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Vishing: everything you need to know

Read our guide to find out what vishing is, how it works, why it exists & how to identify, respond to, recover from & prevent it.


Fake emails and suspicious SMS messages are easy to spot, but we often overlook the potential dangers of voice messages and phone calls. Cyber criminals are well aware of this blind spot, and they’re rapidly evolving their vishing techniques in order to exploit it.

Their tactics have grown increasingly sophisticated, making it harder to detect their malicious intentions. As the prominence of vishing attacks increases, it becomes crucial for organizations and individuals to remain vigilant.

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know, including: 

  • What is vishing? 
  • What is the difference between phishing, vishing, and smishing?
  • How do vishing attacks work? 
  • What are some vishing techniques scammers use? 
  • Why are vishing attacks performed? 
  • What are the consequences of a vishing attack for an organization? 
  • What are some real-world examples of vishing attacks? 
  • How to identify vishing attacks 
  • How to respond and recover from vishing attacks 
  • How to prevent and protect your organization from vishing

What is vishing?

Vishing, short for “voice phishing,” is a deceptive practice. Scammers use voice calls to manipulate and deceive individuals in order to extract sensitive personal information or financial details. It is a form of social engineering that capitalizes on human trust and vulnerability over the phone. 

The goal of vishing attacks is to obtain sensitive data like credit card information, Social Security numbers, login credentials, or other personally identifiable data that can be exploited for financial gain or identity theft. Once victims take the bait, bad actors can carry out fraudulent transactions, access accounts, or even sell their data on the black market.

What is the difference between phishing, vishing, and smishing?

Phishing, vishing, and smishing share the same goal, but their attack vectors differ. Let’s explore this in greater detail. 


Phishing uses fraudulent emails to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. Phishing attacks also involve sending malicious attachments or links that, when clicked, install malware on the victim’s device.


Vishing is a social engineering attack conducted over the phone or through voice messages. They may request personal information, such as credit card numbers and social security numbers, or ask victims to visit fraudulent websites and provide access to their computer systems.


Smishing refers to phishing attacks conducted through instant messaging platforms, such as SMS, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. These messages often contain urgent or enticing requests, such as account verification or prize notifications. It can also include malicious links or fraudulent phone numbers. 

How do vishing attacks work?

Vishing attacks vary depending on the target, and scammers adapt their tactics to exploit unique vulnerabilities and manipulate victims effectively. However, most attacks follow a similar pattern. 

1. Initial contact 

The attacker initiates contact with the victim through a phone call or a voicemail message. They often pretend to be a trusted organization or individual, such as a bank representative, government official, or technical support agent.

2. Manipulative tactics

The attacker employs manipulative tactics to gain the victim’s trust and create a sense of urgency or importance. They might claim there is a security issue with the victim’s account or offer exclusive deals or rewards.

3. Soliciting sensitive information

Attackers request sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, login credentials, or other personal details. They may ask the victim to provide this information directly over the phone or to visit a fraudulent website and enter the information.

4. Exploiting the information

After obtaining the sensitive information, the attacker can use it for various malicious purposes, such as identity theft, financial fraud, unauthorized account access, or selling the information on the black market.

What are some techniques scammers use?

Scammers employ various techniques to make vishing attacks more convincing and increase their chances of success. Here are some common techniques used by vishing scammers:

  • Impersonation: scammers impersonate representatives from trusted organizations, using real employee names and recent transaction references to gain victims’ trust.
  • Urgency and fear tactics: bad actors pressure victims into providing information quickly by claiming account compromise or threatening legal consequences.
  • Caller ID spoofing: scammers manipulate the information displayed on caller ID, making the call appear legitimate.
  • Voice manipulation: technology mimics trusted individuals’ voices to increase credibility and success rates.
  • Building rapport: friendly conversation and personal questions are used to create a false sense of trust.
  • Offering rewards: deals or exclusive discounts are offered to entice victims into sharing sensitive information.
  • Requesting verification codes: access to confirmation codes helps scammers log in to accounts with two-factor authentication.

Why are vishing attacks performed?

