Spammers and Trojans and Phishing – Oh My!
Fraudulent email is on the prowl and it is important that you remain vigilant. Some of this unwanted mail is merely annoying while others are dangerous. How can you proceed with confidence knowing that you are safe from ambush?
The dynamic nature of the problem makes it impossible for us to provide you with an exhaustive description on how to identify threats. There are however, a number of tell-tale signs that help you identify what type of email you are viewing.
Types of Fraudulent Email
|Spam||Unsolicited commercial email sent indiscriminately to large numbers of people. These have two general uses: 1. To entice you to purchase items 2. As feelers to legitimize your email address which will be subsequently be sold to other spammers|
|Phishing||An email message which attempts to collect personally identifying information which can be used for identity theft. Examples include social security numbers, account numbers, and passwords.|
|Virus||A malicious program which attempts to launch itself on your computer through some innocuous human interaction action (i.e. clicking a “Cancel” button). These take advantage of security vulnerabilities which is why a properly patched system has far less chance of contracting a virus.|
|Trojan||A type of virus which, rather than exploiting a system vulnerability, attempts to exploit the reader’s gullibility. (i.e. Click Here for your Free Download!) Well written and targeted Trojans can be quite compelling.|
|Worm||Another type of virus which uses your network access to other computers to propagate itself to other computers.|
Identifying Fraudulent Email
Signs that an email may be fraudulent:
- Any request for your password or any personal information. No legitimate sender will ever request your password or other confidential information via email.
- Links to incorrect or unfamiliar websites. For example, an email claiming to be from the SoE Help Desk directing you to click a link to email.ctgov.com (not a real website) is phishing. Be aware that anyone can buy any available domain name, so make sure you know the actual address from a trustworthy source. Note: links can be faked. To see where a link actually goes, you can hover over it with the mouse without clicking. The real destination will be shown in the status bar of most browsers and mail programs.
- Bad spelling and/ or grammar. This is not a guaranteed detection method, since legitimate emails may contain typos or spam may use perfect spelling and grammar, but it is a common indicator of spam.
- Vague threats or promises, such as “Your account will be suspended” or “You’ve been selected as a finalist”. The sender may try to make the issue seem urgent so you will click without second-guessing the email.
- A generic or missing sender signature, such as “System Administrator”. Legitimate mail from ECS (or any other official entity) will always have a recognizable name and contact information in the signature. However, the sender can put anything into the signature block, so this alone is not a guarantee of a safe email.
The following are not a guarantee of a legitimate sender:
- The “from address” – This is easily spoofed
- Recognized logos or graphics – Anyone can find an image online and paste it into an email.
Identifying Legitimate Messages
- Content: The best indicator is reviewing what the preview panel shows you about the email. Ongoing discussions or private (as opposed to personal) information can quickly convince you that the message originated from a friend. Note: spammers may sometimes fake a continued conversation – be wary if you do not remember having the conversation.
- Digital Signatures: These can guarantee that a message is legitimate if it has been digitally signed. See here for information on checking the digital signature.
How can I keep my email safe from spam/ phishing?
What should I do if I receive a phishing (or other type) of email?
- Reply to the message
- Open any attachments
- Click links, including unsubscribe
- Delete the email
- If you wish to report fraudulent email, forward it directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Should I “unsubscribe” from email lists?
If you know that the email list is legitimate and you want off, unsubscribe. If you do not know where the message originated, then delete without unsubscribing. Clicking the unsubscribe link will let the sender know that he has reached an occupied mailbox.
Is it OK to download images that come with email?
By default, your mail program should block all images linked to the message and give you an option to download pictures. If the originator of the message is not known, you should decline. This has the same effect as clicking “unsubscribe”. Graphics are frequently used as beacons to help spammers identify live mailboxes.
After you have determined the message is legitimate, downloading images is not a threat. In the past there have been vulnerabilities in the image rendering software allowing the entrance of viruses but these have been resolved and not seen in quite a long time. Note: some images are embedded instead of linked and will display regardless. This is not a problem as they do not “phone home” when viewed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will antivirus software help protect against fraudulent email?
Definitely. You should keep antivirus software installed and up to date on your computer; this will trap almost all viruses and prevent them from infecting your computer. See here to download antivirus for a UConn-owned computer, or here for personal computers.
Is spam illegal?
Ironically, spam laws are designed to protect, not eliminate, unsolicited commercial email. That is, legitimate companies lobby for and follow laws like CAN SPAM in an effort to keep the riff-raff out of their market segment.
It is commonly believed that the term originated from a Monty Python skit – no one knows this for sure. For those interested in evaluating this historical tidbit for yourself, you can watch the skit here.