phish·​ing | \ ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio) \

Definition of phishing

: the practice of tricking Internet users (as through the use of deceptive email messages or websites) into revealing personal or confidential information which can then be used illicitly The most common form … is called phishing, a one-two punch using both email and Web browsing to trick people into typing confidential information into Web sites that look like the sites of real companies, especially financial institutions.— Walter S. Mossberg Social engineering tactics, such as phishing schemes, are often used by attackers to obtain valid credentials or other personal information.— Jack Morse — see also spear phishing

Did you know?

Phishing is one of the many new computer-related terms that have found their way into the general lexicon over the past decade or so. Its "ph" spelling is influenced by an earlier word for an illicit act: "phreaking." Phreaking involves fraudulently using an electronic device to avoid paying for telephone calls, and its name is suspected of being a shortening of "phone freak." A common phishing scam involves sending emails that appear to come from banks requesting recipients to verify their accounts by typing personal details, such as credit card information, into a website that has been disguised to look like the real thing. Such scams can be thought of as "fishing" for naive recipients.

Examples of phishing in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Over and over, people fall for phishing scams, fail to patch vulnerable software promptly, lose devices containing vital data, misconfigure servers or slip up in any number of other ways. Daniel J. Solove, Scientific American, 26 July 2022 People are really unhappy about auto warranty scam calls, filing more complaints with the FCC last year than the other four leading topics, like phishing and credit card scams. Sebastian Blanco, Car and Driver, 24 July 2022 The phishing website intercepting the authentication process. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, 12 July 2022 Most cyber attacks start with a phishing email, which looks legitimate but isn’t and can be used to steal your passwords, social security number, credit card number and other sensitive information or to run malicious software known as malware. Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY, 1 Mar. 2022 An investigation found that hackers had infiltrated Nordic Choice’s systems 36 to 48 hours before launching the attack through a phishing email that appeared to be sent by a tour operator in frequent contact with the company, Ms. Fiskvik said. Catherine Stupp, WSJ, 12 Jan. 2022 Managing brand reputation risks due to phishing and brand abuse. Beenu Arora, Forbes, 9 Dec. 2021 Now, with new intelligence software and the security-operations center, Mr. Aggio said his team detects hundreds of threats each month that include email phishing attacks and potentially serious vulnerabilities. Catherine Stupp, WSJ, 19 July 2022 Microsoft has identified a large-scale phishing campaign that targeted over 10,000 organizations since Sept. 2021 in a bid to steal large sums of money. Matthew Humphries, PCMAG, 13 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'phishing.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of phishing

1996, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phishing

respelling of fishing, with ph- probably after phreaking

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The first known use of phishing was in 1996

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Last Updated

6 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Phishing.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for phishing


phish·​ing | \ ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio) \

Legal Definition of phishing

: a fraudulent operation by which an e-mail user is duped into revealing personal or confidential information which can be used for illicit purposes (as identity theft)

History and Etymology for phishing

alteration of fishing (probably influenced by phreaking illegal access to a phone system)

More from Merriam-Webster on phishing

Nglish: Translation of phishing for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about phishing


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