You've probably been the victim of email spoofing at some point in your life. Today, email spoofing affects everybody, from single users to multinational corporations.
In an email spoofing attack, hackers falsely claim that an email was sent from a different address. For malicious purposes, an attacker may use spoofing to pose as a legitimate entity. That's terrifying; let’s explain.
Everything you need to know about email spoofing, including how it works, why it happens, and what to do about it, is included in this article.
Protecting Yourself — Using a Reputable Email Service 📧
Are you using a reputable, encrypted email service?
- ✔️ Pick an email provider with good security measures. ProtonMail is a popular email service that doesn't cost anything to use.
- ✔️ Sign up for the service and you'll be assigned a mailbox of your very own.
- ✔️ Send encrypted messages to anybody, ProtonMail or not.
- ✔️ To prevent further phishing attacks, report suspicious emails.
Email Spoofing: What is It?
Just what is this “email spoofing” business all about?
Spoofing a sender's address in an email is a kind of email fraud. The email seems to have come from a trusted contact, fooling the receiver into opening it. In most cases, it's part of a phishing effort meant to get access to your accounts online, spread malware, or steal your money.
Email hoaxes are simple to create and very simpler to spot. Malicious and targeted variants, however, may create serious issues and provide a serious security risk.
Reasons for Email Fraud
Spoofing an email address is a kind of impersonation and often occurs as part of a larger fraud or assault. Email-based phishing, often known as 419 fraud, relies heavily on spoofing. You get an email that seems like it came from your bank, a payment processor, or even a friend or family member in the case of spear phishing.
If you click on the link in the email, you'll be sent to a spoof website where your login credentials will be stolen.
Emails impersonating CEOs, suppliers, or business partners sometimes request personal information or financial transactions to be made to accounts under the hackers' control.
Types of Email Spoofing Attacks — Examples 📁
Here are some of the most common types of attacks:
Spoofing an email address is surprisingly simple. The “header”, or set of meta-data about an email, is modified, making the feature effective. The email header is the source for the information shown in your email client.
Authentication of email addresses is not yet supported by the SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol). As a result, cybercriminals use this vulnerability to trick their targets into believing the email was sent by someone else.
In this kind of email impersonation, the impostor's email address is deliberately crafted to seem like the target's legitimate address. In this scenario, the attacker sets up a new email account with the same domain, maybe using techniques like replacing letters and digits with ones that appear similar.
It is possible to change the FROM, REPLY-TO, and RETURN-PATH fields in an email header without any specialised software or technical know-how. This may cause you to get an email from what seems to be a fake sender address.
Opening the email's header and verifying that the IP address or URL shown under “Received” is from the expected source is the simplest approach to spot a faked email. You'll need to do some research into your specific email app to find out how to see the header.
A fake email might appear like it came from a recognised contact, while the sender's real email address remains unchanged. If you click on the person's name, you can see their real email address. It's very uncommon for emails to be identical save from a few strategically placed rearranged letters.
Rather than email@example.com, it may read firstname.lastname@example.org. And only open attachments or click on links from people you know and trust.
One kind of email spoofing is known as “display name spoofing,” in which just the sender's display name is faked.
This may be accomplished by creating a new Gmail account under the contact's name. Keep in mind that a new email address will appear when you click the mailto: button. Emails purporting to be from Jeff Bezos that seek loans are an example of display name spoofing.
All anti-spoofing methods will be useless against this form of email. Since the address is valid, it will not be deleted as spam. This takes the use of user interfaces that were created with simplicity in mind; for example, most up-to-date email client programmes hide information. As a result, owing to the widespread use of smartphone email applications, display name spoofing is quite successful. Typically, simply a screen name is allowed.
4. Domain name impersonation
Let's assume a domain is secure and cannot be spoofed. In such instances, the malicious actor would likely create a domain that looks identical to the target. A domain name identical to the impersonated domain is registered and used in this sort of attack. For example, “@doma1n.co” might be used in place of “@domain.co” A casual reader may not even notice this modification. The reason it works so well is that very few people really check email headers.
The attacker establishes credibility by using a domain that looks extremely similar to the target's and that can get by spam filters since it is a real email address. It might be enough to get the target to give their password, transmit money, or share information. The only method to verify the authenticity of an email is to dig into its information. But doing so on the fly isn't always practical, particularly with the tiny displays of smartphones.
How can I prevent spoofing in my emails?
The fact is that there is no way to prevent email spoofing since the underlying technology, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, doesn't call for authentication. That's when the technology shows its weaknesses.
More safeguards have been created to prevent email spoofing. However, the success percentage is still dependent on whether or not they were implemented by your email service provider.
Most reliable email services have extra safeguards in place, such as using DKIM DomainKeys signatures. When properly implemented, these technologies will automatically delete faked messages from your inbox.
Email spoofing may be prevented by regular users by using a secure email service and other forms of basic cybersecurity hygiene.
- ✔️ Multiple emails. Use throwaway emails while signing up for unimportant websites. That way, your personal email won't be included on sketchy lists used to send fake messages in mass.
- ✔️ Strong passwords. Passwords for email should be long and complicated. This will make it more difficult for hackers to access your account and transmit false information to your friends and family.
- ✔️ Avoid links. Be wary of clicking on links in emails without first checking the sender's address. Emails spoofed by skilled attackers may look and feel much like the real thing. Even to a seasoned user, they may seem identical at first.
FAQs — Understanding Email Spoofing 📚
Threats posed by faking emails
Bypassing the standard security procedures that most email providers today take makes email spoofing very risky and harmful. It relies on people being careless, namely on the fact that they don't always examine the email's header.
As an added bonus, attackers may accomplish it with little effort and knowledge of technical details. Furthermore, each email server may be altered to seem the same or almost so as to evade detection.
How to prevent email spoofing attacks
First, take a deep breath and calm yourself if you accidentally sent yourself a threatening email demanding money. We've discussed how simple it is to send a forged email before. If you panic, you're giving the assailant more of an advantage.
The next step is to examine the email's header for IP addresses, SPF, DMARC, and DKIM validations, among other things. If the email didn't come from your own account, this will reveal that. There is no need for alarm if the validation fails. You need to take immediate action to safeguard your inbox and your identity if the email claims to have come from your inbox.
While it is possible to determine that a custom email has been faked by inspecting the message's header for suspicious material, doing so requires a moderate level of technical knowledge and is thus not the best approach to assist individuals in your organisation or household avoid becoming victims.
Applying a few simple principles to any suspicious email that requests a click, a transfer of funds, or sensitive information is far more successful.
- ☑️ Verify any requests to send money using an alternative method, such a phone call.
- ☑️ Don't put money into unapproved accounts.
- ☑️ Never open attachments or click on links in unsolicited emails.
- ☑️ Do it manually by typing in the URLs of your favourite websites.
Important communications should always be confirmed with the sender through a different channel, such a phone call or encrypted chat. (However, you shouldn't call the numbers listed in the email.) Spoofing may be confirmed with absolute certainty in only 30 seconds of dialogue.
When an email account is hacked, what does it mean exactly?
The hacker might impersonate your email without taking over your account. A hijacked email account, on the other hand, indicates that the hacker has gained complete control over your inbox.
The hacked emails will seem to have been sent from your account. However, spoofing prevents any damage to your account. The email seems like it came from your account, but it really came from someone else.