How to Instantly Spot a Bogus Email

by Josh Wilmoth on May 3, 2010

One of the most popular (and easiest) ways for virus and malware to sneak past most network defenses is to be brought in via bogus email.  An otherwise friendly looking email could really be carrying a destructive virus, or even an identity-robbing piece of malware. Here’s how to instantly spot an email with malicious intent.

But We Have Firewalls and Anti Virus and Anti Spyware

In many cases, network defenses can be very effective against malware threats of all types.  However, not all networks may be up to par with the latest technologies to provide the best defenses.  Keeping up with the latest protection software and methods of reducing the risk of threat requires constant awareness.

A good way to evaluate as to whether or not you’re prepared to ward of an attack, or an attempt at identity theft, you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time I had a security audit done on my business network?
  • Have we received any alerts of expired anti virus licenses?  Did we act on them, or did we ignore them?
  • Do we have the latest versions of Anti Virus and Anti Malware systems in place?

Those three questions are a good start toward understanding whether or not you’re network is prepared for what may come your way.  So, at this point, if you’re not in the best shape when it comes to security, the best defense is a good offense.  In this case, you can take the offensive and have your network checked to be sure you at least have your defenses up and running at peak performance.

And Yet, Some Still Get In

Hackers and malicious-minded hi-tech thieves are always thinking of new ways to beat the system.  This is why the evaluation in the previous section of this article is so important.  However, some malicious bogus e-mails can still get through, and that’s because the bad guys are getting smarter all the time.

The trick is to never let your guard down.  In some cases, terrible infections can occur because they were let in by someone who wasn’t looking for the signs that bad things await the person who opens a fake email that’s chock full of malware.

How Can I Keep From Getting Fooled?

In most cases, spotting a fake email is like spotting a fake $20 bill.  The more you do it, the better you become at it.  Keep in mind these tips that could help in quickly and instantly spotting a fake email that intends to do you harm:

1. The email has no subject line – Be very suspicious as most people do put in something in the subject line.  If you’re someone who doesn’t because “it takes too long”, it’s best to get in the habit.  Not only is it courteous, but it can also tip off someone you know when one arrives that doesn’t have a subject typed into it.

2. There are links to places that make no sense – We all forward jokes and links to places that have a hilarious video or two.  But when you get links to places that look totally cryptic, it’s best to not click the link.  Instead, e-mail the person who sent it (if you know them), and ask what that link goes to.

3. You get mail from someone you don’t know – We’ve all seen SPAM before, right?  You get that solicitation for a pharmaceutical-based enhancement that you really don’t need.  But, what if you get an e-mail from someone you don’t know who’s trying to share a joke or a link to a video or some other laugh-grabbing escapade?  If you don’t know the person, delete it.  Consider this the modern equivalent of not opening the door for strangers.

4. You get email from a reputable name asking for personal details – Have you seen this one?  Where a bank, a credit card company, even a retail store, emails you and asks you to either send them an email with your password and account number to “verify” yourself with them.  There are variations on this, where you get notified that your password expired and if you click the link in the email, you can reset your password.  It’s a trick, and one that you should avoid immediately.

The link is a fake link that goes to the hacker’s server, showing you a web page that looks exactly like the place you think you’re supposed to be at.  However, when you enter in your personal details, the hackers are capturing your information and will use that to steal your identity, clean out your bank account, or other very financially destructive things.

The best thing to do if you get an email notice from a place you actually do business with, is to delete the e-mail, and call the place of business and do it over the phone.  You may find that the business never actually did contact you, and therefore that email was a fake.

What We Learned Is…

There you have it, four ways to instantly spot a bogus email, and the best part is, you can do this in mere seconds.  If you keep alert, and don’t let your guard down, you can help stop the spread of malware through the Internet, just by doing your part.

If you think your network could use some help in keeping it as secure as possible, be sure to let us know, and we’ll be happy to discuss ways in which you can do that, with very little effort.

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