Top Phishing Incidents Of All Time

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Phishing can be described as a cyber attack that utilizes misleading emails and websites to obtain sensitive user details, such as credit card numbers, passwords, and other confidential data.

While it can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes, phishing is most commonly used to steal identities or financial information. In recent years, the cybersecurity industry has seen an increase in phishing attacks, with some particularly notable incidents affecting high-profile organizations and individuals.

What is phishing?

Awareness of how cyber criminals can access your personal information is essential. Social engineering relies heavily on human error, while pressure tactics work well too.

Phishing attacks are fraudulent emails, text messages, or phone calls designed to manipulate people into downloading malware that may expose themselves and their organizations’ cyber attacks by leading them straight toward identity theft, credit card fraud, ransomware attack, etc.

Phishing attack examples

The IBM report says that phishing emails are hackers’ most popular attack method to deliver ransomware. This means you should be on guard for suspicious emails asking for personal information like passwords or usernames, which could lead to another malware infection.

Bulk phishing emails

Email is the most popular way to communicate today. A scammer will use this fact, along with their creativity and knowledge of human nature, considering we’re all susceptible at some point or another, for them to make an impact on us.

The goal behind bulk phishing email scams and attacks is usually twofold. Firstly, they want you to open it, and once there’s curiosity sparked by subject lines like “New delivery arrived” (or whatever else might grab your interest).

Then comes fear/helplessness when people realize how much information about themselves could potentially be revealed without permission.

To defend against this scam, you should realize that no company of any size would email asking for customers’ personal/sensitive information.

Secondly, to protect yourself from clicking on links in emails, find the actual website for your favorite companies online and enter their site manually.

This way, the spammy URL won’t get a chance to steal your info by simply redirecting you to their site that’s made to look like the real one.

Finally, if you need clarification as to whether an email is from your bank or insurance company, wait to open it and call them directly. If their number came up on caller ID, then chances are it’s legit.

Spear phishing emails

Spear Phishing schemes are a unique way to target someone with special access and authority. It can also be other high-value individuals like bosses.

They might use social media websites where people share personal congratulations messages on successful work accomplishments and discuss plans over drinks at happy hour later at night.

These hackers study their targets, looking for information that will help them impersonate the person or organization they’re trying so desperately hack into.

The spear phisher knows precisely how to make their target feel anxious, especially when requests for specific personal details or financial information come with an authoritative tone of voice.

Business email compromise

Phishing emails are designed to get you into someone else’s account using your information.

For example, a spear-phisher message might ask for credentials lost during an outage but provide links on how they can be stolen instead with a few easy steps.

With the help of this tricked-out spamming technique, there is little we can’t do from afar because all our targets need now is their email address which will enable them access right away once logged in as usual, or maybe even better than ever before.

Business email compromise, or BEC for short, can be a dangerous phishing scam that tricks company employees into sending large sums of money or valuable assets to an attacker.

The emails appear to come from high-ranking business members or associates with access, such as attorneys and critical partners. Spear Phishers aren’t alone either; hackers also use malware/exploit system vulnerabilities to get the information needed to execute BEC.

By trying to gain access to the recipient’s account data or even just impersonating them, hackers can cause priceless losses.

SMS phishing

With mobile phone technology moving at the speed of light, we must stay ahead in this evolving industry. One way you can do that is by being mindful of how your finished products are marketed. Remember to use innovative tactics like smishing.

The most effective way to avoid being tricked by SMS phishing messages is by paying close attention and only downloading applications from official sources.

Voice phishing

Voice phishing is when a scammer calls and pretends to be from your favorite company or local number, often using caller ID spoofing.

They may say there’s been some trouble with card processing machines, which sounds scary enough as it can quickly put people at risk for identity theft. You’ll want these guys caught before they ruin any chances you might have had regarding today’s big exam, so make sure everything works out okay.

While you may have received a call from a legitimate company or local number, it’s essential to know that these people are not who they say they are. The caller ID is often masked by spoofing techniques, which allow the scammer to hide their factual information and make calls appear as though they are coming from your local area.

This is how scammers gain access to personal data and can put you at risk for identity theft, so you must understand the dangers of these types of calls and know how to avoid them.

Social media phishing

Social media phishing is a scam that takes advantage of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

The scammers use their messaging capabilities in the same ways they would email or text message someone, for instance, by sending you an unsolicited DM (Facebook) request asking if your account has been compromised when it hasn’t, this can be costly.

Scam messages also sometimes come through on legitimate, looking forums/listservs where people discuss related topics, likely leading victims into thinking there might have been some compromise due to a lack of precautions before handing out their personal information.

If a person responds to the scammer’s request with information that can be used in identity theft schemes or other scams, they put themselves at greater risk of fraud and even possible scams perpetrated through someone else’s compromised account. The best way to prevent a phishing scam is to be aware of the signs and stay vigilant on social media sites and other online forums.

