The convenience of email is a classic double-edged sword — on one end, it makes it easy to reach out to colleagues and clients, but on the other, it opens users up to unsolicited messages. These could be anything from run-of-the-mill marketing emails to “unique” investment opportunities. However, these could also be serious attempts to break into a person’s online accounts, steal their information, and spread malware.
Promotional messages are annoying, but they’re not a significant threat. Email service providers already have measures in place to filter and flag these as spam. And if any of these emails make it past the filter, they’re pretty easy to spot and delete manually. What’s dangerous and harder to curb are the emails sent out by cybercriminals with the intent to attack.
It’s vital that you and your employees learn how to identify and avoid these three dangerous types of spam emails.
1. Phishing emails
According to the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing accounts for over 30% of breaches. It remains the biggest threat to small businesses, with attacks ramping up as many organizations continue to work remotely.
Phishing is typically carried out over email, instant messages, phone calls, and text messages. It involves a fraudster posing as a trustworthy person or organization to steal confidential information or spread malware. A victim is often led to a fake website — designed to look and feel like a legitimate site — which collects their personal information. Once the phisher gets a hold of a victim’s information, they can use this to commit identity theft or fraud. They can even coordinate multiple/multi-pronged attacks to infiltrate a network and gain access to confidential business data.
There are several telltale signs of a phishing email. Aside from having poor grammar, a generic greeting, and suspicious links and attachments, a phishing email usually conveys a sense of urgency. It scares a victim into performing an urgent task, like verifying their account, resetting their password, paying for a purchase they never made, and other similar requests.
To protect against phishing attempts, you and your employees must be extra careful when opening unsolicited emails. Verify if the sender’s email address matches the organization’s official domain name. You can do this by doing a quick Google search or using sites like WHOis and ICANN to confirm the owner of a specific domain name. It also won’t hurt to contact the supposed sender using official channels to confirm the legitimacy of the email.
2. Advance-fee scams
An advance-fee scam involves a victim paying a small upfront payment to someone in anticipation of receiving promised goods, services, and/or money. Once the fraudster receives the payment, they either demand more fees or simply disappear.
Among the most recognizable advance-fee scams are the 419 scams, also known as the Nigerian prince scams. These begin with emails purporting to be from a member of a royal family in another country, offering victims part of a sizable fortune in exchange for a small favor. This could be to share their bank account information so the royal could transfer the funds to them for safekeeping, or to pay a small fee to cover the expense of transferring the money. That’s when the scammers run off with the victim’s money or, worse, drain their bank account.
Many people still fall victim to advance-fee scams, mainly because scammers make use of social engineering tactics that involve manipulation or taking advantage of the victims’ empathy, vanity, or greed. To safeguard your business from social engineering attacks, require all employees, including executives, to participate in regular security awareness training to learn how to spot and avoid social engineering attempts.
Malspam — short for malicious spam emails — are, essentially, emails that carry harmful links or infected attachments. Like phishing emails and advance-fee scams, malspam coaxes victims to perform an action that’s often against their better judgment. In this case, it forces the recipient to click a download link or open an attachment. Doing so automatically infects their computer with malware, like ransomware, spyware, keyloggers, and more.
Once a cybercriminal gains access to the victim’s computer, they can then steal login credentials and financial information, spread even more malware, or send out more spam via the infected device.
The best way to avoid malspam, or any other dangerous type of spam email, is to double up on security. It pays to invest in powerful anti-malware programs and firewalls that prevent, detect, and remove malicious files on your computers and systems. It’s also helpful to conduct regular network audits to check for vulnerabilities and keep your corporate network updated, stable, and safe from threats.
Further reading: How to protect your business from dangerous spam emails
Protect your business from dangerous spam emails and other cyberthreats by partnering with Prosum. Get in touch with our experts today to learn more about how we can help safeguard your data with a security fortress that works as hard as you do.