Phishing for Information: Spearphishing Link

Adversaries may send spearphishing messages with a malicious link to elicit sensitive information that can be used during targeting. Spearphishing for information is an attempt to trick targets into divulging information, frequently credentials or other actionable information. Spearphishing for information frequently involves social engineering techniques, such as posing as a source with a reason to collect information (ex: Establish Accounts or Compromise Accounts) and/or sending multiple, seemingly urgent messages.

All forms of spearphishing are electronically delivered social engineering targeted at a specific individual, company, or industry. In this scenario, the malicious emails contain links generally accompanied by social engineering text to coax the user to actively click or copy and paste a URL into a browser.[1][2] The given website may be a clone of a legitimate site (such as an online or corporate login portal) or may closely resemble a legitimate site in appearance and have a URL containing elements from the real site. URLs may also be obfuscated by taking advantage of quirks in the URL schema, such as the acceptance of integer- or hexadecimal-based hostname formats and the automatic discarding of text before an "@" symbol: for example, hxxp://[3]

Adversaries may also embed "tracking pixels", "web bugs", or "web beacons" within phishing messages to verify the receipt of an email, while also potentially profiling and tracking victim information such as IP address.[4] [5] These mechanisms often appear as small images (typically one pixel in size) or otherwise obfuscated objects and are typically delivered as HTML code containing a link to a remote server. [5][6]

Adversaries may also be able to spoof a complete website using what is known as a "browser-in-the-browser" (BitB) attack. By generating a fake browser popup window with an HTML-based address bar that appears to contain a legitimate URL (such as an authentication portal), they may be able to prompt users to enter their credentials while bypassing typical URL verification methods.[7][8]

Adversaries can use phishing kits such as EvilProxy and Evilginx2 to perform adversary-in-the-middle phishing by proxying the connection between the victim and the legitimate website. On a successful login, the victim is redirected to the legitimate website, while the adversary captures their session cookie (i.e., Steal Web Session Cookie) in addition to their username and password. This may enable the adversary to then bypass MFA via Web Session Cookie.[9]

Adversaries may also send a malicious link in the form of Quick Response (QR) Codes (also known as "quishing"). These links may direct a victim to a credential phishing page.[10] By using a QR code, the URL may not be exposed in the email and may thus go undetected by most automated email security scans.[11] These QR codes may be scanned by or delivered directly to a user’s mobile device (i.e., Phishing), which may be less secure in several relevant ways.[11] For example, mobile users may not be able to notice minor differences between genuine and credential harvesting websites due to mobile’s smaller form factor.

From the fake website, information is gathered in web forms and sent to the adversary. Adversaries may also use information from previous reconnaissance efforts (ex: Search Open Websites/Domains or Search Victim-Owned Websites) to craft persuasive and believable lures.

ID: T1598.003
Sub-technique of:  T1598
Tactic: Reconnaissance
Platforms: PRE
Contributors: Austin Herrin; Elpidoforos Maragkos, @emaragkos; Joas Antonio dos Santos, @C0d3Cr4zy; Menachem Goldstein; Obsidian Security; Philip Winther; Robert Simmons, @MalwareUtkonos; Sam Seabrook, Duke Energy; Sebastian Salla, McAfee
Version: 1.6
Created: 02 October 2020
Last Modified: 19 April 2024

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0677 AADInternals

AADInternals can send phishing emails containing malicious links designed to collect users’ credentials.[12]

G0007 APT28

APT28 has conducted credential phishing campaigns with embedded links to attacker-controlled domains.[13]

G0050 APT32

APT32 has used malicious links to direct users to web pages designed to harvest credentials.[14]

G0035 Dragonfly

Dragonfly has used spearphishing with PDF attachments containing malicious links that redirected to credential harvesting websites.[15]

G0094 Kimsuky

Kimsuky has used links in e-mail to steal account information.[16][17][18]

G0059 Magic Hound

Magic Hound has used SMS and email messages with links designed to steal credentials or track victims.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

G0129 Mustang Panda

Mustang Panda has delivered web bugs to profile their intended targets.[25]

G0040 Patchwork

Patchwork 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.[26]

G0034 Sandworm Team

Sandworm Team has crafted spearphishing emails with hyperlinks designed to trick unwitting recipients into revealing their account credentials.[27]

G0121 Sidewinder

Sidewinder has sent e-mails with malicious links to credential harvesting websites.[28]

G0122 Silent Librarian

Silent Librarian has used links in e-mails to direct victims to credential harvesting websites designed to appear like the targeted organization's login page.[29][30][31][32][33][34]


SMOKEDHAM has been delivered via malicious links in phishing emails.[35]


ZIRCONIUM has used web beacons in e-mails to track hits to attacker-controlled URL's.[36]


ID Mitigation Description
M1054 Software Configuration

Use anti-spoofing and email authentication mechanisms to filter messages based on validity checks of the sender domain (using SPF) and integrity of messages (using DKIM). Enabling these mechanisms within an organization (through policies such as DMARC) may enable recipients (intra-org and cross domain) to perform similar message filtering and validation.[37][38]

Furthermore, policies may enforce / install browser extensions that protect against IDN and homograph attacks. Browser password managers may also be configured to only populate credential fields when the URL matches that of the original, legitimate site.

M1017 User Training

Users can be trained to identify social engineering techniques and spearphishing attempts. Additionally, users may perform visual checks of the domains they visit; however, homographs in ASCII and in IDN domains and URL schema obfuscation may render manual checks difficult. Phishing training and other cybersecurity training may raise awareness to check URLs before visiting the sites.


