How Different Types of Phishing Attacks Work

Phishing attacks are one of the most common cybercrime tactics used to gain access to sensitive information and data.

Cybercriminals use a variety of methods, including email, SMS messages, malicious links, and fake websites, to lure unsuspecting victims into providing confidential information and credentials.

By understanding the different types of phishing attacks, organizations can protect themselves from becoming victims of cybercrime. In this article, we will discuss the different types of phishing attacks and how they are carried out.

Different types of Phishing Attacks

Social engineering

Social engineering is a form of attack that exploits human psychology in an attempt to gain access to restricted information.

Attackers will often use deceptive tactics such as creating fake profiles or pretending to be someone they are not in order to trick victims into giving away their personal information. Social engineering attacks can take place over the phone, via email, or in person.

Social engineering is becoming more common as attackers become more sophisticated in their techniques. For example, attackers may send emails pretending to be from a legitimate company with links that download malware onto a victim’s computer. They can also use social media platforms to gain access to confidential data by posing as someone else or creating fake profiles.


Vishing attacks use voice technology to try and trick victims over the phone.

Attackers will usually impersonate a customer service representative from a legitimate company and attempt to collect victims’ personal information, such as credit card numbers or passwords. In some cases, attackers will also send out voicemails with malicious links that can lead to stolen data.

Vishing often occurs with automated calls, where victims are prompted to enter their information over the phone. Attackers may also use more sophisticated techniques, such as spoofing caller ID numbers to make it appear that the call is coming from a legitimate source.

This is why having a separate work number from your home number is so important–you spread your risk over multiple phone numbers. 

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing attacks are personalized and target a specific person or group of people. Cybercriminals often employ spear-phishing campaigns by gathering information from their victims’ social media profiles or other sources to craft messages that appear legitimate and trustworthy. Attackers may also use the technique of “spoofing,” which involves creating emails or websites that appear to come from a legitimate source. When victims click on these links, they are taken to malicious sites or have their personal information stolen.

An example of spear phishing might be a spoofed email that appears to come from a person’s bank. The email may ask for personal information, such as account numbers and passwords, or contain malicious links that download malware onto the victim’s computer. Spear phishing campaigns can be difficult to distinguish from legitimate emails since they look so convincing.

Clone Phishing

Clone phishing is an attack where cybercriminals duplicate a legitimate website but with malicious coding attached. Victims of clone phishing are deceived into believing the site is legitimate and provide their personal information, such as passwords or bank account numbers. As with spear phishing, attackers may also use spoofing to make their clone sites appear genuine.

An example of clone phishing might be a website that appears to be a bank’s homepage but is actually a malicious clone site created by an attacker. When users enter their information into the supposed “secure” form on the clone site, it is sent directly to the cybercriminal instead of the real bank.


Smishing attacks involve sending out malicious SMS messages that appear to come from a trusted source. The messages will often contain links to malicious websites or contain malicious attachments that, if opened, can steal personal information from a victim’s device.

An example of smashing could be an SMS message that appears to be from a phone service provider asking a victim to update their account info. When the link in the message is clicked, it takes the user to a malicious website designed to steal their personal information.


Whaling is an attack that targets high-level executives within organizations. These attacks usually involve more sophisticated techniques, such as using legitimate company jargon and mimicking the corporate email address of an executive.

The goal of whaling is to gain access to sensitive information or accounts, such as financial records or confidential customer data.

Whaling often starts with a phishing email sent to an executive, such as a CEO or CFO. The email may contain malicious links or attachments that can steal information when opened. Attackers may also use social engineering techniques to try and convince the victim to provide sensitive information or access credentials.


By being aware of the different types of phishing attacks, individuals and organizations can work to protect themselves from becoming victims of these scams. Knowing what to look out for, such as suspicious emails or links, can help prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to sensitive information or financial accounts. Additionally, it is important for organizations to have security measures in place, such as anti-phishing software, to help protect against these types of attacks.

The potential damage caused by phishing attacks can be devastating, so it is important for individuals and organizations alike to take the necessary steps to protect themselves. By staying informed about the different attack techniques that cybercriminals use, you can be better prepared to recognize and defend against phishing attempts.

Dan Smiljanić

Dan is a practitioner of project management and our resident geek. With a background in computer science, Dan is the lead product tester at Binfire. When Dan not writing code, you will probably find him cycling and hiking with friends.

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