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Pharming vs Phishing (3 Key Differences to Understand)

Max Pierce - FEBRUARY 23, 2022

Pharming vs phishing graphic. Shows users in a line, 1 user becomes infected which allows attackers to infect more users

You have probably heard of phishing before, a commonplace type of cyber-attack where attackers manipulate unsuspecting victims to get personal information (or install malware or do a host of other nasty things). But you probably aren’t familiar with pharming.

Pharming is a type of cyber-attack where criminals redirect internet traffic to spoofed websites using infected DNS servers. These spoofed websites are designed to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims. They are typically very convincing, especially for people who are less cyber-aware.

Paypal phishing site

One of the most common tell-tale signs of a spoofed website is the URL. Always double check the URL of any site you visit to ensure it matches up with that companies actual URL.

These spoofed sites then capture the victims personally identifiable information (commonly known as PII). The most lucrative PII for these attackers are things like your login credentials, social security numbers, account numbers, etc.

Insider Insight: Spoofed websites are often targeted towards the financial sector. Think things like banks, online banking platforms, e-commerce sites, etc. If the website requests personal information, especially banking information or your SNN you should be very cautious of the source.

Pharming vs phishing, what's the difference

Phishing is a type of social engineering attacks where cyber-criminals attempt to fraudulently acquire revealing personal sensitive information. These criminals use a method called “spoofing” where they attempt to impersonate:

  1. Authority figures
  2. Legitimate businesses
  3. Websites

The method of communicating with the victim differs from attack to attack, the most common are by email, text or phone call.

Insider Insight: These criminals have become increasingly more sophisticated. Spoofed messages can be difficult to identify, especially for those who are less familiar with technology. That is why these attacks usually are targeted towards older generations.

There is one huge caveat though, the more sophisticated attackers targeting businesses are capable of tricking pretty much anyone. Not all cyber-attacks are the same, most are easy to spot, some are nearly impossible.

Phishing is by far the most effective method cyber attackers have identified to get access to business systems and infrastructure. Roughly 90% of all successful breaches involve phishing in some capacity.

Important: If you are a business owner, business manager, or executive you absolutely need to invest in cybersecurity training. In 2022, your business will likely face an attempted cyber-attack, your team needs to be prepared to identify it and stop it. If a breach occurs, on average, it will cost around $220,000 just to pay the ransom. That’s not including all of the other secondary costs, like legal fees, insurance costs, and sales lost as a result of reputation damage.

Cybersecurity basics graph showing average cost of ransomware payments increasing since 2019

So what is pharming and how can I avoid it?

A pharming attack allows cyber-criminals to direct internet traffic on a victim’s device without their knowledge. This type of attack is carried out by manipulating the DNS cache on your computer, server, or network. Essentially what happens on the victim’s end is business as usual, you type a URL into your address bar and are taken to the site.

In the background that URL is being redirected to a spoofed pharming site. You enter your personal information, they steal it.

This is type of attack is typically executed by installing some type of malware on your device/network. To install that malware, criminals may utilize phishing tactics like those mentioned above.

Insider Insight: One of the reasons pharming attacks can be so threatening is because you individually can make no mistake and still have your information stolen. That’s why it is so vital that your organization has unilateral cybersecurity controls in place. If one person is the victim of a phishing attack, which then allows the attackers to download malware, which then infects the DNS of your network, the end result is your entire organization is still exposed. Everyone must be on board and follow best practices.

If an attacker gets access to an entire business network, they can cause significant widespread damage by redirecting traffic from entire networks to pharming sites, collecting hundreds to thousands of personal records. This potential monetary impact of an attack like this would be hard to describe, potentially costing the business millions of dollars.

The people-first approach to protecting your business

By approaching cybersecurity with a people-first approach you can minimize your risk drastically. 90% of successful breaches occur as a result of human error, if you take the time to educate your team, you can reduce your risk of a breach SIGNIFICANTLY.

Here is the critical 11 step process you must train your employees on for good cyber hygiene:

  1. Avoid unknown emails, links, and pop-ups (especially one’s that request crucial business or personal info)
  2. Don’t plug in any unverified devices into your computer, tablet, phone, etc.
  3. Protect your cell phone. Each employee likely has access to a huge amount of sensitive data on their personal devices, these need to be protected.
  4. Always use strong, unique passwords.
  5. Understand that cybercriminals will intentionally attempt to manipulate you and your team. They will capitalize on any opportunity presented so be sure to double verify everything. If something seems fishy, it probably is.
  6. Verify software is legitimate before you download it.
  7. Use reputable antivirus software for all your devices. If you are a Windows user, the default installed Windows Defender is a solid pick.
  8. Backup critical data.
  9. Be wary of emails & texts from executives, CEOs, or higher-ups. Often, would-be cyber attackers will attempt to impersonate an executive to manipulate employees to buy gift cards, give sensitive data, etc. ALWAYS verify the legitimacy of these emails and look for tell-tale signs of a spoofed email.
  10. Uses multi-factor authentication
  11. Adopt a zero-trust mentality. This means that you always verify the legitimacy of anything and everything before you commit to any action.

Quick Tip: Securing your business is a necessity in 2022 but not every business needs a complex cybersecurity solution. Training your employees is one of the easiest to execute and most critical components of any cybersecurity plan. Have your employees follow this framework and we guarantee your organization will be more secure as a result.

Pharming vs phishing summed up

Although they have similar names, pharming vs phishing are very different. Both ultimately serve the same purpose for cyber-criminals, a way to make money by manipulating from innocent people.

Pharming is a method of infecting DNS records to redirect traffic to spoofed websites to steal personal information.

Phishing is a social engineering attack designed to manipulate victims to take some action. Typically, the end goal is identity theft.

It is important to pay close attention to everything you receive online, especially if that thing is asking for personal information in some way. Pay special attention to requests from superiors, requests from banking institutions, and any message offering you money.

Need help with cybersecurity training? We can help!

Max Pierce profile picture. Man sitting in chair with hand in fist on chin.


Marketing Manager @ Techfive | Working to make B2B brands more personable & human.

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