Pharming – poisoning the waterhole
Also known as DNS poisoning, pharming is a technically sophisticated form of phishing involving the internet’s domain name system (DNS). Pharming reroutes legitimate web traffic to a spoofed page without the user’s knowledge, often to steal valuable information.

Clone phishing
In this type of attack, a shady actor makes changes to an existing email, resulting in a nearly identical (cloned) email but with a legitimate link, attachment, or other element swapped for a malicious one.

These attacks can’t get off the ground without an attacker first compromising an email account, so a good defense is using strong, unique passwords paired with two-factor authentication.

Man in the middle – the public WiFi phisherman
A man-in-the-middle attack involves an eavesdropper monitoring correspondence between two unsuspecting parties. When this is done to steal credentials or other sensitive information, it becomes a man-in-the-middle phishing attack. These attacks are often carried out by creating phony public WiFi networks at coffee shops, shopping malls, and other public locations. Once joined, the man in the middle can phish for info or push malware onto devices.

Business email compromise – don’t make the payment
One of the most expensive threats facing businesses today is business email compromise. This involves a phony email usually claiming to be an urgent request for a payment or purchase from someone within or associated with a target’s company.

Malvertising – that ad isn’t what you think it is
This type of phishing takes advantage of exploits within advertising or animation software to steal information from targeted users.

Malvertising is usually embedded in otherwise normal-looking ads – and placed on legitimate websites like – but with malicious code implanted within.

How to protect yourself from phishing
Protecting yourself from phishing attacks starts with knowing what’s out there. In fact, ongoing security awareness training can help reduce breaches by nearly 70%.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid getting phished:
1. Never click on links from unknown senders or if any detail about the exchange has aroused suspicion.

2. Whenever possible, hover over a link to ensure the destination matches your expectations. Note: this will not work on mobile or if short codes are used, so be extra wary on mobile devices.

3. If you suspect an email is a phishing attempt, double check the sender name, specificity of the salutation, and a footer for a physical address and unsubscribe button. When in doubt, delete.

4. If you’re unsure if a communication is legitimate, try contacting the sender, brand or service via another channel (their website or by calling a customer service line, for instance).

5. Avoid entering personally identifiable information unless you are confident in the identity of the party you are communicating with.