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In computing, phishing is an attempt to criminally and fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. PayPal, eBay and online banks are common targets. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail or instant messaging, and often directs users to enter details at a website, although phone contact has also been used. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to fool users. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical measures.
A phishing technique was described in detail as early as 1987, while the first recorded use of the term "phishing" was made in 1996. The term is a variant of fishing, probably influenced by phreaking, and alludes to the use of increasingly sophisticated baits used in the hope of a "catch" of financial information and passwords. The word may also be linked to leetspeak, in which ph is a common substitution for f.