Spearphishing Link

Spearphishing with a link is a specific variant of spearphishing. It is different from other forms of spearphishing in that it employs the use of links to download malware contained in email, instead of attaching malicious files to the email itself, to avoid defenses that may inspect email attachments.

All forms of spearphishing are electronically delivered social engineering targeted at a specific individual, company, or industry. In this case, the malicious emails contain links. Generally, the links will be accompanied by social engineering text and require the user to actively click or copy and paste a URL into a browser, leveraging User Execution. The visited website may compromise the web browser using an exploit, or the user will be prompted to download applications, documents, zip files, or even executables depending on the pretext for the email in the first place. Adversaries may also include links that are intended to interact directly with an email reader, including embedded images intended to exploit the end system directly or verify the receipt of an email (i.e. web bugs/web beacons).

ID: T1192

Tactic: Initial Access

Platform:  Windows, macOS, Linux

Data Sources:  Packet capture, Web proxy, Email gateway, Detonation chamber, SSL/TLS inspection, DNS records, Mail server


Version: 1.0



APT28 sent spearphishing emails which used a URL-shortener service to masquerade as a legitimate service and to redirect targets to credential harvesting sites.[1]


APT29 has used spearphishing with a link to trick victims into clicking on a link to a zip file containing malicious files.[2]


APT33 sent spear phishing emails containing links to .hta files.[3]

Cobalt Group

Cobalt Group has sent emails with URLs pointing to malicious documents.[4]

Dragonfly 2.0

Dragonfly 2.0 used spearphishing with PDF attachments containing malicious links that redirected to credential harvesting websites.[5]


Elderwood has delivered zero-day exploits and malware to victims via targeted emails containing a link to malicious content hosted on an uncommon Web server.[6][7]


FIN8 has distributed targeted emails containing links to malicious documents with embedded macros.[8]


Leviathan has sent spearphishing emails with links, often using a fraudulent lookalike domain and stolen branding.[9]

Magic Hound

Magic Hound sent shortened URL links over email to victims. The URLs linked to Word documents with malicious macros that execute PowerShells scripts to download Pupy.[10]


OilRig has sent spearphising emails with malicious links to potential victims.[11]


Patchwork has used spearphishing with links to deliver files with exploits to initial victims. The group has used embedded image tags (known as web bugs) with unique, per-recipient tracking links in their emails for the purpose of identifying which recipients opened messages.[12][13][14]


Turla attempted to trick targets into clicking on a link featuring a seemingly legitimate domain from Adobe.com to download their malware and gain initial access.[15]


Because this technique involves user interaction on the endpoint, it's difficult to fully mitigate. However, there are potential mitigations. Users can be trained to identify social engineering techniques and spearphishing emails with malicious links. Other mitigations can take place as User Execution occurs.


URL inspection within email (including expanding shortened links) can help detect links leading to known malicious sites. Detonation chambers can be used to detect these links and either automatically go to these sites to determine if they're potentially malicious, or wait and capture the content if a user visits the link.

Because this technique usually involves user interaction on the endpoint, many of the possible detections for Spearphishing Link take place once User Execution occurs.