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What Helps Prevent Spear Phishing?

From company reputation to financial loss, learn how to protect your organization against the dangers caused by spear phishing.


Spear phishing has emerged as a highly sophisticated and targeted form of cyberattack in today’s digital age. The method involves fraudulent attempts to trick individuals or organizations into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that compromise their security. These targetted attacks usually occur through emails and target individuals such as high-level executives, IT professionals, decision-makers, and other technical staff.


With cybercriminals getting more sophisticated, it’s crucial for all employees to recognize phishing attacks as well as for business higher-ups to take the right precautions. Below, we’ll explore how to recognize a spear phishing attack as well as how organizations can utilize user permissions to prevent attacks.



preventing spear phishing with microsoft 365

What Does a Spear Phishing Attack Look Like?

Typically, it’s difficult to recognize a general phishing email; however, most spear phishing emails have tell-tale signs that all users—regardless of their role—should be on the lookout for. These include:


  • The email comes from a known/trusted contact but the return address is slightly different.

  • The message contains requests for personal information or login credentials.

  • The email is not personalized.

  • The email has unexpected attachments or links.

  • The body contains poor grammar or numerous spelling errors.

  • The email appears to come from an illegitimate source.

  • The email triggers anti-phishing software once received.


It’s important to educate users on what phishing emails look like and your organization’s response to them to ensure cyber criminals do not gain access to private or sensitive information. For example, if an employee receives a suspicious email, they should not reply back or click on any of the internal links. Employees should immediately alert IT who can take the proper precautions.


Leveraging User Permissions to Prevent Spear Phishing

While it’s important for all employees to take the right precautions against spear phishing attacks, it’s equally important for IT personnel or technical staff to minimize access to personal or confidential data from the beginning. This is where user permissions come in.


Put simply, permissions are access rights granted to users within an organization or a system. These permissions define what actions users can or can’t perform and which resources they can or can’t access. Setting up permissions in this way enables organizations to limit access to sensitive information and ensure that only authorized individuals can perform specific tasks.


For example, configuring access type permissions allow users to read specific business data without modifying it (read-only) while approved users can read and write data. The different permission levels ensure data stays clean and accurate, providing everyone with a single source of truth.


Admins or leadership can also set permissions for users to perform specific tasks (as we mentioned above). For example, Most systems, like Office 365, have an administrator role that enables them to change configurations or assign permissions to approved users.



5 Best Practices for Using User Permissions to Stop Spear Phishing

Below are five ways IT personnel or technical staff to utilize user permissions to prevent spear phishing:


  • Utilize the least privilege principle: The principle of least privilege grants users only the permissions needed to fulfill their roles. This ensures that even if an account is compromised, the attacker’s access is limited which helps to reduce potential damage.

  • Conduct regular permission audits: With new employees being hired and others leaving, it’s crucial to conduct periodic reviews of your user permissions. This will help to identify any inconsistencies or unnecessary access rights. Be sure to remove any excessive permissions from user accounts to minimize the attack surface and decrease the chances of spear phishing success.

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): Wherever possible, implement MFA. Requiring additional authentication, like a one-time password or biometric verification, will block cybercriminals from accessing accounts. Even if a phishing attack does occur, the attacker won’t be able to access information without completing the extra authentication.

  • Provide regular user education and awareness: Cybersecurity training (which includes spear phishing) should not be a one-and-done training. Users should regularly be educated on the latest spear phishing techniques and the importance of scrutinizing emails, attachments, and links before taking any action. Additionally, encourage users to report any suspicious emails to your IT team.

  • Utilize email filtering and anti-spam measures: Deploying robust email filtering systems help detect and block phishing emails which safeguard both personal and company data. These systems can thoroughly analyze email content, attachments, and links to identify potential threats and prevent them from reaching user inboxes.


spear phishing

Why Spear Phishing is So Dangerous

Cybercriminals are relentless—and smart. They carefully convince users they’re trustworthy, tricking them into granting access to private accounts or providing personal or financial information. As soon as they have access, cybercriminals steal and exploit this information which can result in serious consequences, including:


  • Data breaches: Data breaches can wreak havoc on your organization. Financial loss, reputational damage, operational downtime, potential legal action, and loss of sensitive data are just some of the dangers associated with data breaches. Properly configuring permissions minimizes the risk of unauthorized access to critical data and helps to decrease the chance of successful spear phishing attacks.

  • Loss of confidentiality: A confidentiality breach can result in a loss of trust and company integrity in the eyes of your customers and the public as a whole. It can also lead to costly legal action or potential termination of contracts. Effective user permission management ensures that confidential data is only accessible to those who genuinely need it, which helps maintain confidentiality. This also helps prevent spear phishing attacks from compromising sensitive information.

  • Damage to reputation: Falling victim to spear phishing attacks can severely damage your company’s reputation. Customers or partners may lose trust in your ability to safeguard their information which can result in loss of business. Implementing robust permission controls helps prevent data breaches and financial losses and helps preserve your reputation.

Stop Phishing Attacks Before they Occur

In an era where spear phishing attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, regularly educating your entire organization and utilizing proper user permissions can help decrease the chance of spear phishing. Equally (if not more) important is investing in software with built-in security tools that thwart phishing attempts before they occur. For example, Microsoft technologies feature MFA, granular user permissions, anti-phishing software, and more—all of which work together to thoroughly safeguard company data.


Learn more about how to build an impenetrable technology stack with Microsoft tools by contacting JourneyTEAM, a trusted Microsoft partner.


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