What is a Phishing Email?

5 Signs to Look for When Spotting One

What is a phishing email? 5 ways to spot one.


You may have heard of the term ‘phishing’ at least once. You may even recall receiving an email that seemed ‘phishy’. Phishing emails stand out as a common and insidious danger in a world that becoming ever more digital. In this blog post we’ve created a guide to understanding what phishing emails are and equip you with the knowledge to recognise them. Delve into the types of phishing attacks, learn how to spot them, and discover essential defence strategies to safeguard yourself and your organisation against them.

What are Phishing Emails?

Phishing emails are deceptive messages crafted to lure recipients into divulging sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or personal details. These emails often mimic trusted sources, such as banks, social media platforms, or colleagues, aiming to trick users into clicking malicious links or downloading harmful attachments. There are several types of phishing emails that cyber criminals use to obtain your information, and some are even designed for specific categories of individuals or to take advantage of certain system vulnerabilities.

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Types and Targets of Phishing Emails

Phishing attacks are not specific to emails and can take on various forms (such as Vishing through calls and Smishing through SMS), however, for the sake of our focus on emails for this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the most common types used in email phishing:

  1. Spear Phishing Attacks: Tailored to specific individuals or organisations, spear phishing emails leverage personal information to appear authentic and increase their chances of success.
  2. Whaling Attacks: Targeting high-profile individuals like executives or CEOs, whaling attacks usually aim to steal confidential company data or initiate fraudulent transactions.
  3. Pharming: Redirecting users to fake websites, pharming attacks exploit vulnerabilities in DNS servers to deceive victims into entering sensitive information.
  4. Clone Phishing Attacks: Cloning legitimate emails, attackers modify content or attachments to include malicious links or malware, tricking recipients into believing they’re from trusted sources.
  5. Calendar Phishing: Exploiting calendar invites, cyber criminals send fake event notifications containing malicious links or attachments.
  6. BEC – Business Email Compromise: Impersonating trusted entities within an organisation, BEC attacks aim to deceive employees into transferring funds or sensitive data to attackers.

5 Ways to Spot a Phishing Email

5 ways to spot a phishing email
  1. Check the Sender’s Email Address: Scrutinise email addresses for inconsistencies or slight variations from legitimate sources. Oftentimes they will be sent from domains such as Gmail or Outlook instead of an official company email which they are claiming to be from.
  2. Look for Spelling and Grammar Errors: Phishing emails often contain typos, grammatical mistakes, or awkward language usage – however, it’s important to note that, with the rise of generative AI, cyber criminals have been able to create more convincing email content without these errors.
  3. Verify URLs Before Clicking: Hover over links to reveal their true destinations, ensuring they lead to legitimate websites. Using what is called ‘Link Manipulation’ or ‘URL Hiding’ attackers hide the actual link so that it displays what seems to be a legitimate one.
  4. Examine Requests for Personal Information: Legitimate entities typically don’t request sensitive information via email. Be wary of such requests and verify through other means.
  5. Be Cautious of Urgency or Threats: Phishing emails often employ urgency or threats to prompt immediate action. Take a moment to assess the situation critically before responding.

How to Report a Phishing Email

To combat phishing effectively, it’s crucial to report suspicious emails promptly. In Outlook, users can utilise built-in reporting tools to flag phishing attempts. Additionally, organisations should report phishing incidents to relevant authorities. The UAE has several portals on which cybercrimes can be reported to aid in investigations and protect others from falling victim to similar attacks.

Defending Your Organisation Against Phishing Emails

Implementing robust defence measures is essential in mitigating the risk of phishing attacks as they can get quite costly. Train staff to recognise and report phishing attempts in all of their forms, deploy antivirus and antispyware software, and employ spam filters and web security gateways to filter out malicious emails. Furthermore, leverage firewalls and utilise enterprise mail servers equipped with email authentication standards (E.g., DMARC, DKIM, SPF methods) to bolster email security and thwart phishing attempts effectively.


Phishing emails continue to pose a significant threat to individuals and organisations worldwide. By understanding the various types of phishing attacks, learning to spot their telltale signs, and implementing robust defence strategies, individuals and businesses can fortify their defences against these malicious threats. Remember, vigilance and proactive measures are key to staying one step ahead of cybercriminals in the ever-evolving landscape of cyber security. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and stay safe.

Contact AKW Consultants’ team of cyber security experts to assess your organisation’s cyber hygiene and train your staff against phishing scams and other cyber threats: info@akwconsultants.com

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