Phishing attacks have varying levels of technical sophistication, according to Mark Nicholls from Redscan. In an article published by ITProPortal, Nicholls explains that the lowest level of phishing attacks are simple emails designed to rope a victim into a scam.

“The most basic phishing emails are designed to establish a relationship with the target,” Nicholls says. “There are no links or malicious attachments to open. The phish is simply a primer for future communications, such as requests for payment. Messages are typically plain text and sent via widely used email services such as Gmail, which means they are very likely to bypass mail filters rather than be marked as spam. The sender’s name used is often a senior person within an organization, such as the CEO.”

More sophisticated phishing campaigns involve setting up spoofed websites and luring victims into entering sensitive information or downloading malware.

“To conduct mid-level phishing campaigns, attackers use basic hacking tactics, techniques and procedures,” Nicholls says. “A very common technique involves cybercriminals purchasing a private domain and using it to host a landing page that is cloned from a legitimate website. It’s a more sophisticated version of copy and paste, but with the right know-how is quick to perform. With a cloned site set-up, an attacker will email their target, share a link to the fake page and lure them into entering their details.”

The most sophisticated and damaging attacks are highly targeted phishing operations that involve a great deal of preparation and intelligence gathering on specific organizations and employees.

“Highly skilled cybercriminals use similar techniques to mid-level attackers,” Nicholls writes. “However, they are more skillful and better-resourced, making their attacks increasingly challenging to safeguard against. The professionals that create and leverage advanced phishing campaigns such as Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks conduct extensive open-source intelligence gathering on their targets. This involves profiling individuals but also the organizations they work for. Job advertisements are often a good source of information, disclosing details about the types of systems, applications and security tools organizations use.”

New-school security awareness training can enable your employees to defend themselves against phishing attacks of all levels of sophistication.