Pronounced "fishing," phishing is a scam to steal valuable information by tricking novice users into handing over credit card and social security numbers, user IDs and passwords. Email was the original phishing "bait;" however, any means whereby users voluntarily divulge sensitive information may be considered phishing. For example, malicious apps in the Amazon Alexa and Google Nest virtual assistants have been known to trick users for their passwords.
How Email Phishing Works
Also known as "brand spoofing," an official-looking email is sent to potential victims pretending to be from their bank or retail establishment. Emails can be sent to people on any list, expecting that some percentage will actually have an account with the organization.
The email states that due to internal accounting errors or some other pretext, certain information must be updated to continue service. A link in the message directs the user to a Web page that asks for financial information. The page looks genuine, because it is easy to fake a valid website. Any Web page can be copied and modified to suit the phishing scheme (see website copying
). Instead of a Web page, the user may be asked to call an 800 number and speak with a live person, who makes the scam seem even more genuine.
Anyone Can Phish
A "phishing kit" is a set of software tools that help the novice phisher copy a target website and make mass mailings. The kit may even include lists of email addresses. See pharming
and social engineering
"Spear" Phishing and Longlining
Spear phishing is more targeted and personal because the message supposedly comes from someone in the organization everyone knows, such as the head of human resources. It could also come from a made-up name with an authoritative title such as LAN administrator. If even one employee falls for the scheme and divulges sensitive information, it can be used to gain access to more company resources.
The "longline" variant of spear phishing sends thousands of messages to the same person, expecting that the individual will eventually click a link. The longlining term comes from using a large number of hooks and bait on a long fishing line, and mobile phones are major targets for this approach.
Report a Suspected Scheme
Any suspected phishing scheme can be reported to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at www.antiphishing.org.