Phishing Attacks on Businesses That You Should Be Aware Of

By Joe Aucott
May 3, 2024

Over recent years, the frequency and sophistication of phishing attacks have escalated dramatically. This rise can be attributed to the increasing reliance on digital communication and data storage, coupled with the growing skills of cybercriminals who continually develop new methods to exploit business operations. High-profile breaches and the growing cleverness of these attacks have made headlines, underscoring the urgency for companies to address this menace.

Understanding the mechanics of phishing and the various forms it can take is crucial for businesses to effectively protect their digital assets. Knowledge and awareness are the first lines of defence in preventing sensitive business data from being compromised. By educating employees and implementing strong security measures, businesses can significantly reduce their vulnerability to these deceptive attacks that not only threaten financial stability but also the integrity and trustworthiness of the affected organisation.


What is Phishing?

Phishing is a form of cyber attack that involves tricking individuals into divulging sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card details, and other confidential data, typically through deceptive emails or messages that mimic legitimate sources. This fraudulent activity has become a significant threat to modern businesses, both large and small, as it directly targets the human element—the most vulnerable link in the cyber security chain.

Types of Phishing Attacks


Email Phishing

Email phishing is the most common form of phishing, where attackers send fraudulent emails designed to look like they come from a reputable source. Common examples include emails that mimic financial institutions, asking recipients to verify account details, or those appearing to come from popular online services requesting password resets. To identify suspicious emails, look for generic greetings, spelling and grammar errors, unusual sender addresses, and links that do not match the apparent sender’s website URL.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing involves highly targeted attacks designed to deceive specific individuals within an organisation. These emails are personalised, often using the victim's name, position, or other personal information, making them more convincing than typical phishing attempts.


Whaling attacks specifically target senior executives and other high-ranking officials within a business. These attacks are usually more sophisticated and involve emails that mimic critical business communications. An example is the 2015 attack on Ubiquiti Networks, where executives were tricked into transferring millions of dollars due to fraudulent communications that appeared to be from suppliers. Such incidents underscore the significant financial and reputational risks associated with whaling.

Smishing and Vishing

Smishing and vishing are forms of phishing using text messages (SMS) and voice calls. In smishing, attackers send texts urging the recipient to click on a malicious link or provide personal information. Vishing calls might involve a supposed bank official asking for account details. These attacks leverage the personal nature of phones and often catch individuals off-guard compared to email phishing.

Angler Phishing

Angler phishing exploits social media platforms to deceive users. Attackers might create fake customer service accounts to respond to real customer queries or direct messages, guiding victims to malicious sites or soliciting private information. For preventing angler phishing, it is vital to verify the authenticity of social media interactions and educate users on the importance of confirming the identity of those they communicate with online.

Each type of phishing presents unique challenges and requires tailored strategies for identification and prevention. By understanding these different forms, businesses can better prepare their employees and protect their assets against these deceptive and harmful attacks.

The Business Impacts of Phishing Attacks


Financial Loss

Direct Costs: Phishing attacks often result in direct financial losses. This can occur through the siphoning of funds from business accounts, unauthorised transactions, or ransom payments to regain access to locked systems. For example, fraudulent wire transfers orchestrated through deceptive emails can lead to significant monetary losses within minutes.

Indirect Costs: Beyond immediate financial impact, phishing attacks also accrue considerable indirect costs. These include reputational damage, which can diminish customer trust and deter potential business. Legal fees, fines for data breaches, and increased insurance premiums are other common expenses. Businesses may also need to invest heavily in remedial measures, including IT security upgrades and public relations efforts to rebuild their image.

Data Breach and Loss

Types of Data Typically Stolen: Phishing attacks commonly target sensitive data such as personal identification information, customer data, employee records, trade secrets, and intellectual property. Access to such information can lead to further criminal activities like identity theft and financial fraud.

Long-term Impacts: The repercussions of data breaches can be enduring. Businesses may face ongoing legal challenges, sustained loss of customers, and reduced competitive edge due to the leakage of proprietary information. The necessity to comply with stricter regulations and continuous monitoring can also escalate operating costs.

Operational Disruption

Examples of Disruption: Operational disruptions following a phishing attack can vary from temporary shutdowns of critical systems to the long-term unavailability of essential business services. An employee clicking on a malicious link might introduce malware that cripples the company’s operational infrastructure, leading to stalled production lines or inaccessible service platforms.

Recovery Processes: Recovering from such disruptions often requires significant effort and resources. Businesses must not only remove the immediate threats but also ascertain that no latent threats remain. Recovery involves IT forensics, system clean-ups, and sometimes rebuilding systems from scratch, which can be both time-consuming and costly.

Loss of Trust

Impact on Relationships: A successful phishing attack can severely damage a business’s relationships with its customers, investors, and partners. The breach of trust can lead to loss of business, cancelled contracts, and a deteriorated standing within the industry.

How to Prevent and Respond To a Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks are a persistent threat, but fortunately we've created a guide on how to protect your users from phishing attacks so that you can create an effective prevention and prompt response that can significantly mitigate their impact.

Educating employees about the risks and signs of phishing is the key to prevention. Regular training sessions, using engaging methods like interactive simulations, can enhance their ability to identify suspicious emails and messages. Alongside education, implementing robust security protocols is essential. This includes deploying advanced security software that filters out potential threats before they reach the end user, and establishing secure network systems protected by firewalls and VPNs.

Multi-factor authentication should be a standard practice, adding an extra layer of security by requiring additional verification to access sensitive information. Regular security assessments, including audits and penetration testing by external experts, play a crucial role in identifying vulnerabilities within an organisation's network.

When a phishing attack is detected, a swift and structured response is crucial. Isolating affected systems to prevent further damage, changing passwords, and disabling compromised accounts should be immediate steps. Notifying IT and security teams promptly allows for a rapid containment and mitigation process. Communication is equally important; informing stakeholders and customers about the breach helps manage the situation transparently, preserving trust and enabling a coordinated response.

Joe Aucott