Keyboard With phishing button Email Phishing concept

What is the Difference Between Spear Phishing and Regular Phishing?


Phishing and spear-phishing are two prevalent forms of email-based cyberattacks. While both aim to deceive recipients into taking actions that benefit the attacker, they differ significantly in their execution and targets. Phishing casts a wide net to catch any unsuspecting individual, whereas spear-phishing is a more precise and personalised attack aimed at specific individuals or groups. This blog explores the nuances between these two types of cyberattacks and why they pose such a significant threat.

Why are Phishing and Spear-Phishing Problematic?

Both phishing and spear-phishing are leading causes of corporate security breaches. According to a Trend Micro report, 91% of cyberattacks begin with a spear-phishing email. Despite widespread awareness, a significant gap exists in understanding these threats. A survey by Beauceron Security revealed that 12% of individuals did not know what phishing is, suggesting an even larger percentage might be unaware of spear-phishing. This lack of awareness creates vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Opportunistic vs. Targeted Attacks

Regular phishing is an opportunistic attack where the attacker sends out mass emails with the hope that some recipients will fall for the scam. These emails often appear to come from trusted sources like banks or social media sites, urging recipients to click on a link or download an attachment. The goal is to trick as many people as possible with minimal effort.

In contrast, spear-phishing is highly targeted. Attackers spend time researching their victims, gathering information from social media, public profiles, or even through techniques like dumpster diving. This research allows them to craft personalised emails that appear legitimate and trustworthy. The attacker knows who the victim is and tailors the attack to exploit specific vulnerabilities, increasing the chances of success.

Recognising Phishing and Spear-Phishing Emails

Phishing emails often have telltale signs like unexpected messages, generic greetings, and suspicious links or attachments. They typically rely on emotional triggers like fear or urgency to prompt immediate action. For example, an email might claim that your bank account has been compromised and urge you to click a link to verify your identity.

Spear-phishing emails, however, are harder to detect. They often appear to come from someone you know and trust, making it less likely that you’ll scrutinise them closely. These emails may reference specific details about your job or personal life, making them seem more credible. Because of this personalisation, the usual red flags of phishing emails are less apparent.

Why Spear-Phishing is More Effective

Spear-phishing is more effective because it leverages detailed information about the target. Attackers use this information to craft believable pretexts that exploit the victim’s trust and emotions. This approach reduces the likelihood that the victim will recognize the email as a scam. Moreover, sophisticated attackers test their emails against security software to ensure they can bypass filters and reach the intended target.


Phishing and spear-phishing pose significant threats to individuals and organizations. While phishing relies on volume and broad targeting, spear-phishing uses precision and personalisation to achieve its goals. Awareness and vigilance are crucial in defending against these attacks. Understanding the differences between these types of phishing can help individuals and organisations better prepare and protect themselves from falling victim to these deceptive tactics.

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