What is phishing?

Lïa Desmousseaux de Givré

Lïa Desmousseaux de Givré

Whether it's clicking on a malicious link or sending confidential data to a fake trusted third party, if the threat is still external, 90% of effective cyber attacks involve an error resulting from human exploitation. This is the basis of the phishing technique.

Very popular among hackers, phishing is one of the most dangerous cyber attacks due to the consequences it generates. This process can be responsible for the installation and proliferation of ransomware, ransom demands in exchange for stolen data, but also for the theft of credentials and compromises of professional emails (BEC), all resulting in colossal financial losses on various scales.

Phishing: definition

Phishing, or phishing in French, refers to a malicious technique based on social engineering methods, used to steal confidential data. This type of 2.0 fraud can result in identity theft of victims as well as extortion of financial funds.

Similarly, there are many other practices based on the same principles of manipulation. Smishing is based on sending malicious SMS. Vishing, on the other hand, consists of retrieving data for malicious purposes through telephone calls. Thus, hackers multiply phishing techniques in order to achieve their goals. Most often, it is by impersonating a trusted third party that the pirates accomplish their malicious mission. While the communication channels may vary, the attack process remains the same.

Examples of phishing attacks

Phishing is also favored by hackers because this technique takes advantage of human fallibility. No matter the targeted field of activity, these attacks can affect victims from all walks of life. To illustrate this, here are a few examples:

  • Sony Pictures fell victim to a phishing attack. After gathering information about company members and their respective roles, the hackers sent a series of emails pretending to have a security flaw. As a result, they stole approximately 100 terabytes of data during this attack. This cost the company more than 100 million dollars.

  • The reputation of a company does not necessarily reflect its ability to counter a cyber attack. This was the case with Google and Facebook, the giants of the GAFA, who were victims of fraud for more than two years. It all started with the compromise of a professional email: a hacker, posing as a computer parts seller using the phishing technique, sent a series of fake invoices that were paid. In total, more than 100 million dollars were stolen from the internet giants.

  • In December 2015, the main Ukrainian electricity supplier was targeted. Following a phishing email sent to an employee, hackers were able to attack the power plant by causing a power outage. It was later discovered that the email contained malicious software capable of automating a major power outage.

Fighting phishing

In order to protect against cyber attacks and phishing attempts, it is important to take into account the different aspects of an effective protection strategy. While there is no ultimate method to counter all attacks, by understanding and applying two complementary types of measures, it is possible to protect against a cyber attack.

First, it is necessary to act from a technical point of view. Indeed, software security is the first step towards an efficient defense process against hacking. In this sense, it is essential to properly configure email accounts by imposing a sender authentication system. This way, you can ensure that each message in your inbox comes from an authorized user.

To do this, we recommend using SPF authentication as it allows you to define a number of authorized IP addresses that can send emails from a domain. Similarly, DKIM can be valuable as it guarantees the authenticity of an email from one server to another, while ensuring its identification by the recipient.

Finally, DMARC refers to a domain-based message identification method. This tool allows you to define specific strategies and obtain detailed reports generated in case of validation failure. There are also anti-phishing tools and filters: these different detection techniques allow you to filter out phishing attempts.

However, while software security is extremely valuable, it must be complemented by human protection measures. Indeed, considering that almost all cyber attacks result from human factors, an effective protection strategy must take into account the vulnerabilities exploited by hackers. To address this, it is necessary to prioritize awareness in protection issues. Thus, by communicating frequently about phishing, and more specifically about detection methods to use, as well as following the reporting steps to notify the receipt of a fraudulent email, the risk resulting from human exploitation of data decreases considerably.

In a professional environment, it is relevant to train employees in real-life conditions through simulated phishing campaigns, so that each person can master the appropriate response in case of cyber attacks. Finally, reporting a phishing attempt and notifying authorities of suspicious activity is the best way to fight phishing.


In conclusion, phishing is a malicious practice responsible for numerous cyber attacks. It is imperative to understand its definition and practices in order to effectively protect against it. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand that there is no single infallible method. To protect against cyber attacks involving phishing techniques, it is necessary to be able to combine technological measures, through efficient software configurations, with human dispositions involving prevention, real-life training, and reporting of phishing attempts.

To help businesses understand the challenges associated with phishing, Arsen offers protection solutions against cyber attacks. By simulating an attack in real-life conditions, it allows all employees to experience the different facets of a cyber attack. This way, they learn how to effectively respond to this type of situation.

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