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  • 08 February 2024
  • 8 min read

What does the future of phishing attacks look like?

The continued rise of social engineering, exploiting cloud-based infrastructure, IoT devices and mobile apps expanding the threat surface and what the explosion of AI and Machine Learning means for the future of phishing.
Blog Banner What does the future of phishing attacks look like

As each year rolls by, phishing and malware attacks continue to be persistent challenges. However, with the monumental technological advancements we have seen recently, the tactics and strategies employed by cybercriminals when conducting these attacks are evolving.

In this article, we will delve into the future of phishing attacks, examining emerging trends and potential threats that organisations and individuals need to be aware of.

The continued rise of social engineering in phishing

Social engineering remains a formidable tactic employed by cybercriminals to infiltrate systems, compromise data, and exploit unsuspecting individuals. Manipulating human psychology rather than relying solely on technical vulnerabilities, cybercriminals craft meticulously designed emails, messages, or phone calls that appear authentic, often masquerading as trusted entities or individuals. Attackers leverage a variety of psychological techniques, such as urgency, fear, curiosity, or authority, to elicit desired responses from their targets. These tactics exploit human tendencies to trust and comply with perceived authority figures or urgent requests, making individuals more susceptible to manipulation.

  • Implications for organisations: The continued rise of social engineering in phishing underscores the critical importance of comprehensive employee training and awareness initiatives. Organisations must educate staff about the tell-tale signs of phishing attempts, including suspicious sender addresses, grammatical errors, or requests for sensitive information. By fostering a culture of vigilance and scepticism, organisations can empower employees to recognise and report phishing attempts, thereby mitigating the risk of data breaches and financial losses.
  • Emerging threats: Looking ahead, emerging trends in social engineering include the integration of AI and machine learning to automate and optimise phishing campaigns. Additionally, the proliferation of remote work and digital communication platforms presents new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit human vulnerabilities – and we will touch on these advancements shortly.

Exploiting cloud-based infrastructure: a new frontier for phishing

As organisations increasingly migrate their operations to cloud-based environments, cybercriminals are quick to capitalise on this shift by leveraging cloud infrastructure to orchestrate sophisticated phishing campaigns. Cloud platforms offer cybercriminals scalability, anonymity, and a wide array of tools and services, making them an attractive ecosystem for launching and managing phishing attacks.

Cloud-based infrastructure
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) Exploitation: IaaS providers offer a flexible and scalable infrastructure for hosting virtualised computing resources, storage, and networking. Cybercriminals exploit these capabilities to deploy phishing infrastructure rapidly and at scale. By renting virtual servers or instances from IaaS providers, attackers can evade traditional security controls and quickly adapt to defensive measures.
  • Phishing as a Service (PaaS): In addition to leveraging IaaS, cybercriminals are increasingly turning to Phishing as a Service (PaaS) offerings, which provide comprehensive phishing toolkits and platforms for orchestrating attacks. These PaaS solutions streamline the process of creating and distributing phishing campaigns, offering customisable templates, URL redirection services, and analytics dashboards to track campaign effectiveness.
  • Evading detection: Cloud-based phishing campaigns pose unique challenges for detection and mitigation. Traditional security measures, such as email filtering and endpoint protection, may struggle to identify phishing emails originating from legitimate cloud services. Attackers leverage reputable domains and SSL certificates to lend credibility to their phishing sites, making it difficult for users to discern between legitimate and malicious content.

How can you mitigate this?

To defend against phishing attacks leveraging cloud infrastructure, organisations must adopt a multi-layered approach to cyber security:

  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Implement CSPM solutions to monitor and enforce security best practices across cloud environments. CSPM tools can detect misconfigurations, unauthorised access, and suspicious activity, helping organisations maintain a secure cloud posture.
  • User awareness training: Educate employees about the risks associated with cloud-based phishing attacks and provide guidance on how to recognise and report suspicious emails or websites. Regular security awareness training can empower employees to remain vigilant and sceptical of unsolicited communications.
  • Email security gateways: Deploy advanced email security gateways capable of detecting and blocking phishing emails originating from cloud services. These gateways leverage machine learning algorithms and threat intelligence to identify malicious content and prevent it from reaching end-users.
  • Endpoint protection: Implement endpoint protection solutions equipped with cloud-based threat detection capabilities. These solutions can detect and block malicious activities initiated from compromised endpoints.

