spear phishing vs phishing

Spear Phishing vs Phishing: let’s spot the difference. Phishing is a fraudulent operation where a hacker sends out a mass email to consumers or business users while pretending to be a legitimate organization or party to gain the recipient’s trust, arouse a sense of urgency, and persuade them to reveal their credentials or give money. On the other hand, spear phishing is described as a fraudulent campaign where a hacker or someone else with bad intentions obtains the contact information of a person or a group of people with privileged access.

If you’ve been around the internet recently, you’ve most likely heard about two new cyber attacks: spear phishing and phishing. It turns out there is a difference between these two attacks. This blog aims to deeply explain Spear Phishing vs. Phishing so that you’ll know which attack to watch out for.

Spear Phishing VS Phishing: Definitions

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing that uses personal information to convince the recipient to take a specific action. The goal of spear phishing attacks is to access confidential or sensitive information, such as user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers. These attacks typically use email messages that appear to come from legitimate sources, such as banks and other financial institutions, payroll departments, and online retailers.

Attackers may use email spoofing, dynamic URLs, and drive-by downloads to get around security measures and carry out a spear phishing assault. Advanced attacks may take advantage of zero-day flaws in plug-ins, programs, or browsers. The spear phishing attack might be the initial phase of a multi-stage advanced persistent threat (APT) attack that will eventually carry out binary downloads, outbound malware communications, and data exfiltration.


Phishing is a form of social engineering that typically uses mass emails sent to a large group of people to trick them into disclosing personal information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers by clicking on links or opening attachments in the email message. Phishers also masquerade as trusted organizations like banks or employers in an attempt to steal identities.

Phishing attacks are known to anyone with an inbox. A modern phishing attempt will likely appear to be a genuine email from a reputable company or bank. An observant user who mouses over the sender’s address to confirm its accuracy before clicking a link or downloading an attachment will be the only one to recognize it as malicious.

Phishing attacks play the numbers game: rather than focusing on just one person, they target many people hoping to catch a few.

Phishing & Spear Phishing: Key Statistics

With each year, phishing attacks spread more and more. Here, we’ll examine a few significant figures:

  • According to Verizon, 96% of phishing assaults were sent over email.
  • Tessian claims that, annually, employees receive 14 fraudulent emails on average.
  • According to CISCO, a phishing link was clicked on by at least one employee in 86% of firms.

Spear Phishing VS Phishing: Summary of Differences

An overview of spear phishing vs. phishing is as follows:


Spear Phishing Phishing
Delivery Specific Random
Recipient Single person or group Hundred or thousands of people
Tone Familiar Formal
Personal Adress Personal  Impersonal
Effort High Low

Spear Phishing VS Phishing: Key Differences

Here are some other key differences between spear phishing and phishing:

Origin: Phishing is older than Spear Phishing

Phishing has been around for a longer time than spear phishing. Spear phishing is a more recent attack that emerged in 2003 when criminals started targeting individuals instead of businesses or large groups of people.

Targeting: Spear phishing banks on social engineering, not luck

Spear phishers target individuals or organizations with personal information that they can use to gain access to sensitive information, money, or other assets. Phishers target many people at once using generic messages that appear legitimate but aren’t coming from the source they claim they’re coming from.

Technology: Phishing relies on malicious links vs. zero payload spear phishing

Phishing emails are often sent out in bulk by fraudsters who use them to trick people into giving up personal information, such as usernames and passwords or credit card numbers. These emails usually contain an attachment or link that leads to a fake website designed to collect your sensitive data. Spear phishing emails, on the other hand, are more targeted than mass emails but still rely on social engineering tricks to get you to click on a link or open an attachment. Because they’re less likely to be detected by spam filters, spear phishers can even send out their messages directly from the inboxes of those they’re targeting.

Phishing and Spear Phishing Protection Methods

Here are some ways that will provide you the protection from both attacks:

Authenticate Your Email with DMARC

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting & Conformance) is an email validation system that helps prevent spoofing by verifying the legitimacy of senders’ domain names in messages. It does this by checking whether the mail server sending the message has been authorized by the domain name owner listed in the From field. 

The email authentication protocols SPF and DKIM are combined and used in DMARC. As the owner of a website or business, you want to ensure that all users or recipients will only see emails you sent or approved. The best approach to fully secure your email and ensure each message is deliberate, safe, and devoid of cybercriminal activity is to use DMARC.

Encrypt Your Data

If you have sensitive information on your computer or mobile device, you should encrypt it with a password. If someone steals your device, they won’t be able to access any of your data without knowing the password.

Use an Anti-spam Filter

An anti-spam filter is the first defense against phishing attempts and other spam messages. It blocks incoming emails before they reach your inbox and stops them from being delivered to your inbox at all. If you use Microsoft Office 365, Gmail, or another email provider with built-in filtering, you should already be protected against some types of phishing attacks.

Conduct Phishing Simulations

Phishing simulations test employees’ ability to identify fraudulent messages in their organization’s inboxes. These tests often involve sending real emails from known sources such as banks, airlines, or utilities (but sometimes they’re made up) and asking employees to report when something seems off about an email.


The spear vs. phishing debate will likely rage forever without a clear-cut winner. But there’s something that each side can agree on: both are bad, and we should do what we can to avoid them. In the meantime, you’ve got the resources to stay protected from any potential spear phishing attempts that might come your way.

To protect against advanced email-based attacks like Phishing, PowerDMARC helps you adopt a DMARC enforcement strategy without compromising on email deliverability.