Whaling Attacks: Tactics, Consequences, and Prevention

Whaling Attacks: Tactics, Consequences, and Prevention

Cyber-attacker employs a whaling attack to target the C-suite and higher management to access sensitive and confidential information resulting in a high pay-off. These attacks occur via phone calls, emails, social media, or website spoofing.

Whaling attacks consist of personal information- company logo or email addresses that communicate a sense of urgency. It reflects business language, personal nuances, and solid company culture. Therefore, to avoid the executives becoming the next prominent victim, here are the tactics, consequences, and preventive measures for whaling attacks.

The Changing Tactics of Whaling Attacks

Whaling emails were easier to detect initially. However, adopting business terminologies, personal reference, and industry knowledge have made these attacks sophisticated. A solid target content integrates several other approaches which the executives must understand. Here are a few tactics that attackers have employed.

  • Social Media

Social networking is a common way of building business contacts, hosting discussions, and recruiting employees. At the same time, hackers eye on personal and professional accounts to research and develop connections with senior executives. These accounts have sufficient information to initiate whaling attacks, and victims are not vigilant to attack in a social forum.

  • Emails from Colleagues

A spoofed email is when an employee’s email address is compromised to convince other employees that they received an original request from a colleague. This tactic is effective when the email address refers to a senior executive spoofed to request an urgent action, for example, a compulsory payment to a junior employee.

  • Cyber-attackers Masquerading as a Reliable Partner

With the increasing supply chain attacks, whaling attacks leverage the accessible information on suppliers and partners to build a credible whaling email. Businesses must understand that when they advertise partners, they are likely to receive mail from threat actors masquerading as those reliable partners.

  • Phone Calls

Cyber-attackers usually send whaling emails and confirm the email request via phone. It is a social engineering approach which is called cyber-enabled fraud. The phone call approves the email request and makes the victim unsure of a potential cyber-attack since they had a real-world interaction.


Whaling emails encourage the victims to take secondary action – requiring them to access a malware-delivering link, transfer funds into an anonymous account, or request details about the businesses or individuals to conduct attacks. Here are a few consequences of whaling attacks on organizations.

  • Financial Loss

The goal of an attack is to procure finances from the victim. As per a recent report by Proofpoint, “2023 State of the Phish“, financial losses due to phishing attacks increased by 76% while 30% of businesses endured a monetary loss such as wire transfer, payroll redirection, or fraudulent invoice in 2022.

  • Data Loss

Downloading an attachment in an email could result in malware infection in corporate networks. It results in data breaches like customer data loss or intellectual property theft.

  • Reputational Damage

Financial or data loss due to whaling attacks is embarrassing to an individual and the organization. As per a recent report by Proofpoint, “2023 State of the Phish“, in 2022, 18% of businesses faced reputational damage.

Prevention of Whaling Attacks

  • Assess Urgent Emails or Texts Received from Executives

Whaling emails are generally social engineering attacks designed to constrain victims into acting rapidly without thinking. One of the best defenses against whaling is to slow down and assess the entire mail/text.

Employees must check the sender’s contact information when they receive a suspicious email, message, or phone call. They must ensure that the person uses the same company address that matches the addresses in the mail. Moreover, when in doubt, another executive or manager can easily verify the request.

  • Deploy Two-factor Authentication (2FA)

Whaling attackers attempt to steal employee login credentials and target other people in a company. 2FA prevents attackers from accessing the accounts even when they have obtained all the information.

2FA requires users to enter their password and an additional identification- a one-time security code before accessing their accounts.

  • Utilize Security Password Manger to Store Passwords

Once attackers procure the login details for one account, they attempt to hack other accounts. It becomes easier for them when a user has the same username and password combinations for all the accounts. A password manager automatically creates unique passwords for each account and securely stores them to prevent hacks and breaches of the data.

More importantly, password managers autofill the password for reliable sites restricting the users from accidentally avoiding entering the information into a fake login page.

  • Use Secure Browsing Tools and Antivirus

One of the primary phishing prevention tips is to leverage the proactive tools that restrict access to fake websites and malware. Whaling and Business Email Compromise (BEC) types involve links or attachments that install malware when clicked. Robust antivirus software protects the device from infections. Secure browsing tools help businesses keep them away from accidentally entering phishing websites.

Also Read: How Enterprises Can Maximize Security with Cyber Deception Technology

  • Educate the Team

Businesses must conduct training sessions to educate the team about whaling attacks. Employees must take advantage of and participate in cybersecurity training sessions. At the same time, it is essential to inform employees about the latest phishing tactics that cyber-attackers utilize by asking them to subscribe to cybersecurity newsletters and blogs.

Businesses must encourage employees to utilize online resources that will help them to learn more about phishing emails and their prevention techniques.


Cyber-attackers use sophisticated tactics to target employees and C-suites. Businesses must understand that with whaling attacks, threat actors exploit trust structures to reassure the victim. Only making the employee aware of such attacks is insufficient since attacks are well-designed to bypass detection.

Conducting employee and executive training on phishing tactics must be integrated via technical and user-based defense approaches. While organizations ensure robust specialized defense training, they must also understand that a successful whaling attack is a possibility and must station checks and processes to mitigate the damage.

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