IOT and mobile application usage increasing amplifies phishing threat surface

As IoT devices become increasingly integrated into everyday life and mobile applications serve as indispensable tools for communication and productivity, cybercriminals are capitalising on these trends to launch more sophisticated and targeted phishing attacks.

IoT and mobile application security
  • Vulnerabilities in IoT devices: IoT devices, ranging from smart home appliances to industrial sensors, often lack robust security features, making them vulnerable to exploitation by cybercriminals. Weak or default passwords, unencrypted communications, unpatched software, and insecure firmware present opportunities for attackers to compromise these devices and use them as entry points into networked environments. Phishing attacks targeting IoT devices may involve malicious emails or messages masquerading as software updates or security alerts, tricking users into inadvertently granting access to their devices.
  • Mobile applications as phishing vectors: Apps have become an integral part of modern life, providing convenient access to a wide range of services and information. However, the prevalence of mobile apps also makes them attractive targets for phishing attacks. Cybercriminals may create counterfeit applications or inject malicious code into legitimate applications, deceiving users into divulging sensitive information or granting unauthorised access to their devices. Phishing attempts targeting mobile applications often exploit trust in familiar brands or services, prompting users to enter credentials or financial information under false pretences.
  • Personal and professional device crossover: The convergence of IoT devices and mobile applications amplifies the phishing threat surface not only for individuals but also for organisations. In the workplace, employees may use personal IoT devices or mobile applications to access corporate networks or sensitive data, inadvertently introducing security vulnerabilities. A successful phishing attack targeting an employee's IoT device or mobile application could compromise corporate credentials, intellectual property, or customer information, leading to financial losses, reputational damage, or regulatory penalties.

How can you mitigate this?

To mitigate the risks associated with phishing threats amplified by IoT and mobile application usage, organisations should adopt a proactive and multi-faceted approach to cyber security:

  • Device management policies: Establish comprehensive policies for managing IoT devices and mobile applications within the organisation, including guidelines for device registration, authentication, and software updates. Ensure that all devices and applications adhere to security best practices and undergo regular vulnerability assessments.
  • Network segmentation: Implement network segmentation strategies to isolate IoT devices and mobile endpoints from critical infrastructure and sensitive data. By segmenting the network, organisations can limit the potential impact of a phishing attack targeting IoT devices or mobile applications and prevent lateral movement within the network.
  • User education and awareness: Provide ongoing education and awareness training to employees about the risks associated with phishing attacks targeting IoT devices and mobile applications. Teach employees to recognise phishing indicators, such as suspicious URLs, unexpected requests for personal information, or unusual device behaviour, and encourage them to report any suspicious activity promptly.
  • Security monitoring: Deploy robust security controls, such as intrusion detection systems, endpoint protection solutions, and mobile device management platforms, to detect and respond to phishing threats targeting IoT devices and mobile applications. Implement continuous monitoring and logging to track device activity and identify potential security incidents in real-time.

The impact of AI, ML and deepfake technology on phishing

Vishing/Voice Phishing

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and deepfake technology are truly revolutionising the landscape of cyber security, both for defenders and attackers.

In the realm of phishing attacks, AI and ML techniques are being increasingly harnessed by cybercriminals to craft more sophisticated and targeted campaigns, posing significant challenges for detection and mitigation efforts.

