10 Tips to Identify a Phishing Email

Don’t Risk Losing your Life Savings to Scammers. Follow these 10 Tips to Identify a Phishing Email.

Whether you run a Fortune-500 organization or a small boutique, by now you should be aware of the threats posed by cyber criminals to trick you into clicking a link, downloading an attachment, or parting ways with your money.

Modern day email scams are getting more sophisticated, leading to staggering losses for businesses of all sizes. According to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing was used in 93% of all reported breaches, with email being the main attack vector in 96% of reported cases.

While these figures are staggering, they continue to rise as scammers reap huge payouts from BEC (Business Email Compromise), CEO fraud and other phishing scams.

The real estate industry is a prime target for phishing because large sums of money change hands and there are various weak links in the transaction process. If any step within the transaction process becomes compromised with a successful phishing email, the attacker could gain access to a legitimate email address from which to launch other attacks. The fraudster could then lie in wait, scanning email messages for financial or transaction related details, and then send off fraudulent wire transfer instructions to an unsuspecting buyer, seller, or agent. For example, this happened to a 31 year-old first-time home buyer in San Antonio, Texas. You can read details about this case here, but the short version of the story is that she felt that she was in a time crunch to send in her down payment and finalize other closing tasks, and felt that the title company was dragging its feet. This state of high anxiety made her a prime target for a phishing email she received stating that she had previously been given the wrong wire transfer information, and that she needed to wire her down payment to a new account. With 5 hours left to get everything done, she attempted to contact her title company to confirm the change, but no one responded, so in a panic, she hastily ran to the bank and wire transferred her $52,000 down payment. Unfortunately, she sent her life savings to scammers.

The phishing industry is so lucrative for scammers because the barriers to entry are low relative to potential huge payouts. With botnets-for-hire and Malware as a Service (Maas), spammers have an impressive arsenal of tools at their disposal to propagate their campaigns, so to fight this scourge, an educated user is the best defense against phishing scams. With this in mind, here are my top 10 tips on how to identify and protect yourself from phishing attacks.

  1. Watch out for messages disguised as something expected, like a shipment or payment notification. These often contain links to malware sites. Hover your mouse over any links to make sure they’re safe. Think before you click! Here’s an example using a phishing email I received claiming to come from HSBC.

    Payment notification phishing email
    Watch for unexpected payment or shipment notices
  2. Watch for messages asking for personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. Legitimate companies will never ask for this over email.
  3. Beware of urgent or threatening messages claiming that your account has been suspended and prompting you to click on a link to unlock your account.
  4. Check for poor grammar or spelling errors. While legitimate companies are very strict about emails they send out, Phishing emails often contain poor spelling or grammar.
  5. Hover before you click! Phishing emails often contain links to malware sites. Don’t trust the URL you see! Always hover your mouse over the link to view its real destination. If the link claims to point to a known, reputable site, it’s always safer to manually type the URL into your browser’s address bar.
  6. Check the Greeting – Is the message addressed to a generic recipient, such as “Valued customer” or “Sir/Madam?” If so, be careful & think twice! Legitimate businesses will often use your real first and last name. In our HSBC example, notice the generic greeting.

    Watch for generic greetings in email messages
    Watch for generic greetings in email messages
  7. Check the Signature – In addition to the greeting, phishing emails often leave out important information in the signature. Legitimate businesses will always have accurate contact details in their signature, so if a message’s signature looks incomplete or inaccurate, chances are it’s spam. In our HSBC example, the sender’s name and contact information are missing from the signature.

    Watch for generic signatures in phishing email messages.
    Watch for generic signatures in phishing email messages.
  8. Don’t download Attachments – With the proliferation of Ransomware as a Service (Raas), spammers have an easy mechanism for distributing malware-laden spam messages to thousands of users. And because the payout for ransomware can be quite high, even one successful ransomware infection could net the spammer large amounts of money. If there’s ANY doubt about the identity of the message sender or the contents of an attachment, play it safe and don’t download the attachment.
  9. Don’t trust the From address – Many phishing emails will have a forged sender address. The From address is displayed in two places. The Envelope From is used by mail servers to generate NDR messages, while the Header From is used by the email client to display information in the From field. Both of these headers can be spoofed. MDaemon Webmail has built-in security features to help users identify spoofed emails. Many mail clients hide the From address, only showing the From name, which can be easily spoofed. In MDaemon Webmail, the From address is always displayed, giving users a clearer view into the source of the email and helping them identify spoofed senders. Using our HSBC example, I’ve highlighted the actual sender.
    Phishing email highlighting the actual sending address
    Phishing email highlighting the actual sending address

    MDaemon Webmail will also display information in the Security tag to help users identify messages from verified senders, as shown here.