Vishing attacks are performed for various malicious purposes and they’re increasingly common due to their high success rate. Here are a few reasons why scammers engage in vishing attacks:

    • Financial fraud: attackers can make unauthorized transactions, drain victims’ bank accounts, or sell the data on the black market.
    • Identity theft: with access to personal details scammers can open new accounts, apply for credit in the victim’s name, or engage in other fraudulent activities.
    • Account takeover: attackers exploit accounts to spread spam, send phishing emails, conduct further fraudulent activities and to further compromise an organization by having a staff account.
    • Spamming and phishing: contact details can be used for spamming or launching targeted phishing campaigns, in which victims are sent deceptive emails, messages, or links.
    • Ransom or extortion: attackers may threaten victims with legal consequences, disclosing personal information publicly, or encrypting important files and demanding a ransom in exchange.
    • Social engineering research: by engaging in conversations, scammers may extract valuable information about internal processes, employee roles, or security vulnerabilities, which can be utilized for future targeted attacks.

What are the consequences of a vishing attack for an organization?

From financial losses to legal consequences, vishing attacks can be make or break for organizations. Here are some of the most significant consequences: 

Financial loss

If scammers access sensitive financial information or deceive employees into transferring funds, the organization may suffer monetary damages. Additionally, there are costs associated with investigating the attack, implementing security measures, and potentially compensating affected customers.

Data breaches and compromised information

Successful vishing attacks can result in the compromise of sensitive data, such as customer information, employee records, or intellectual property. This can lead to reputational damage and loss of trust from customers and clients.

Damage to reputation and customer trust

News of the attack, especially if customer data was compromised, can spread quickly, and erode trust in the organization’s ability to protect sensitive information. This can lead to customer attrition, negative public perception, and a decline in business.

Regulatory and legal consequences

Organizations that fail to protect customer data adequately or comply with data protection regulations may face legal consequences. Organizations may be subject to fines, penalties, or legal action from regulatory bodies or affected individuals.

Disruption of operations

If scammers gain unauthorized access to systems or accounts, they may engage in malicious activities that disrupt normal business operations, compromise IT infrastructure, or introduce malware that spreads across the network.

Loss of competitive advantage: 

Valuable research, development plans, marketing strategies, or other sensitive business information may fall into the wrong hands. If so, organizations may lose their competitive advantage. 

What are some real-world examples of vishing attacks?

Vishing attacks can take various forms and target individuals or organizations in different ways, here are a few real-world examples: 

The “tech support” scam

Scammers pose as tech support agents from major companies like Microsoft or Apple, claiming computer or software issues. They deceive victims into granting remote access or sharing sensitive data to resolve the problem, but instead gain unauthorized access or steal financial information.

IRS impersonation scam

Bad actors impersonate IRS representatives, pressuring victims to pay alleged outstanding taxes or fines. Threats of legal action or arrest coerce victims into immediate payments or sharing sensitive information. The IRS never initiates contact via phone or demands instant payments.

Bank and Financial Institution Scams

Vishers impersonate bank employees, raising concerns about suspicious account activity or the need for account verification. They then request personal data, such as account numbers or social security numbers, to purportedly resolve the issue. The obtained information facilitates unauthorized account access or identity theft.

CEO Fraud

Targeting employees in organizations, scammers pose as top executives, like CEOs or CFOs. They contact employees, particularly from finance departments, with a sense of urgency, requesting urgent wire transfers or sensitive financial details. Exploiting their executive position, these scammers deceive employees into complying with their fraudulent requests.

How to identify vishing attacks

Identifying vishing attacks can be challenging since scammers employ tactics to appear legitimate. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Be skeptical of unsolicited calls: exercise caution when receiving unexpected calls from supposed trusted organizations or government agencies, especially when they request sensitive information.
  • Caller ID spoofing: remember that scammers can manipulate caller ID to appear as legitimate sources, so don’t solely rely on it for verification.
  • Urgency and pressure: beware of high-pressure tactics, fear-based urgency, or threats from scammers to prompt immediate action or divulgence of information.
  • Requests for personal information: be wary when asked to provide sensitive data like social security numbers, credit card details, or passwords over the phone.
  • Poor grammar or unprofessionalism: pay attention to unprofessional language, poor grammar, or excessive jargon used by scammers.
  • Requests for unconventional payment methods: be skeptical if callers insist on unconventional payment methods such as wire transfers or cryptocurrency.
  • Verify independently: hang up and verify the caller’s identity independently by using official contact information from trusted sources.
  • Trust your instincts: if something feels suspicious or too good to be true, trust your instincts and avoid sharing sensitive information.

How to respond to vishing attacks

When an organization becomes aware of a vishing attack or suspects that it has been targeted, it’s crucial to respond promptly and effectively. Here are some recommended steps: 

1. Document and report

Record the attack details, including the date, time, and phone number(s) used by the attacker. Report the incident to the relevant authorities.  