  • Automating campaigns: One of the primary ways AI and ML impact phishing attacks is by automating various stages of the campaign lifecycle. Machine learning algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns and trends in user behaviour, enabling attackers to tailor their phishing messages for maximum effectiveness. AI-powered phishing tools can generate convincing emails, messages, or websites that mimic the branding and communication style of legitimate organisations, making it harder for users to discern the authenticity of the communication.
  • Personalised targeting: AI-driven phishing attacks often employ personalised targeting techniques to increase their chances of success. By leveraging data obtained from social media, public databases, or previous breaches, attackers can create highly targeted phishing campaigns tailored to individual preferences, interests, or vulnerabilities. This personalised approach enhances the credibility of the phishing attempt, making it more likely that the victim will fall for the deception.
  • Adaptive evasion: AI and ML also enable attackers to employ adaptive evasion techniques to evade detection by traditional security controls. Machine learning algorithms can dynamically adjust phishing payloads or obfuscate malicious code to bypass email filters, intrusion detection systems, and other security measures. By continuously evolving their tactics in response to defensive measures, AI-powered phishing attacks remain elusive and challenging to mitigate.
  • Can cast a wider phishing net: AI's advancements are poised to significantly bolster threat actors' capabilities in social engineering. The emergence of Generative AI (GenAI) enables the creation of convincing interactions with victims, including the production of lure documents free from translation errors or grammatical mistakes commonly associated with phishing attempts. As AI models continue to evolve and gain wider adoption, this trend is expected to intensify over the next two years.
  • Points towards lucrative targets: AI's rapid data summarisation capabilities are likely to empower threat actors in identifying high-value assets swiftly for scrutiny and exfiltration, thereby amplifying the value and impact of cyber-attacks in the near future.
  • Nation-state backed AI phishing a big worry: AI is poised to streamline malware and exploit development, bolster vulnerability research, and enhance lateral movement by optimising existing techniques. While AI holds promise in generating malware capable of circumventing current security filters, this hinges on the quality of exploit data used for its training. Notably, well-resourced states may possess extensive repositories of malware sufficient to effectively train AI models for this purpose.
Deepfake impersonation
  • Advanced deepfake manipulation: Deepfake technology employs advanced manipulation techniques to superimpose the facial expressions, gestures, and voice of one individual onto another. Cybercriminals can create convincing audio or video recordings of high-profile executives, colleagues, or trusted contacts within an organisation, effectively impersonating them in spear phishing communications. These deepfake impersonations are often indistinguishable from genuine interactions, making them highly effective at bypassing traditional security controls and eliciting trust from targets.
  • Targeted deepfakes: Deepfake-powered spear phishing attempts are often highly targeted, focusing on specific individuals within an organisation who possess access to valuable assets or sensitive information. Attackers conduct thorough reconnaissance to gather information about their targets, including their roles, responsibilities, communication preferences, and personal relationships. This targeted approach increases the likelihood of success by tailoring the phishing attempt to the unique characteristics and vulnerabilities of each individual target.

How can you mitigate this?

To mitigate the risks posed by deepfake-powered spear phishing attacks, organisations must adopt a multi-layered approach to cyber security:

  • Employee awareness training: Educate employees about the existence and potential risks of deepfake technology, emphasising the importance of verifying the authenticity of communication channels and exercising caution when interacting with unfamiliar or unexpected requests.
  • MFA or 2FA: Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms to add an extra layer of security to sensitive systems and applications. MFA helps mitigate the risk of unauthorised access resulting from successful spear phishing attacks by requiring additional verification beyond passwords or credentials.
  • Identity verification/Zero Trust infrastructure: Establish robust identity verification procedures for sensitive transactions or requests, particularly those involving financial transactions or access to privileged information. Require individuals to verify their identity through multiple channels or authentication methods to prevent impersonation or unauthorised access.
  • Advanced threat detection: Deploy advanced threat detection solutions capable of identifying and mitigating deepfake-powered spear phishing attempts in real-time. Leverage AI-powered anomaly detection algorithms, behavioural analysis techniques, and email filtering solutions to detect suspicious communications and alert security teams to potential threats.


As an organisation dedicated to providing cutting-edge cyber security training and awareness materials, we recognise the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats and the critical importance of staying ahead of the curve.

From the continued rise of social engineering tactics to the exploitation of cloud-based infrastructure and the proliferation of deepfake technology, the challenges facing organisations are more complex and multifaceted than ever before.

However, amidst these challenges lies opportunity – an opportunity for organisations to strengthen their cyber defences, empower their employees, and foster a culture of security awareness. By investing in comprehensive cyber security training and awareness initiatives, organisations can arm their staff with the knowledge, skills, and vigilance necessary to identify and thwart phishing attempts, mitigate the risks of malware infections, and protect sensitive data from compromise.

At TSC, we are committed to equipping organisations with the tools and resources they need to navigate the evolving cyber threat landscape effectively. From interactive e-learning modules and engaging digital games to expert-led training sessions and ongoing executive support, we provide tailored solutions to address the unique needs and challenges of each organisation.

Written by
Nas Ali
Cyber security and awareness content creator focused on emerging threats and the next wave of cyber security risks like AI, deepfakes and tech 4.0 initiatives in order to build towards a more secure organisational culture.
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