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Whaling Vs Spear Phishing: Key Differences

Whaling Vs Spear Phishing: Key Differences

In today’s day and age, every organization needs to protect itself from cyber criminals. There are various methods of attack that hackers use.

Among these methods are spear phishing and whaling attacks. It’s important to understand the differences between both of these while protecting you and your company from digital harm.

Read More: Phishing Training and Testing: A Necessary Defense Against Cyberattacks

Spear Phishing Vs Whaling

The concept of phishing vs spear phishing vs whaling is really about semantics. At their heart, all involve fooling a user into providing access or information.

Let’s explore the definitions of both of these terms as well as the differences.

What is spear phishing?

Spear phishing involves social engineering.

In this type of attack, the perpetrator pretends to be a trusted individual. Then they trick the target into allowing them access to their company’s computer system.

The trick typically involves a message or spoofed email. Unknowingly, the target clicks on a link which then downloads malicious software called malware onto the computer network.

This allows the attacker to perform the first stage of an advanced persistent threat (APT). Spear phishing is similar to whaling, but it has unique details that you should know about.

To help understand the distinction between whaling vs phishing, here is an example:

Example of spear phishing:

Here are the steps of a typical spear phishing attack.

1. The attacker sends a spoofed email to the company’s system administrator

The hacker pretends to be from one of the company’s vendors.

The email is identical to one that would be sent by the actual vendor. There is some type of offer or other incentive for the user to click through to another link.

2. The sysadmin clicks on the link and is then redirected to a login page

This login page looks identical to the vendor’s website.

3. The cyber criminal is now logged in to the system’s network

From here, the hacker can perform a variety of data breaches.

Now let’s talk about whaling.

What Is Whaling?

Whaling is similar in nature to spear phishing in that the intention is to gain access to a company’s computer systems or valuable information.

One of the key differences between whaling attack vs spear phishing is the target.

Whereas spear phishing focuses on lower ranked members of the company, whaling tries to go high level. As its name suggests, an attacker using whaling targets high ranking members such as CFOs and CEOs.

Example of Whaling:

1. The attacker sends an email that appears to be of critical urgency related to the business

For instance, the hacker may claim to be a vendor that is requesting payment for their services.

2. Whereas phishing may cast a broader net, whaling is a specific attack targeting a key member of leadership

Therefore, the key difference is not necessarily in the tactics used, but in the individual who is the victim.

Preventing Phishing And Whaling

For enterprises in any company, it’s important to protect yourself against these types of attacks.

There are several risk mitigation approaches you can take, including two factor authentication. This is one of the first things every organization should make as a security standard.


Two factor authentication requires users to have two things – Something that they have and something that they know.

Something that they have can be a smartphone. Something that they know could be a password or username.

By using 2FA, it is unlikely that an attacker can gain access to the company’s systems because they don’t have physical access to the user’s device.


Organizations should aim to constantly train their employees on proper cybersecurity measures.

They should understand the differences between key attack vectors as well as how to protect themselves from these hacks.


A qualified cybersecurity firm can perform penetration testing and other kinds of security testing to evaluate the strength of your security measures.

In addition, an IT service provider can monitor your internal systems and web activity to identify potential attacks and act quickly if an attack is already underway.

Phishing Training

Don’t take the risk of your proprietary information, passwords, or financial data falling into the wrong hands. Hire a firm specializing in cyber security in Atlanta today. That way you can protect your company, your employees, and your bottom line.

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