Do you want to help the workforce learn how to identify fake emails to stop them divulging their credentials on phishing websites or inadvertently downloading malware onto their computers? In this post we outline some of the signs of phishing emails that everyone should be looking for every time an email is opened to confirm whether it is legitimate or if it is likely a phishing email, email impersonation scam, or poses a network security threat.

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What Threats are Sent via Email?

Email is the most common way for cybercriminals to breach company defenses. It has been estimated that 91% of all cyberattacks start with a phishing email. Phishing is the name given to an attempt to obtain sensitive information by deception, often by impersonated a trusted entity. Phishing can occur over the telephone, text message, social media networks, or instant messenger services, but most commonly phishing occurs via email. Phishing emails also deceive people into downloading malicious files that install malware or ransomware. One response to a phishing email is all it takes for cybercriminals to obtain login details that allow them to access email accounts and cloud services and steal large quantities of sensitive data or gain the foothold they need for an extensive compromise of a business network.

If you have a powerful email security solution installed, the majority of phishing emails and other email threats will be blocked, but no email security solution will provide complete protection, so everyone needs to learn how to identify fake emails and know what they should do if such an email is received.

Employees Must be Receive Security Awareness Training

In certain industries, security awareness training for the workforce is mandatory and it is necessary to teach employees how to identify fake emails. In the United States, for example, regular security awareness training is a requirement of the Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA). All healthcare organizations must ensure that their employees can identify fake emails such as those used for phishing.

Even if not required by law, security awareness training is strongly advised. Employees cannot be expected to know the difference between a genuine and a scam email if they are not taught what to look for. By providing this training regularly you can condition your employees to always conduct checks to identify fake emails, which will help you to prevent costly data breaches.

How to Identify Fake Emails!

Cybercriminals regularly change their tactics, techniques and procedures to evade security defenses and fool people into divulging sensitive information or installing malware. The themes of malicious emails and lures in phishing emails often change, but there are commonalities in many of these scams which are detailed below. A scam or phishing email may include one or more of these tactics or techniques.

Be aware that just because an email appears to have been sent from a known and trusted email address or person, or a company with the right branding and logos, it does not mean that the email is genuine. You should still carefully check the message before responding or taking any action suggested in the message.

Urgency

Phishing and scam emails usually have a sense of urgency. Attackers want you to act quickly without thinking, as the longer you take, the more likely it is you will identify the email for what it really is.

Threats

Phishing and scam emails often include a threat of negative consequences if no action is taken. Your account will be closed, you will lose access to a service, you will have to pay a fine, or you will be arrested, are all common ways to convey urgency and get people to take the action suggested in the email.

Rewards

Scammers often use FOMO, bargains, or rewards to encourage people to get in touch or visit a website. A too-good-to-be-true offer such as a new iPhone for $100 or a prize in a competition that you haven’t entered is a common ruse to get people to click a malicious link.

Requests for Sensitive Information

The easiest way to obtain sensitive information is simply to ask for it. You should stop, think, and carefully consider any request to send sensitive information via email. Make sure the email address – not just the display name – is correct and try to call to confirm requests to send sensitive information or change payment details using verified contact information – Not contact information supplied in the email.

Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are often included to get past email security defenses and direct individuals to scam websites. The URL is often masked with different text so hover your mouse arrow over the link to find the destination URL. URL shortening services are often used to hide the true destination URL. The URL linked in a message may also not be the destination URL as you may be redirected via multiple websites before landing on a page. Make sure you carefully check the URL and any domain you land on. If in doubt, do not click hyperlinks in emails.

Attachments

Attachments are often used with double extensions to make them appear legitimate (.doc.exe). Simply opening these files is all it takes to install malware. Macros are often used that contain code that will download malware if they are allowed to run. Scan email attachments with AV software before opening and do not enable content unless you are 100% sure the attachment is genuine. Always treat email attachments as suspicious, and never open a file with an unfamiliar, unusual, or suspicious extension (.zip, .scr, .js, .exe, .vbs, .bat, .com, .msi, .jse, .lnk, .vb etc.)

Irregular email addresses and domains

Often the display name and the actual email address will be very different. Make sure you check the actual address used. Companies do not use public email domains (the part after the @) such as Gmail. Check that the domain is actually the one used by a company i.e., paypal.com is genuine; pay–pal.com is not. Also check that the domain is spelled correctly and there are no missing or transposed letters. Look out for potential alternative characters such as an rn instead of an m, a zero instead of an o, and a 1 instead of an I.

Spelling and grammar

Scammers are good at scamming, but often not so good at spelling. Many attackers do not speak English as their first language, so mistakes are often made with spelling and grammar. These mistakes can be deliberate to ensure only people who are likely to fall for the next stage of the scam respond.

Strange requests

Malicious emails often convince people to take out of the ordinary actions, such as requests to help out a colleague or boss by buying gift cards. Any out-of-band request should be confirmed with a quick phone call, but not using any contact information supplied in the email.

Odd salutations and message tone

How messages are addressed is a good indicator of whether the message is genuine. Most emails from companies now address recipients by name. If Netflix emails you and addresses you as Dear Customer, it could well be a scam. Attackers will probably not be used to the tone of emails usually sent when they conduct email impersonation attacks and may be overly familiar or unnaturally formal.

Block More Email Threats with an Advanced Email Security Solution

Many phishing and scam emails are highly sophisticated and are very difficult to distinguish from genuine emails, even by employees who have been trained how to identify fake emails. Messages can be sent from genuine email accounts that have been compromised, past message threads can be hijacked, and genuine logos and layouts used when companies are spoofed. Training the workforce how to identify fake emails is important, but you also need an advanced spam filtering solution in place to ensure the vast majority of these emails are blocked and not delivered to inboxes.

If you want to improve your defenses against email attacks, contact the TitanHQ team and ask about SpamTitan. SpamTitan is an easy to use, powerful email security solution that will keep you protected from scams and emerging and zero-day email threats. Furthermore, SpamTitan is one of the most cost-effective email security solutions on the market for businesses of all sizes.