Spam email is one of the greatest inconveniences and frustrations of the 21st century. Unfortunately, it’s also more than this. It’s also one of the biggest cyber threats to internet users today. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly intelligent and their attacks more and more sophisticated, often playing on public concerns and fears to gain access to confidential information or financial details. There is also a growing number of email attacks to avoid which can make it difficult for people to recognise and avoid them.
Although the most effective way to avoid becoming the victim of a spam email attack is to invest in an anti-spam gateway (especially if you run a business), having an understanding of some of the many types of attack in operation is also useful. Even basic knowledge of the techniques and tactics used by cybercriminals during an email attack could prove valuable.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a guide to some of the most common types of email attacks in operation. From spoofing to whaling, here are the email attacks you need to avoid.
Spam email attacks
We’ve all received spam emails at one point or another. Without an anti-spam filter in place, you may even receive unwanted mail multiple times a week. This can clog up your inbox and leave your email server vulnerable to harmful attacks. If you run a business with multiple different employee email addresses in operation daily, preventing an influx of spam emails could save you more time and money than you might initially realise.
But what is a ‘spam email’? Put simply, a spam email is a message you didn’t want to receive. It’s an unsolicited email (or lots of unsolicited emails) that are often sent in bulk by cybercriminals. Your email address may have been harvested from websites you’ve created accounts for or bought from another company.
Avoiding spam is vitally important; receiving large quantities of unwanted messages could leave you vulnerable to dangerous email attacks, including ransomware and spyware attacks. Fortunately, investing in an anti-spam gateway solution is an effective way to prevent spam from reaching your inbox in the first place.
Phishing email attacks
Phishing is one of the most common types of email attacks. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most successful. This is because phishing attackers have adopted sophisticated tactics and techniques to convince recipients that the emails in question have come from legitimate sources. This is the basis of a phishing attack.
By pretending to be a trusted sender, phishing attackers can gain the trust of their email recipients. This also makes it easy for the email to remain undetected in inboxes. Often, phishing attacks even use the same branding and tone of voice as the company or individual they are imitating. In highly targeted phishing emails, called spear-phishing attacks, the person responsible will even include personalised details to throw off the recipient.
If the email impersonates a household brand name or company that the recipient often receives emails from, such as Amazon or iTunes, it can be difficult to identify it as an email attack. This leaves people vulnerable to sharing important personal or financial information.
Pharming email attacks
Pharming attacks are similar to phishing attempts but they can be even more dangerous and difficult to identify. Pharming emails typically contain text and branding to disguise themselves as emails from trusted senders, but they also often contain links to external pages. For example, the recipient may be asked to ‘click here to log into your account’ or something similar.
You should always be suspicious of emails that redirect you to another website, but especially if you have reason to believe that they could be part of a pharming scam. This is because pharming emails attack the server of their recipients and redirect them to illegitimate websites. If you’re the victim of a pharming email attack, harmful code (known as DNS cache poisoning) will redirect your server to fake websites – even if you type in the URL of a page that you know and trust to be real.
Pharming attacks are extremely worrying because they can leave recipients very vulnerable. After all, if you don’t know that you’ve been redirected to an illegitimate website, you are likely to submit important passwords and other revealing details.
Whaling email attacks
Whaling email attacks are also very similar to phishing attacks, however, they are often highly targeted. The targets of whaling attacks are typically managers and other high-profile people within companies or organisations, such as CEOs, because they are easy to research online. It isn’t difficult to find online profiles offering key pieces of personalised information about company officials, which can then be used to lull email recipients into a false sense of security.
By mentioning lots of company-specific information and even the names of employees and colleagues, whaling emails can often appear legitimate and trustworthy. Additionally, for busy people in managerial positions, replying to emails from lots of different people quickly and regularly is common. This makes it more difficult to distinguish between trusted and illegitimate senders.
Spyware email attacks
Spyware attempts are another form of email attack that you could be vulnerable to. They are often some of the most intrusive so it’s important to block them from entering your inbox in the first place. Once you open an email containing spyware software, you potentially give access to cybercriminals to see exactly what you’re doing on your computer, phone or tablet. This can lead to very worrying security breaches.
Spyware software can leave you or your business very vulnerable. Cybercriminals can access lots of private and confidential information by infecting your device with spyware. Sometimes, they can even see exact keystrokes. By monitoring and recording your keystrokes, attackers can figure out the passwords to your online banking accounts or confidential client folders.
Data capture is another threat you need to be aware of. Once spyware has infected your device, cybercriminals can gain access to important files and folders. For individuals, this can feel very intrusive and violating. For companies and large organisations, this can be financially catastrophic. Again, investing in high-quality anti-spam software is the most effective way to make sure you don’t become a victim of a spyware attack.
Ransomware email attacks
Spyware isn’t the only software attack you need to be aware of. Emails containing ransomware software can also have devastating effects on individuals and businesses and often take similar forms to spyware email attempts. Effectively, ransomware is a type of malware that infects devices and blocks the owner from accessing their data until a ransom fee is paid. It does this by encrypting files and making it impossible for the victim to regain access.
Typically, ransomware files are attached to phishing emails. Disguised as an important, trusted file sent by a legitimate sender, ransomware is often downloaded onto the target device. Once it has been downloaded, the victim is requested to pay a ransom fee which could be a huge sum. Sometimes, cybercriminals threaten to leak or publish confidential information. For individuals and businesses, this can be an extreme violation.
It can also cost you hundreds or even thousands in damage reparation costs. You may need to buy new devices for your company, but if confidential client information has been compromised during the attack, you will also have the financial fallout of losing important clients and paying expensive legal fees to contend with.
MailCleaner: Cloud-based anti-spam filter for enterprises and organisations
To avoid becoming the victim of an email attack, it’s important to identify and report phishing emails as soon as they enter your inbox. However, as we’ve mentioned, the most effective way to avoid email attacks is to invest in an anti-spam gateway, preferably a cloud-based anti-spam gateway, to make sure unsolicited emails don’t reach your inbox in the first place. This is what MailCleaner seeks to do.
MailCleaner is a business anti-spam gateway that is installed between your mail infrastructure and the internet to redirect unwanted mail away from your company server. Eliminating up to 99% of the spam emails sent to your business, MailCleaner offers exceptional protection against harmful malware and viruses. It’s a cloud-based gateway that analyses and blocks spam emails in real-time to keep your business safe and minimise employee downtime. Say goodbye to phishing emails, whaling attacks and much more with MailCleaner.
To learn more about MailCleaner and how it could benefit your business or organisation, please don’t hesitate to contact us today. Our team of anti-spam experts are on hand to find the right solution for you, no matter the size of your company or your requirements.