6 Common Phishing Attacks and How to Protect Against Them

The growth of phishing attacks in both frequency and sophistication poses a significant threat to both individuals and organisations. It’s important that you know how to spot some of the most common phishing scams if you are to protect personal and corporate information.

With that in mind, let’s discuss six common phishing attacks: deceptive phishing, spear phishing, CEO fraud, pharming, Dropbox phishing, and Google Docs phishing, and how you can protect yourself against these phishing scams.


The most common type of phishing scam, deceptive phishing refers to any attack by which fraudsters impersonate a legitimate company and attempt to steal people’s personal information or login credentials. Those emails frequently use threats and a sense of urgency to scare users into doing the attackers’ bidding.

For example, PayPal scammers might send out an attack email that instructs them to click on a link in order to rectify a discrepancy with their account. In actuality, the link leads to a fake PayPal login page that collects a user’s login credentials and delivers them to the attackers.

The success of a deceptive phish hinges on how closely the attack email resembles a legitimate company’s official correspondence. As a result, you should inspect all URLs carefully to see if they redirect to an unknown website. Also look out for generic salutations, grammar mistakes, and spelling errors scattered throughout the email.


Not all phishing scams lack personalisation – some use it quite heavily.

For instance, in spear phishing scams, fraudsters customise their attack emails with the target’s name, position, company, work phone number and other information in an attempt to trick the recipient into believing that they have a connection with the sender.

The goal is the same as deceptive phishing: lure the victim into clicking on a malicious URL or email attachment, so that they will hand over their personal data.

Spear-phishing is especially commonplace on social media sites like LinkedIn, where attackers can use multiple sources of information to craft a targeted attack email.

Spear phishers can target anyone in an organisation, even top executives. That’s the logic behind a “whaling” attack, where fraudsters attempt to harpoon an executive and steal their login credentials.

In the event their attack proves successful, fraudsters can choose to conduct CEO fraud, the second phase of a business email compromise (BEC) scam where attackers impersonate an executive and abuse that individual’s email to authorise fraudulent wire transfers to a financial institution of their choice.

Whaling attacks work because executives often don’t participate in security awareness training with their employees. To counter that threat, as well as the risk of CEO fraud, all company personnel – including executives – should undergo ongoing security awareness training.


As people become more savvy to traditional phishing scams, some fraudsters are abandoning the idea of “baiting” their victims entirely. Instead, they are resorting to pharming – a method of attack which stems from domain name system (DNS) cache poisoning.

The Internet’s naming system uses DNS servers to convert alphabetical website names, such as “www.microsoft.com,” to numerical IP addresses used for locating computer services and devices.

Under a DNS cache poisoning attack, a pharmer targets a DNS server and changes the IP address associated with an alphabetical website name. That means an attacker can redirect users to a malicious website of their choice even if the victims entered in the correct website name.

To protect against pharming attacks, only enter your login credentials only on HTTPS-protected sites. You should also install anti-virus software on all devices and ensure it is kept up to date, along with security upgrades issued by a trusted Internet Service Provider (ISP), on a regular basis.


While some phishers no longer bait their victims, others have specialised their attack emails according to an individual company or service.

Take Dropbox, for example. Millions of people use Dropbox every day to back up, access and share their files. It’s no wonder, therefore, that attackers would try to capitalise on the platform’s popularity by targeting users with phishing emails.

One attack campaign, for example, tried to lure users into entering their login credentials on a fake Dropbox sign-in page hosted on Dropbox itself.

To protect against Dropbox phishing attacks, users should consider implementing Two Factor Authentication  (2FA) on your accounts.


Fraudsters could choose to target Google Drive similar to the way they might prey upon Dropbox users.

Specifically, as Google Drive supports documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos and even entire websites, phishers can abuse the service to create a web page that mimics the Google account log-in screen and harvests user credentials.

A group of attackers did just that back in July of 2015. To add insult to injury, not only did Google unknowingly host that fake login page, but a Google SSL certificate also protected the page with a secure connection.

Once again, users youconsider implementing 2FA to protect yourself against this type of threat. They can enable the security feature via either SMS messaging or the Google Authenticator app.

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