What Is Email Spoofing and How Can You Protect Yourself?
By Emil Kristensen CMO
@ Sleeknote

Email spoofing is a technique that is widely used by hackers to manipulate the contents of an email with a fake sender address. If not protected against, email spoofing can allow malicious parties to send harmful attachments, redirect the recipient to fake websites, and steal their personal information. Therefore, it is imperative to understand how email spoofing works and take appropriate measures to protect yourself. In this article, we will discuss the basics of email spoofing, how it works, and the risks associated with it. We will also provide you with tips on how to protect yourself from email spoofing attacks and best security practices for email communication.

Understanding the Basics of Email Spoofing

Email spoofing is essentially spoofing the “from” email address in an email message’s header. By altering the “from” address, malicious parties can mislead and deceive the recipient into believing that the email was sent by a trusted sender. The goal is often to obtain sensitive information, infect their device with malware, or trick them into making payments to fraudulent accounts. To execute the attack, hackers often use SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) servers to send emails anonymously, hiding their true identity.

How Email Spoofing Works: A Technical Explanation

From a technical standpoint, email spoofing works by manipulating a protocol called SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which is used to send email messages. Within the headers of an email message, two different addresses are used: the “from” address and the “reply-to” address. By modifying these addresses, an attacker can change the perceived sender of an email message to anyone they want, without actually having access to the account.

SMTP allows the sending of messages between servers that handle the message until it reaches its final destination. Because the servers only check if the email comes from the email server and not the actual sender, the attacker can add multiple “from” email addresses to the email that they send, which could contain any email address as they desire, making it more difficult to trace the email. Basically, SMTP has no authentication mechanism, thus creating a potential security loophole for a malicious party to take advantage of.

The Risks Associated with Email Spoofing

The risks associated with email spoofing are severe and can have significant ramifications on one’s life. The dangers come in many forms, including phishing attacks, malware infections, and identity theft. Generally, spoofed emails are used to persuade recipients into sending money or divulging sensitive information such as credit card numbers or bank account details. Attackers may trick the recipient into clicking on a link that downloads malware onto their device, allowing the attacker to steal login credentials, sensitive data or execute remote code.

In addition to this, email spoofing can compromise the reputation of the recipient. When a user sends an email from their account, which a hacker later spoofs, the result could lead to a cascade of bounce-back or failed messages. Depending on the nature of the flood of rejection messages, it could ultimately lead to their domain being blacklisted.

Common Strategies Used by Hackers for Email Spoofing

There are numerous ways that attackers can carry out email spoofing attacks. The most common are:

  • Using email masking software to hide the real identity of the sender.
  • Fabricating a header to appear as if the email was sent by a legitimate sender.
  • Creating a fake domain that is similar to a real one.
  • Utilizing open relays or hijacked email accounts to facilitate the process of email spoofing.

Signs That Indicate You Received a Spoofed Email

Some indications might clue you up that you are receiving a spoofed email. These include:

  • A strange sender’s email address
  • Unusual content, with glaring typos or irregular formatting
  • The pressure to withdraw funds or offer personal data quickly.
  • Email content or subject line that is different from the sender’s domain or reputation.
  • The sender’s email address being similar to your existing contacts, but with slight alterations you did not notice.

What to Do If You Receive a Spoofed Email

If you suspect that you have received a spoofed email, it is essential to take the right action promptly. Here are the necessary steps to follow:

  • Ensure that you do not respond to the email or follow any links it contains.
  • Delete the email from your inbox and bin it entirely to prevent repeat exposure.
  • Report the email as a scam to your email provider if they have that option.
  • Notify your IT department or a local cybersecurity expert if the email contains sensitive information or appears to come from within the organization.

How to Protect Yourself from Email Spoofing Attacks

Protecting yourself from email spoofing attacks requires a combination of preventative measures and best security practices. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Ensure you have installed an up-to-date antivirus or antimalware software on your device and that it is running.
  • Utilize a spam filter within your email client.
  • Configure your email client to detect and alert you if the email is from an unknown or unauthorized sender.
  • Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails or from unfamiliar senders
  • Verify email addresses vigilantly before sending sensitive data by clicking on details adjacent to the sender’s name or email address to view the email access history.
  • Attempt to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when emailing or when working from a remote location.

Tips for Secure Email Communication and Best Practices

Here are some security tips to keep in mind regarding email communication:

  • Avoid email attachments with the same names as an existing file installed on your device.
  • Ensure that your email password is secure and contains numbers, letters and symbols.
  • Do not open or share financial information via email without encrypting it first.
  • Use encryption services for sending sensitive data such as passwords, financial information, or login credentials.
  • Avoid utilizing public Wi-Fi to send and receive emails, or other sensitive data.

The Role of Cybersecurity and Anti-Spoofing Measures in Safeguarding Your Emails

Cybersecurity measures can assist significantly in preventing email spoofing. At their most basic level, they can include anti-spoofing technologies that automatically detect and block email messages from unverified sources. Generally, these functions maintain a repository of all authorized email addresses and the SMTP servers used to send the emails. For any email that comes, the system verifies the email’s header to confirm that the sender is allowed to send emails. If it fails, the email will be discarded, or any email address will also optionally quarantine suspicious emails for further validation analysis.

In conclusion, email spoofing continues to be a significant concern for individuals, businesses and organizations. By understanding what email spoofing is, how it works, and the strategies that hackers typically use to execute these attacks, you can take the necessary steps to protect your email communication. With preventative measures, best security practices, and anti-spoofing technologies, you can minimize the risk of exposure and protect yourself from potentially harmful attacks.