"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." –Abraham Lincoln
What is a phishing email?
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What is phishing?
This technique is called phishing, and it’s a way hackers con you into providing your personal information or account data. Once your info is obtained, hackers create new user credentials or install malware (such as backdoors) into your system to steal sensitive data.
Phishing emails today rarely begin with, "Salutations from the son of the deposed Prince of Nigeria..." and it's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish a fake email from a verified one. But, most have subtle hints of their scammy nature. Here are seven email phishing examples to help you recognize a malicious email and maintain email security.
What is a common indicator of a phishing attack?
Requests for personal information, generic greetings or lack of greetings, misspellings, unofficial "from" email addresses, unfamiliar webpages, and misleading hyperlinks are the most common indicators of a phishing attack.
Email phishing examples
1. Legit companies don’t request your sensitive information via email
Chances are if you receive an unsolicited email from an institution that provides a link or attachment and asks you to provide sensitive information, it’s a scam. Most companies will not send you an email asking for passwords, credit card information, credit scores, or tax numbers, nor will they send you a link from which you need to login.
| Notice the generic salutation at the beginning, and the unsolicited web link attachment? |
2. Legit companies usually call you by your name
Phishing emails typically use generic salutations such as “Dear valued member,” “Dear account holder,” or “Dear customer.” If a company you deal with required information about your account, the email would call you by name and probably direct you to contact them via phone.
3. Legit companies have domain emailsDon’t just check the name of the person sending you the email. Check their email address by hovering your mouse over the ‘from’ address. Make sure no alterations (like additional numbers or letters) have been made. Check out the difference between these two email addresses as an example of altered emails: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Just remember, this isn’t a foolproof method. Sometimes companies make use of unique or varied domains to send emails, and some smaller companies use third party email providers.
| "Costco's" logo is just a bit off. This is what the Costco logo is supposed to look like. |
| See the difference? Subtle, no? |
4. Legit companies know how to spellPossibly the easiest way to recognize a scammy email is bad grammar. An email from a legitimate organization should be well written. Little known fact – there’s actually a purpose behind bad syntax. Hackers generally aren’t stupid. They prey on the uneducated believing them to be less observant and thus, easier targets.
5. Legit companies don’t force you to their website
Sometimes phishing emails are coded entirely as a hyperlink. Therefore, clicking accidentally or deliberately anywhere in the email will open a fake web page, or download spam onto your computer.
| This whole email was a gigantic hyperlink, so if you clicked anywhere in the email, you would initiate the malicious attack. |
6. Legit companies don’t send unsolicited attachments
7. Legit company links match legitimate URLsJust because a link says it’s going to send you to one place, doesn’t mean it’s going to. Double check URLs. If the link in the text isn't identical to the URL displayed as the cursor hovers over the link, that's a sure sign you will be taken to a site you don’t want to visit. If a hyperlink’s URL doesn’t seem correct, or doesn’t match the context of the email, don’t trust it. Ensure additional security by hovering your mouse over embedded links (without clicking!) and ensure the link begins with https://.
| Although very convincing, the real Nokia wouldn't be sending you a "Save your stuff" email from email@example.com |
David Ellis (GCIH, QSA, PFI, CISSP) is VP of Forensic Investigations at SecurityMetrics with over 25 years of law enforcement and investigative experience.