2. Inform employees

Notify employees about the vishing attack, providing details of the incident and the tactics used by the attackers. Consider conducting training sessions or awareness campaigns. 

3. Communicate with customers or clients

Provide information about the incident, the potential impact on their data, and any measures being taken to address the situation. Offer guidance on how customers can protect themselves and monitor their accounts for suspicious activity.

4. Conduct internal investigations

Investigate the extent of the vishing attack, identify any compromised systems or accounts, and assess the potential damage. Involve IT and security teams to gather information about the attack and its impact.

5. Implement an incident response plan

Activate the incident response plan and follow the established procedures to contain the incident, mitigate the impact, and restore normal operations. 

How to respond and recover from vishing attacks

Once you’ve swiftly responded to a phishing attack, it’s time to recover and restore normal operations. Here’s what you should do: 

1. Contain and mitigate the attack

Isolate compromised systems or accounts to prevent further unauthorized access or data exfiltration. Change passwords, revoke access privileges, and disable compromised accounts. 

2. Investigate and assess the damage

Analyze logs, network traffic, and any available evidence to identify the attack vector, compromised systems, and the data or information that may have been accessed or stolen. 

3. Enhance security measures

Implement security measures like multi-factor authentication, enhanced access controls, and regular security audits and assessments. Consider engaging third-party experts to perform penetration testing or security assessments.

4. Review and update policies

Review security and data protection policies to ensure they address the lessons learned from the vishing attack. Update as necessary to reflect new threats and vulnerabilities, and to align with industry best practices and compliance requirements.

5. Restore and strengthen backups

Restore systems and data from secure backups, ensuring they are free from any compromise. Regularly test backup processes to ensure their effectiveness in the event of future incidents. Consider implementing additional safeguards, such as off-site backups or cloud-based recovery solutions.

6. Conduct post-incident analysis

Perform a post-incident analysis to evaluate the organization’s response, identify areas for improvement, and update incident response plans accordingly. Learn from the attack to enhance the organization’s security posture and resilience against future vishing attacks.

How to prevent and protect your organization from vishing

Preventing and protecting an organization from vishing attacks requires a multi-layered approach that combines technical measures, employee education, and robust security practices. Here are some key steps: 

1. Employee education and awareness

Train employees on the risks of vishing attacks, and how to recognize and report suspicious calls. Emphasize the importance of verifying the identity of callers, not disclosing information over the phone, and following security protocols.

2. Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Implement MFA for accessing critical systems, accounts, and sensitive information. This adds an extra layer of protection by requiring additional verification in addition to regular login credentials.

3. Caller authentication

Implement caller authentication mechanisms within the organization’s phone system. This includes voice biometrics or secure caller identification to verify the authenticity of calls.

4. Spam filters and call-blocking

Utilize robust spam filters and call-blocking technologies to identify and block suspicious calls or messages. These tools can reduce the number of vishing attempts that reach employees. 

5. Monitor and analyze call patterns

Implement call analytics and monitoring systems to identify suspicious call patterns or anomalies. Unusual call volumes, high frequency calling from specific numbers, or other patterns may indicate potential attacks.

6. Incident response plan

Develop an incident response plan specifically addressing vishing attacks. Establish clear procedures for identifying, containing, and mitigating incidents. Ensure the plan includes communication channels, roles and responsibilities, and coordination with relevant stakeholders.

7. Encourage reporting

Create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting suspicious calls or messages. Establish clear channels for reporting potential vishing attempts and encourage employees to do so.

8. Regular security assessments

Conduct regular security assessments, penetration testing, and vulnerability scans to identify and address any weaknesses in the organization’s systems and processes. This can help identify potential entry points or vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit. 

9. Stay up to date with security patches

Regularly update and patch software, systems, and applications to address known vulnerabilities. Keeping systems up to date reduces the risk of exploitation by attackers seeking to gain access through vishing attacks.

10. Collaborate with industry peers

Share information and best practices with other organizations in your industry to stay informed about emerging threats and mitigation strategies. Participate in industry forums, security communities, and information-sharing initiatives.

Final thoughts

What may seem like an obvious vishing attack today may be harder to identify tomorrow. Bad actors are continuously evolving their tactics and becoming more sophisticated in the process.

As you improve your security posture, remember to stay vigilant and adaptable. Secure your data, protect your reputation, and always remain a step ahead of potential threats.

At CovertSwarm, we are committed to helping organizations stay proactive and informed. If you need further advice regarding vishing or other cybersecurity matters, feel free to reach out to a member of our team.