How Does A Phishing Attack Work? : Understanding The Working Of A Phishing Attack

Everything you need to know about phishing attacks to start your set-up of impenetrable protection

Phishing is one of the most popular and dangerous cybercrimes; attackers steal victims’ personal or financial information through this method and use it illegally.

Through phishing, cybercriminals can get access to sensitive and confidential information of an individual or an organization. They can also attack computers by injecting a malicious virus or try to compromise the database security of an enterprise. Hence, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with the working of such adversaries to prevent phishing. It is nearly impossible to protect ourselves entirely from a determined and sophisticated attacker. But we can follow certain safeguards to prepare ourselves to be able to face any threat.


phishing prevention

Highly Targeted Areas By Attackers

Hackers typically follow some trends while continually upgrading themselves by using the latest tools and technologies. It is essential to gauge their mindset to be able to tell if we may be potential targets and to identify an attack when we face one. Knowledge is an excellent tool to combat phishing attacks.

There are some areas which these cybercriminals prefer, such as credit card companies, banks, online shopping sites, etc. It is clear that they mostly prefer money transaction-related sites. That is why they imitate these sites and structure authentic-looking emails to lure the victim into falling for these traps. The emails are followed by attackers demanding confidential information (for example, username and password) from the user.

Often, attackers use fear tactics to frighten the recipients with threats like account blocking, a notice of account security breach, etc. Their primary goal is the same – to bait people into sharing their sensitive information.

Sometimes, these adversaries are also interested in getting people’s private information so that they can use it to carry out other criminal activities.

The points mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list but a brief overview of their phishing strategy.


A Trick To Tap Into The Vulnerabilities Of The User

People are generally extra cautious when it comes to sharing their private information, especially their bank details, online. So, how do the attackers lure them into parting with the same? They use a carefully planned trick known as social engineering. They use email addresses which look authentic, to direct targets to malicious websites. Sometimes, they can use real company logos on their fake sites. But this is just one part of the process.

The emails which the victims receive often include calls for immediate action. The hackers do this by injecting a sense of urgency into the email. For example – a malicious email pretending to be from your bank will ask you to submit your account details because of a “discrepancy” which you need to address immediately.


phishing definition


Why Carry Out A Phishing Attack?

To understand the functioning of a malicious attack, we need to know the reasons why attackers carry out such attacks. There are two primary purposes of a phishing attack

To Extract Sensitive Information

These attacks involve processes which force the victims to part with their personal and sensitive data. Hackers need the information to breach an individual or organizational network, to steal someone’s money, or to use someone else’s credentials for carrying out illegal deeds. Some visibly suspicious information which hackers seek from victims includes bank account information.

To Install Malware Into The System

Another primary purpose which hackers achieve with such attacks is installing malware or virus into the victim’s system. Such emails contain zipped MS Office files or other similar contents that hold the malicious code. An example of such code is ransomware.

Cybercriminals don’t stick to only one method for carrying out such attacks. Apart from emails, the purposes mentioned above are also fulfilled through voice call phishing (vishing), SMS phishing (SMiShing), search engine phishing, spear phishing, and whaling.


The Phishing Process In Detail

Below is an explanation of the complete phishing process

  1. Detailed Planning: Phishing starts with planning, where the main objective is to acquire the email addresses of the targets. While most of the times their targeted individual or organization is not specified, they can sometimes plan to send phishing emails to specific persons.
  2. Setting Up The Phishing Process: After preparing the list of the businesses and victims, these cybercriminals start planning strategies for reaching the targets. The approach may involve designing a website or creating a fake email address that looks authentic and authoritative.
  3. The Phishing Attack: In this step, attackers send messages to the victims, usually by pretending to be a trustworthy entity. This sending and receiving phase is the step that most individuals who use emails may have encountered at least once.
  4. Collection Of The Information Pieces: Cybercriminals record the pieces of information that victims have already entered into the fake pop-up windows or websites after biting the bait of these phishing messages.
  5. The Dangerous Consequences: After collecting the information pieces, cybercriminals start using them for illegal activities or purchases. The consequences of such actions can be severe, and these can even question an organization’s email security and reputation. Unauthorized access to sensitive information is a significant threat to every sector.

The next step is assessing the successes and failures of the recently completed phishing attack by the adversaries. Based on this analysis, they can start planning for another attack and start the next phishing cycle.
Another tool which figures prominently in the phishing strategy is the Phishing Kit.


What Constitutes A Phishing Kit?

Cybercriminals, especially the less tech-savvy ones, make use of phishing kits to execute their malicious attacks. These kits help cybercriminals to initiate phishing campaigns to lure users into their trap.

A phishing kit comes with many website phishing tools and resources. The kit is like a starter pack, a collection of tools and resources assembled for people with little experience and technical skills to launch a phishing campaign. Novice cybercriminals get access to mailing lists and phishing kits from the dark web.

Thankfully, many anti-phishing solution providers have websites that contain lists of various anti-phishing kits which you can evaluate based on the need you have. This practice is a remarkable initiative in the fight against the ever-growing threat of phishing.


Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. However, the capabilities of hackers and cybercriminals (both in terms of sophistication of attack methods and also the tools and technologies used by them) are also growing with it. The phishing prevention starts by knowing how it works and how it impacts individuals as well as organizations. Hence, it is essential to keep updating the knowledge of the latest phishing attacks and scams and how they function to prepare and safeguard oneself from such threats adequately.

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