    MDaemon Webmail - DKIM-Verified Sender
    MDaemon Webmail – DKIM-Verified Sender
  10. Don’t Enable Macros – And while we’re on the subject of ransomware, another common vector for ransomware infections is through macros in Microsoft Word documents. These documents often arrive in phishing emails claiming to have important content from HR, Finance, or another important department, and to trick the user, they request the user to enable macros. Never trust an email that asks you to enable macros before downloading a Word document.

While anti-spam and anti-malware tools are quite effective at filtering out the majority of scams, there’s really no substitute for good old-fashioned user education. Know the potential costs to your business and don’t become the next victim!

If you’re the MDaemon or SecurityGateway administrator and need help with your security settings to help block as much phishing as possible before it reaches your users, give us a call or drop us an email support request.

 

 

 

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With today’s massive ransomware outbreak, here are a few reminders of how to avoid becoming a victim.

RansomwareAs I was coaxing myself awake this morning with my usual jolt of strong coffee, I checked my favorite news sites & was informed of yet another ransomware attack. This one, which is believed to have originated from Ukraine, was first thought to be a variation of last year’s Petya ransomware outbreak, but upon further investigation, it appears that today’s malware is a new type – a worm that some computer experts are referring to as “NotPetya“. This attack demands a smaller ransom (in comparison to other attacks) of approximately $300, and then begins to serve its primary purpose – to wipe files on the computer. According to researchers at Symantec, this attack used the same National Security Agency hacking tool, Eternal Blue, that was used in the WannaCry outbreak, as well as two other methods to spread the attack. According to information provided by this article on CNN, if you’ve installed all of the latest Windows patches, you should be safe from this particular strain of malware, however, by no means is this a reason to be complacent. Administrators and end users must still be mindful of safety precautions.

Due to the proliferation of Malware as a Service (MaaS), just about anyone with the desire and the funds can initiate a malware attack, making new & emerging threats a real concern for the foreseeable future. This presents a good opportunity to review best practices for avoiding ransomware – for end users, and for administrators via the tools available in MDaemon and SecurityGateway.

How can end users protect themselves from ransomware?

End users should be aware of the following 18 email safety tips, which originally appeared in this post.

  • Change your password often.
  • Use strong passwords. Never use a password that contains “password” or “letmein”.
  • Use a different password for each of your accounts. If you use the same password for your bank account as you do for your email account, you become much more vulnerable to data theft.
  • Don’t open an attachment unless you know who it is from & are expecting it. Many of today’s social engineering tactics rely on the ability to trick users into opening attachments.
  • Be cautious about email messages that instruct you to enable macros before downloading Word or Excel attachments. This article provides a good overview of why you should not enable macros in Microsoft Word.
  • Use anti-virus software on your local machine, and make sure it’s kept up-to-date with the latest virus definitions.
  • If you receive an attachment from someone you don’t know, don’t open it. Delete it immediately.
  • Learn how to recognize phishing
    – Messages that contain threats to shut your account down
    – Requests for personal information such as passwords or Social Security numbers
    – Words like “Urgent” – false sense of urgency
    – Forged email addresses
    – Poor writing or bad grammar
  • Hover your mouse over links before you click on them to see if the URL looks legitimate.
  • Instead of clicking on links, open a new browser and manually type in the address.
  • Don’t give your email address to sites you don’t trust.
  • Don’t post your email address to public websites or forums. Spammers often scan these sites for email addresses.
  • Don’t click the “Unsubscribe” link in a spam email. It would only let the spammer know your address is legitimate, which could lead to you receiving more spam.
  • Understand that reputable businesses will never ask for personal information via email.
  • Don’t send personal information in an email message.
  • Don’t reply to spam. Be aware that if you reply to a spam email, your reply most-likely will not go back to the original spammer because the FROM header in the spam message will most-likely be forged.
  • Don’t share passwords.
  • Be sure to log out.

How can administrators protect their systems from ransomware?

The battle against ransomware cannot be fought by users alone. Administrators must also take steps to lock down their email infrastructure. These best practices will help protect your network and users.

