The Definition of Phishing

The definition of phishing is as follows: phishing is a means by which criminals will attempt to gain access to an individual’s personal details by masquerading as a trusted source.

Where Does the Word Come From?

The word phishing is derived from the common term with the known, correct spelling, “fishing”. The definition of phishing is actually quite similar to the word of origin. Both phrases refer to catching something by sending out bait. Just as the fisherman lures a fish by putting a fake worm on a hook, so too does the cyberspace criminal lure his prey by baiting an email or a website with false information to catch passwords and information in the sea of internet users. Hackers have a tendency to replace the letter “F” with “Ph” and therefore the word phishing was formed.

Who Coined the Phrase?

According to Wikipedia, on January 2, 1996, the Usenet Group of used the phrase phishing in response to hackers who were stealing Internet accounts. They claim that this was the first time that the word was publicly used to describe this form of online criminal activity. There is however a magazine by the name of “2600: The Hacker Quarterly”. This magazine keeps abreast of hacking schemes and trends. It is suspected that they first discovered the concept and also coined the phrase. Either way, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1996 and is now a household term when talking about internet crime.

Are There Other Variations of the Term?

The definition of phishing opened the door for other variations of the term to include different variants of the crime. Vishing is the crime that involves phishing via a voice activated system, whereas smishing is the variant of phishing via a text message on a mobile phone. The term spear phishing has also emerged and this refers to a more personalized and therefore more effective and credible form of phishing where an email appears to come from a colleague or known online contact. The word pharming has now too evolved and, according to the Guardian Unlimited, refers to a type of phishing where a web address is hijacked.

How Does One Refer to a Person Who Phishes?

Quite logically, the definition of phishing has given rise to the noun used to describe the perpetrator of the crime. The criminal is now referred to as a phisher.