ID Data Source Data Component Detects
DS0015 Application Log Application Log Content

Monitor for suspicious email activity, such as numerous accounts receiving messages from a single unusual/unknown sender. Filtering based on DKIM+SPF or header analysis can help detect when the email sender is spoofed.[37][38] Monitor for references to uncategorized or known-bad sites. URL inspection within email (including expanding shortened links and identifying obfuscated URLs) can also help detect links leading to known malicious sites.[3]

Furthermore, monitor browser logs for homographs in ASCII and in internationalized domain names abusing different character sets (e.g. Cyrillic vs Latin versions of trusted sites).

DS0029 Network Traffic Network Traffic Content

Monitor and analyze traffic patterns and packet inspection associated to protocol(s), leveraging SSL/TLS inspection for encrypted traffic, that do not follow the expected protocol standards and traffic flows (e.g extraneous packets that do not belong to established flows, gratuitous or anomalous traffic patterns, anomalous syntax, or structure). Consider correlation with process monitoring and command line to detect anomalous processes execution and command line arguments associated to traffic patterns (e.g. monitor anomalies in use of files that do not normally initiate connections for respective protocol(s)).

Furthermore, monitor network traffic for homographs via the use of internationalized domain names abusing different character sets (e.g. Cyrillic vs Latin versions of trusted sites). Also monitor and analyze traffic patterns and packet inspection for indicators of cloned websites. For example, if adversaries use HTTrack to clone websites, Mirrored from (victim URL) may be visible in the HTML section of packets.

Network Traffic Flow

Monitor network data for uncommon data flows. Processes utilizing the network that do not normally have network communication or have never been seen before are suspicious.


  1. Babon, P. (2020, September 3). Tricky 'Forms' of Phishing. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  2. Kan, M. (2019, October 24). Hackers Try to Phish United Nations Staffers With Fake Login Pages. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  3. Nick Simonian. (2023, May 22). Don't @ Me: URL Obfuscation Through Schema Abuse. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  4. NIST Information Technology Laboratory. (n.d.). web bug. Retrieved March 22, 2023.
  5. Ryte Wiki. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2024.
  6. IAPP. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2024.
  7. ZScaler. (2020, February 11). Fake Sites Stealing Steam Credentials. Retrieved March 8, 2023.
  8. mr.d0x. (2022, March 15). Browser In The Browser (BITB) Attack. Retrieved March 8, 2023.
  9. Proofpoint. (n.d.). The Human Factor 2023: Analyzing the cyber attack chain. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  10. Jonathan Greig. (2023, August 16). Phishing campaign used QR codes to target large energy company. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  11. Tim Bedard and Tyler Johnson. (2023, October 4). QR Code Scams & Phishing. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  12. Dr. Nestori Syynimaa. (2018, October 25). AADInternals. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  13. Huntley, S. (2022, March 7). An update on the threat landscape. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  14. Adair, S. and Lancaster, T. (2020, November 6). OceanLotus: Extending Cyber Espionage Operations Through Fake Websites. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  15. US-CERT. (2018, March 16). Alert (TA18-074A): Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  16. Kim, J. et al. (2019, October). KIMSUKY GROUP: TRACKING THE KING OF THE SPEAR PHISHING. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  17. Jazi, H. (2021, June 1). Kimsuky APT continues to target South Korean government using AppleSeed backdoor. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  18. KISA. (n.d.). Phishing Target Reconnaissance and Attack Resource Analysis Operation Muzabi. Retrieved March 7, 2022.
  19. Certfa Labs. (2021, January 8). Charming Kitten’s Christmas Gift. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  1. ClearSky Research Team. (2020, August 1). The Kittens Are Back in Town 3 - Charming Kitten Campaign Evolved and Deploying Spear-Phishing link by WhatsApp. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  2. Miller, J. et al. (2021, March 30). BadBlood: TA453 Targets US and Israeli Medical Research Personnel in Credential Phishing Campaigns. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  3. Miller, J. et al. (2021, July 13). Operation SpoofedScholars: A Conversation with TA453. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  4. Bash, A. (2021, October 14). Countering threats from Iran. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  5. MSTIC. (2021, November 16). Evolving trends in Iranian threat actor activity – MSTIC presentation at CyberWarCon 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2023.
  6. Raggi, M. et al. (2022, March 7). The Good, the Bad, and the Web Bug: TA416 Increases Operational Tempo Against European Governments as Conflict in Ukraine Escalates. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  7. Meltzer, M, et al. (2018, June 07). Patchwork APT Group Targets US Think Tanks. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  8. Scott W. Brady. (2020, October 15). United States vs. Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko et al.. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  9. Hegel, T. (2021, January 13). A Global Perspective of the SideWinder APT. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  10. DOJ. (2018, March 23). U.S. v. Rafatnejad et al . Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  11. Hassold, Crane. (2018, March 26). Silent Librarian: More to the Story of the Iranian Mabna Institute Indictment. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  12. Counter Threat Unit Research Team. (2018, August 24). Back to School: COBALT DICKENS Targets Universities. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  13. Proofpoint Threat Insight Team. (2019, September 5). Threat Actor Profile: TA407, the Silent Librarian. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  14. Counter Threat Unit Research Team. (2019, September 11). COBALT DICKENS Goes Back to School…Again. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  15. Malwarebytes Threat Intelligence Team. (2020, October 14). Silent Librarian APT right on schedule for 20/21 academic year. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  16. FireEye. (2021, May 11). Shining a Light on DARKSIDE Ransomware Operations. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
  17. Burt, T. (2020, September 10). New cyberattacks targeting U.S. elections. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  18. Microsoft. (2020, October 13). Anti-spoofing protection in EOP. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  19. Australian Cyber Security Centre. (2012, December). Mitigating Spoofed Emails Using Sender Policy Framework. Retrieved October 19, 2020.