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Hacking vs. Phishing: What's the Difference?

Chad Minkel
3 min read
Mar 27, 2023 10:58:00 AM
This post covers:Managed IT

Updated January 15, 2024

In today's technological landscape, where almost everything is connected to the internet, cybersecurity has become a significant concern. Two terms that often come up in discussions about cybersecurity are hacking and phishing. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they refer to different activities. We’ll shed some light on the difference between hacking and phishing, two of the most common cyber threats.

What is Hacking?

Hacking is the act of illicitly gaining information that is not authorized. By gaining access to an account or network, a hacker can use it for personal gains. Hackers can target various systems, including computers, networks, websites, and even individual user accounts.

Hackers fall into three categories.

  • Black hat. Black hat hackers gain access to systems to steal money or achieve other criminal goals. These are the bad actors.
  • Gray hat. Gray hat hackers live in the gray zone of legality. They also gain unauthorized access to systems, but don’t steal money or data. They will hack to test their own abilities or assess a company’s security strength.
  • White hat. White hat hackers are penetration testers. They will use the same techniques but only hack when they have permission to do so. Companies can hire white hat hackers to assess their security and help their IT strategy.

Hacking methods can range from simple password guessing to sophisticated techniques like SQL injection. Regardless of the method used, the primary goal of hacking is usually to gain unauthorized access or control over a system or network.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is pretending to be a trustworthy source to steal sensitive information such as a username, password, social security number, or credit card number. Phishing is typically done using email or the cloning of a legitimate website to cast a wide net and then narrow-in on susceptible victims.

Three common types of phishing:

  • Spear phishing. This is a personalized attack with a customized email that appears credible. An example would be an email that appears to be from your HR department that asks to confirm your social security number for tax withholdings.

    With this type of attack, the cybercriminal will first target top executives at a company and use their credentials to facilitate wire transfers or business attacks. It’s also known as CEO fraud.

  • Angler phishing. Angler phishing is a newer type of attack involving social media. Attackers entice the target to interact with a fake page to capture the victim’s personal information.

Differentiating Hacking vs Phishing

Hacking and phishing are related in that they are both ways of obtaining information, but they differ in how they do it. A phish, which ultimately can become a hack, occurs when a user is baited with an email, phone call, or text and the user is tricked into providing personal information. Phishing attacks are often spoofs of trusted sources or brands. While the victim has been tricked into providing the information, they technically have done so voluntarily.

With hacking, information is accessed involuntarily. The cybercriminal takes over a computer system through brute force or more sophisticated methods to access sensitive data.

Another key difference is the target of these attacks. While hacking often targets systems or networks, phishing primarily targets individuals. However, it's worth noting that these two methods can be used together. For instance, a hacker could use a phishing attack to obtain an individual's login credentials and then use these to hack into a system or network.

Safeguarding Against Cyber Threats

Understanding the nuances between hacking and phishing is just the first step in protecting yourself against these cyber threats. It's also important to take proactive measures to enhance your cybersecurity.

  • Ensure systems and software are updated with security patches.
  • Employ robust, unique passwords, along with password managers and multifactor authentication.
  • Exercise caution regarding unsolicited communications, avoiding clicking on suspicious links or providing sensitive information.

Employing a proactive defense strategy is vital, with employee education playing a pivotal role. Even with robust security, educating employees on phishing threats and cybersecurity awareness is crucial to safeguarding networks, data, and reputation. Locknet Managed IT offers complete IT and cybersecurity support for your business, including an array of solutions to mitigate vulnerabilities:

  • Security Education and Awareness Training
  • Password Manager
  • Total Email Protection
  • Multifactor Authentication
  • Security Assessment
  • Penetration Testing

Assess Your Cybersecurity Risk

While both hacking and phishing pose significant threats in our increasingly digital world, they are different in terms of their approach, execution, and target. By understanding these differences and taking appropriate security measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these cyber-attacks.

A security risk assessment from Locknet Managed IT is a great place to start reducing your risk. Our team will take a comprehensive and thorough approach to assessing your current risk.

The seven key steps of our cybersecurity risk assessment:

  • Explore your current policies and strategies to understand your current security posture.
  • Take inventory of your existing tools.
  • Assess how your organization operates daily.
  • Analyze data to determine potential external and internal threats.
  • Expose weaknesses and vulnerabilities you may not have known about.
  • Develop a playbook of strategies and recommendations to mitigate risk.
  • Create a roadmap that includes budget considerations.

Contact us to get started on a security assessment of your organization.

In the meantime, it’s important to stay informed and stay vigilant. We can help you stay updated on the latest cybersecurity trends and threats so you can better protect your business. Subscribe to our blog or connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn.




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