Best Practices for MDaemon Administrators

  1. Enable account hijack detection. This feature will automatically disable an account if a designated number of messages are sent from it via an authenticated session in a given period of time. When the account is disabled, the administrator receives a notification so that corrective action can be taken. Instructions for configuring account hijack detection can be found in this knowledge base article.
  2. Enable dynamic screening. Dynamic screening is a feature that blocks future connections from a connecting server or client based on its behavior.  Instructions for configuring dynamic screening can be found here.
  3. Configure the IP Shield. The IP Shielding feature allows administrators to assign an IP address (or IP address range) to email messages from a given domain. Messages claiming to come from a specific domain must originate from one of the approved IP addresses. Exceptions can be made for users connecting from outside of the network who are using SMTP authentication.  Click here for instructions.
  4. Require SMTP Authentication. This helps ensure that the user authenticates with a valid username and password. Instructions can be found here.
  5. Use DKIM & SPF to detect spoofing. DKIM uses a private/public key pair to authenticate a message. When an incoming message is signed with DKIM, a DNS record lookup is performed on the domain taken from the signature and the private key taken from the signature is compared with the public key in the domain’s DNS records. SPF uses a DNS record that lists hosts that are allowed to send mail on behalf of a domain.
  6. Enable DMARC & configure your DMARC record. DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) allows domain owners to instruct receiving servers on how to handle messages claiming to come from their domain that did not pass DKIM and SPF lookups.  Learn more here.
  7. Ensure that all connections (SMTP, POP, IMAP), are using SSL. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a method for  encrypting the connection between a client and server, as well as between to servers. Learn more here.
  8. Have a backup strategy. If by chance malware still manages to infect your network, your last resort is to have a reliable backup strategy. Ideally, you should have your systems backed up off-site and, for added safety, secondary backup data should be saved to media that is not connected to the network.

More information on these settings can be found in the following guide on best practices for protecting your users:

Email Server Settings – Best Practices

Best practices for SecurityGateway administrators

SecurityGateway provides an extra layer of anti-spam, anti-spoofing and anti-malware security, in addition to your mail server’s built-in security settings. These best practices will help keep ransomware and other malicious content from reaching your mail server. Each item includes a link with more information.

  1. Require strong passwords.
  2. Query a user verification source to ensure that users are valid.
  3. Require SMTP authentication to prevent unauthorized account access.
  4. Prevent unauthorized mail relaying.
  5. Protect your domain with IP Shielding.
  6. Require SSL encrypted connections.
  7. Configure backscatter protection.
  8. Don’t whitelist local addresses. If a spam messages was spoofed with one of your local addresses, this could allow the spam message to bypass various security features. This why it is recommended that no local addresses be added to your whitelist.
  9. Enable spam & virus Outbreak Protection.

These steps are discussed in more detail in the following guide:

SecurityGateway – Settings to Protect Your Mail Server

Of course, no system is 100% fool-proof, which is why user education is so important. Remember – your network and email infrastructure are only as secure as their weakest link. It is the responsibility of all parties involved – administrators and end users, to help ensure a secure messaging and collaboration environment.

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Ransomware and Banking Trojans are Big Business

Spam is big business. With the proliferation of botnets for hire, it takes very little effort for a spammer to send out thousands of messages at a time. These messages may contain links to websites peddling counterfeit products, or they may be laced with viruses, trojans, and various other forms of malware. The barriers to entry and costs incurred by spammers are very low

There seems to be no end to the global threat of malware spreading via spam and phishing emails and propagated by botnets around the world. Over the past few months, two threats have emerged. One is a banking trojan targeting users in Brazil, and the other is the now-infamous Cryptowall ransomware.

The banking trojans are spread via phishing emails containing CPL files, which are a type of library file that executes code once it is clicked on. Social engineering tactics are used to try to convince the message recipients that the attachment contains valuable information, such as an invoice or banking information.

Click here to learn more about these banking trojans.

The other big player in the malware arena is ransomware. A recent study has shown the proliferation of phishing emails with SVG files attached. These files, when downloaded and executed, open websites with what appears to be the CryptoWall ransomware.

Click here to learn more about CryptoWall ransomware.

The common theme for both of these threats is that the user was not exercising the proper amount of caution before opening email attachments. Both of these threats where spread via phishing emails, which use social engineering tactics to trick end users into opening these messages and clicking on links or downloading attachments.

Spammers know that end users are often the weakest link in fighting spam, so it’s in the best interest of companies of all sizes to educate their users on email safety. While most mail servers and spam gateways, such as MDaemon and SecurityGateway, have numerous tools for blocking spam & malware, no anti-spam solution is 100% fool-proof. Spammers are always seeking out new methods to trick users into opening their messages, so users must learn how to stay safe and recognize potential threats.

For a review of best practices for end users, review my post “Email Safety Tips for End Users.”

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SecurityPlus Webinar Added to YouTube

SecurityPlus provides antivirus and anti-spam services for MDaemon. It scans all inbound and outbound mail traffic for spam, viruses, malware, phishing attempts, and other types of malicious activity to catch potential threats before they have had a chance to infiltrate your network. To learn more about SecurityPlus, including how to configure it & how to identify SecurityPlus activity in your MDaemon log files, check out the following recorded webinar.

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