Spoofing vs Phishing: Definition & Differences
Staying alert to cybersecurity threats like phishing and spoofing attacks is crucial – no one is immune. Phishing and spoofing attacks are similar, but they are two different cybersecurity threats. Understanding the difference between phishing and spoofing and the dangers they pose can increase your cybersecurity awareness and help protect your business.
Spoofing vs Phishing
Spoofing attacks are similar to identity theft, while phishing attacks attempt to steal sensitive information. In particular, a phishing attempt can start with a spoofing attack. However, phishing is never part of spoofing.
Definition of spoofing
In spoofing attacks, threat actors disguise themselves as legitimate sources to gain the victim’s trust. The intention behind a spoofing attack is to install malware and use the information or access gained to orchestrate further crimes. Spoofing attacks can take many forms, including the following:
- Email Spoofing: The attacker creates an email address that resembles that of a trusted sender by changing the “From” field to match a trusted contact, or the name and email address of a known contact mimics
- Domain or website spoofing: An attacker creates a fake website or email domain designed to impersonate a well-known company or person.
- IP spoofing: Attackers change their IP address to disguise their true identity or impersonate another user through IP spoofing.
- GPS spoofing: An attacker alters a device’s GPS to register in a location other than the actual physical location of the user.
- Caller ID spoofing: The attacker disguises their phone number with one known to the victim, similar to email spoofing.
Definition of phishing
A phishing attack is a scam in which a threat actor sends generic messages in bulk, usually via email, in hopes of tricking someone into clicking malicious links. The intent is usually to steal credentials or personal information like your social security number. Four of the most common types of phishing attacks are described below.
- spearfishing: This phishing attempt targets specific individuals or organizations with personal communications, usually via malicious email, with the intention of stealing confidential information.
- whale phishing: A whaling attack is a social engineering attack specifically targeting executives or C-level executives to steal money or information or gain access to the victim’s computer to perform further cyberattacks.
- Voice phishing (vishing): Vishing is a phishing attack conducted over the phone.
- SMS phishing (smishing): Smishing refers to phishing scams carried out via SMS messages, usually with the aim of tricking the user into visiting a website that will trick them into downloading malicious apps or content.
Differences between spoofing and phishing
It’s easy to see that spoofing attacks and phishing attacks are related but different cybersecurity threats. Further examination of the characteristics of each threat reveals their differences.
- Purpose: The goal of spoofing is to impersonate someone, while the purpose of phishing attacks is to steal information.
- Nature: Spoofing is not considered fraud because the victim’s email address or phone number is impersonated rather than stolen. Phishing scams are scams because they steal information.
- method: A spoofing attack installs malicious software on the victim’s computer. Phishing attacks are carried out using social engineering techniques.
Dangers of spoofing and phishing
The dangers of spoofing and phishing are enormous. They are at least inconvenient and, at worst, lead to financial losses and other damage. Understanding the risks of spoofing and phishing is a critical step in taking these cybersecurity threats seriously.
Risks of spoofing and phishing
Cyber attacks such as spoofing and phishing tend to have similar intent and target a range of victims, from individual users to businesses of all sizes or even governments. Both attacks aim to steal personal information or credentials, extort money, install malware, or simply cause disruption. When attacking a company or other organization, the attacker’s goal is usually to gain access to confidential and valuable company resources such as intellectual property, customer data or payment details.
From a business perspective, backing up your company’s digital assets has the obvious benefit of reduced risk of loss, theft, or destruction. Additionally, it minimizes the likelihood of losing control of company systems or information — and having to pay a ransom to regain control. By preventing or quickly remediating cyberattacks, the organization also minimizes potential negative impacts on business operations.
Relative dangers of spoofing and phishing
Some spoofing and phishing attacks are more dangerous than others. Fancy attacks are easy to spot, but others are smarter. For example, spear phishing attacks are particularly dangerous and, due to their personal nature, are more likely to deceive potential victims. By recognizing how phishing scams and spoofing work together, you can spot cybersecurity attacks that double down on complex techniques. Phishing attacks that involve spoofing are some of the most dangerous threats.
How to prevent and combat spoofing
Protection against spoofing attempts is an essential part of responsible online behavior. In many cases, cybersecurity awareness makes spoofing attacks easy to spot and prevent. Follow these tips on what to do and what not to do to protect yourself from spoofing:
- Do Sign in to accounts from new browser tabs or official apps.
- Do Use a password manager.
- Do Use a spam filter for email security.
- Do invest in cybersecurity software.
- Do Confirm if unexpected phone numbers or email addresses have been linked to fraud.
- Do If possible, enable two-factor authentication.
- Do not Click unwanted links.
- Do not download unexpected attachments.
- Do not share personal information.
- Do not Access URLs that don’t start with HTTPS.
- Do not Sign in to accounts using links in emails or text messages.
If you suspect that you have received a spoofed email, verify the validity of the message by contacting the sender through another means of communication. Do not reply to the suspicious email. Watch for further damage and take steps to protect your personal information.
How to prevent and combat phishing
Minimizing the risk of phishing attacks is critical to your organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Conduct security awareness training with employees to ensure they know how to identify and report suspected phishing attacks. Here are some simple strategies to ward off the many types of phishing:
- Use antivirus software: Antimalware tools scan devices to prevent, detect, and remove malware that enters the system through a phishing scam.
- Use an antispam filter: Antispam filters automatically move phishing emails to your Junk folder.
- Update browsers and software: If you’re running the latest version of a web browser, app, or other software, you have the best defense against the latest phishing attacks.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA).: Even if your credentials were compromised in a phishing attack, this extra authentication provides an extra layer of defense and attackers won’t necessarily be able to access your personal information.
- Don’t open and don’t reply: Ignore spam mails! Delete them without opening them. Responding to phishing emails prompts threat actors to attack you again.
- security awareness training: Train employees to recognize and report phishing attempts. By running phishing simulations, employees can also practice what they have learned.
- Validate URLs and files: Check links, files and senders for validity before clicking links or downloading files.
If you experience a phishing attack, don’t panic. Simply reading a phishing email is usually not a problem. Phishing attacks require the victim to click a malicious link or download files to activate the malicious activity. Monitor your accounts and personal information and stay vigilant.
It’s impossible to prevent phishing attacks, but you can exercise caution when handling electronic communications and encourage your employees to do the same. If you spot a phishing email, you can also report it to the US government at email@example.com.
Proactive protection against phishing and spoofing
Implementing a proactive protection strategy to protect yourself and your business from cyberattacks is crucial. CrowdStrike’s team of experts proactively hunts, investigates, and advises on activity around you to ensure cyber threats are not overlooked.
Stay one step ahead of online opponents by using the latest digital technologies. The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform delivers next-generation cloud-native endpoint protection from a single lightweight agent, offering a set of complementary prevention and detection methods. Learn more here.