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Return to sender

Spam emails have been plaguing mailboxes for years, sometimes missing the junk folder and landing smack bang in the middle of one’s inbox. Cyber criminals use email as their main line of attack, due to it being such a vital part of an organisations’ inner workings.

As mentioned before, the statistics show that around 90% of phishing scams start with email and of those 90%, the most dangerous are the ones so sophisticated that they seem legitimate and may even pass through the filters. Some attackers don’t just send out blanket spam mails, some of these scams are targeted towards specific people within the organisation such as executives and members of the sales team.

The attacker even goes as far as to send the targeted email on a specific day such as payday or at month end so that it would be more believable. This is referred to as a spear-phishing attack. When an attack is targeted and believable there is a higher chance of success. This makes them dangerous. Having inline inspection and continually training your team on what to look for, you can avoid a costly mistake.

Why is this my topic this week? Our team was shown a spear phishing email that was blocked by our Mimecast platform as part of our ongoing training and awareness program. The email was so well put together, it made me realise that if this did get through it would be difficult to see if this was not legitimate.

Anybody who is not aware of what to look out for and has limited knowledge would easily fall prey to this type of email attack.

The aim of this blog is to give you a few things to look out for. Spread the information to those you speak to because awareness helps stop these attacks. You shouldn’t have much to worry about if one dodgy email sneaks into your inbox.

  • Email address – This is the first thing to look for. Make sure that the email is really coming from the person it reports to be. This might resemble a legitimate company, have a similar name or even come from a Gmail or Outlook.com account. If you do not know the sender, be cautious and verify before acting.
  • Poor vocabulary: While the spammer is trying to make the email as professional as possible, they often have poor grammar and bad spelling. Emails with poorly constructed sentences should be a big red flag. This is not always the case as some spammers may be very fluent in your language.
  • Requests for payment or login information: No trustworthy organisation, under any circumstances, would request login information or for you to send a payment by email. Social engineering scams contain these kinds of requests and no matter how real the email seems, rather assume it is a cyber attack.
  • Spoofed email addresses: More sophisticated spammers spoof the email address of internal or trusted people. Double check strange requests against known contact details. For example, your CEO is not likely to send you an email from a Gmail account.
  • Urgently wanting the information: In the email we saw this week, the sender had stated they need action before midday or else it will be too late. This email contained a malicious link. If an email appears to be too urgent, treat is with caution. If the email has a sense of urgency and seems suspicious, it is almost certainly dodgy.

It is possible to stop most of these with a cost-effective managed security service from J2 Software, but nothing is 100%. In the event that a well-crafted email attacks sneaks in, increasing awareness and open discussion can help prevent a breach before it occurs. This is one method of improving your human firewall, an important layer in your security program.

Having simple and practical documented processes and policies will also ensure that this does not happen to you.

Don’t wait for a breach to happen, get protected and equipped with the knowledge today. Nobody has ever been upset because they avoided cyber attacks.

Let’s get real.

Olivia-Hannah Coetzee