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Spam vs. Phishing: The Difference Between These Unwanted Emails


Have you ever received suspicious emails? We all have. Closely examining them reveals that they are generally sent by untrustworthy entities, companies or people who attempt to access our private information. These messages categorize as spam and phishing - so be cautious!

According to a report by Security List, 45.56% of emails are spam. Again, during the pandemic, Zscalar reported that the number of suspicious messages targeting remote workers rose by 30,000%. They also highlighted that the number of spear-phishing attacks increased by 667%. These alarming numbers are why it is so important to put preventative measures in place.

What are spam emails?

Spam emails are junk and unsolicited emails received from mostly strangers or fraud companies. They use automated bots and scripts to send these emails to the masses. Attackers and advertisement agencies send these emails to sell products or services or entice the recipient through links that redirect to other websites. These sites might annoy or infect users. The intention behind spamming is to annoy users, steal sensitive data, infect users' systems with malicious scripts, or sell something the user might not want.

Common examples of spam include unwanted newsletters, coupon shares, emails for services, adult content, prayer chain forwards, or donation solicitations.

What are phishing emails?

Phishing scams are a type of social engineering attack specifically designed to steal confidential information. In fact, they have become one of the most dangerous and pervasive threats in cybercrime today. Attackers use malicious links and fake pages to steal the victim's data, such as login credentials, personal details, credit card information, or OTPs. 

According to Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), phishing attacks lead to 43% of breaches. Attackers masquerade as a trusted company or agency and persuade the victim into clicking a link from the phishing email or instant messaging app. Since the web page looks legitimate, the victim fills in the login credentials to gain access. The moment victim submits the credentials, the attacker receives the login credentials on the other end and uses them for original access. 

How are spam and phishing different?

While spam and phishing emails share many similarities, such as malicious adversaries using them to harm target users or steal sensitive information, there are also several distinctions between them.

Spam emails

  • Spam emails are junk emails that are easy to identify if someone has a basic understanding of emails.

  • The focus is strictly on advertising and tricking others into selling items, products, or services.

  • Spam gets flooded in inboxes or spam folders, primarily by spammers or automated spam systems.

  • Spam utilizes commercial content like ads, discount coupons, or donation-based images.

  • Spam emails unnecessarily occupy email storage as they appear in bulk.

Phishing emails

  • Sophisticated phishing emails are fraudulent emails designed to steal sensitive data. They are often tough to identify.

  • The focus is solely on stealing sensitive credentials like personal details, passwords, credit card information, or OTPs.

  • Cybercriminals and social engineering experts design and deploy spam emails with a sophisticated email body, subject, and appealing links or images.

  • Phishing emails hold social engineering content with links or images to redirect to phishing pages.

  • Phishing emails only occupy a little space but are more dangerous as they are tough to identify.

Managing risks from spam emails

  • Many modern email providers come with spam filtering features. Ensure they are active and mark spam as it comes in to allow your email provider to filter spam from regular emails better.

  • Don't open or click on links from emails sent from unknown senders.

  • Be extra cautious when dealing with what appear to be official emails, and always double-check the sender's email address and its legitimacy.

  • Install dedicated anti-spam browser extensions and services in corporate systems.

  • Look closely at the sender's email address, signature, links etc., to ensure they are legit before clicking them. If there is still doubt, give the sender a call or email them (start a new email - not a reply to the email!).

Preventing phishing attacks

  • Make it mandatory for employees to use multi-factor authentication when accessing their accounts as part of a strict security policy.

  • Increase the safety of corporate emails by employing adaptive authentication protocols. This way, if the hackers attempt to access from unfamiliar browsers or locations, they will need to verify their identity before proceeding.

  • Update system browser patches regularly. Modern browsers can identify or tag suspicious URLs.

  • Educate employees to identify suspicious emails. Train them to spot phishing emails and understand how they work.

  • Use spam filters that are capable of blocking malicious links from reaching users’ inboxes. This would stop most phishing attempts in their tracks.

  • Keep an eye out for security alerts or notifications about new attacks to stay up-to-date with the latest threats.


We hope this article provided a clear idea of what spamming and phishing emails are and how they differ. Email is the most recognized form of online communication, so it’s a common target for malicious attackers. Techniques such as spamming and phishing are frequently used by cybercriminals in order to exploit users. It’s essential to be aware of these tactics and how to protect yourself from them. Adopting best practices, such as filtering emails, implementing multi-factor authentication, educating employees on the risks of phishing emails and staying up-to-date with the latest threats are all important steps in keeping your data safe.

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