In-app messaging

Some people might be fooled by scam emails that appear to come from popular smartphone apps and web-based (malicious software as a service) applications.

Scammers will typically send these types of messages with the hope they can get more information out than if it were just one person trying to phish for passwords or personal details, like payment methods used in transactions on various sites where customers have stored their data, such as PayPal accounts.

Biggest phishing scams incidents of all times

Here is a list of the biggest phishing frauds ever reported.


FACC is a company that manufactures aerospace parts in Austria. In January 2016, one of their employees received an email asking €42 million to be wired from a different account as a portion of the payment on some acquisition project. Still, it wasn’t until later that they found out what happened.

The message seemed suspicious because Walter Stephan (CEO) didn’t usually send emails like this; instead, he would phone or heads down into a personal meeting with you face-to-face. So what took place?

Crelan Bank

In a matter of weeks, two major Belgian banks fell victim to men with seemingly nothing but skillful intentions. First was FACC, who successfully tricked the CEO’s email account and requested that he transfer funds to an unknown destination; this resulted in damages worth €75 million (although we may never know precisely what those remediation costs were).

Then Crelan Bank got hoodwinked by someone using similar tactics. Now, their target wasn’t some high-ranking official or board member but one employee sent out on behalf of the entire organization.

Sony Pictures

The Guardians of Peace are an unknown hacking group that leaked 100TB of data from Sony Pictures in 2014. They manipulated top executives like the CEO with phishing emails, requesting they deliver ID verification addresses and capturing their login credentials when redirected to a fake site which contained information about employees at the company as well personal correspondence such film release dates for upcoming films starring George Clooney or Julia Roberts, among many others.

Facebook and Google

The world’s largest tech companies were tricked out of $100 million after falling prey to phony invoice fraud. A Lithuanian man detected that Facebook and Google use Quanta Computer as their infrastructure supplier in Taiwan.

So he sent them fraudulent multi-million-dollar invoices copying this company over two years with contracts that looked authentic enough for agents at these big companies to sign off on them. In December 2019, though, it all came crashing when everyone discovered what had happened, eventually leading up to his arrest & extradition from Lithuania.

Colonial Pipeline

The Colonial Pipeline, a company transporting about 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit by hackers and shut down. The attack used phishing tactics to install ransomware onto their systems, asking for $5 million in ransom money or else would delete critical files from disk drives across its network if they refused consent.

It was discovered that hackers used a variant of the malware called SamSam. Although the computers were taken offline to ensure safety, this action only caused problems such as complicating travel plans for basketball games and concerts sponsored by Colonial Pipeline. The attack has also forced many employees to work from home due to a lack of office space or an attempt to shut down their systems completely.

Upsher-Smith Laboratories

In 2014, a BEC attack against the drug company Upsher-Smith Laboratories in Minnesota resulted in over $39 million lost by them. The phisher impersonated their CEO and sent emails advising what payments should be made from certain wire transfers or followed instructions from “lawyers” working with them.

Luckily these were only completed halfway through when it became clear something needed to be corrected. This saved them huge sums because they still needed to recall one such transaction at about cost price and were left with about $4.8 million lost.


In 2015, Ubiquiti Networks, a computer networking company based in the US, was the victim of an attack that cost them around $46 million. The attacker impersonated their CEO and lawyer, instructing them on what steps needed to be taken place for this scheme to go off without notice until it was too late.

They detected fraud after being alerted by law enforcement, who discovered potential theft at one of its overseas bank accounts, Hong Kong specifically, where most transfers originated from while draining funds away over 17 days straight. It was in the fall of 2017 when all finally came together, but unfortunately, only after numerous mistakes were made.

Ukrainian power grid

Ukraine was victim to an unscheduled power outage on December 23, 2015. The cause was malware-laden Microsoft Office documents that carried spear phishing emails leading to Ukraine’s grid being sabotaged by Black-Energy 2 exploit kits which led researchers there to believe this event wasn’t isolated but rather just a test run for something bigger still yet unknown until now.

The Nordea Bank

Hackers may have been to blame for the 2007 Nordea Bank heist, in which they tricked customers into installing a keylogger on their computers and then stole login credentials. However, we need to find out who was behind it all, the bank or the hackers. Many people needed to have installed an antivirus program that would’ve detected such malware before the infection occurred.

Amazon Locky

The 2017 Amazon Phishing Attack Was One Of The Biggest By sheer Scale.

Amazon customers were targeted in a massive phishing attack. The attack sent out from 30 million to 100M fake emails and served as a way for hackers to install ransomware onto users’ computers; it remains one if not the biggest email scam done so far because these scammers manipulated their header, making them appear genuine while being completely Fishing expeditions headed by Microsoft Word files.


That’s our roundup of the famous phishing attacks in the cyber security industry. We hope you found this information helpful and informative. Check our website regularly for updates on the latest threats and how to protect your business from them. In the meantime, stay safe online.

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