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Phishing is a cyber-attack that poses as a trusted entity, such as a bank or payment service. It then persuades victims to provide confidential information, leading to identity theft and financial loss. Unlike malware, which exploits flaws in an operating system, phishing attacks use social engineering to manipulate human weaknesses.

Often, phishing emails are designed to lure users through an enticing offer or by posing as a legitimate entity. The attacker may claim that they have discovered suspicious activity on a user account or that the victim has won a lottery or other promotional prize. These messages usually contain a malicious link that directs victims to a fake web page designed to harvest their credentials and download software, such as ransomware.

Other times, phishing emails are designed to target specific individuals and enterprises. This is called spear phishing and requires the perpetrator to research the organization’s power structure and email addresses in order to target employees with high-level access. These types of messages may also include a signature that is similar to the organization’s, in order to appear more authentic.

The NCSC recommends that organisations set up DMARC and encourage their contacts to do the same, so that they can be confident that an email requesting information is legitimately from where it says it is. This will help reduce the number of emails that can be mistaken for phishing and make it much harder for attackers to succeed.