Email Spoofing vs. Phishing

June. 12, 2020

1:00-2:00AM PST

Each and every day, individuals with email addresses received dozens -- sometimes even hundreds -- of unsolicited emails. Although this daily onslaught of gratuitous emails is often regarded as a harmless nuisance, malicious actors plotting cybersecurity attacks may lurk beneath the surface on occasion. Such malicious attacks are often carried with the goal of stealing highly sensitive data, private credentials, and additional delicate information that may be stored on an individual’s device. Generally confused for one another, spoofing and phishing are two of the most prevalent types of email-based data theft strategies that have been mobilized by cybercriminals. However, both spoofing and phishing are comprised of different characteristics that pose their own distinct dangers to user data.

What is Spoofing?

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation defines spoofing as “when someone disguises an email address, sender name, phone number, or website URL—often just by changing one letter, symbol, or number—to convince you that you are interacting with a trusted source.” Thus, a cybercriminal carrying out a spoofing attempt effectively impersonates an unrelated, and often credible, organization, company, or person in order to capture sensitive information pertaining to an individual or business that was otherwise intended to be private and secure. Spoofing attempts are sometimes carried out for the purpose of monetary gains as well. Through the use of counterfeit email addresses that are shockingly similar to the original genuine email addresses, these cybercriminals can easily get their victims to reveal incredibly delicate information that pertains to a slew of personal or business matters -- for example, private bank account information. Moreover, the cybercriminals behind spoofing attacks often lead their victims to believe that the email’s true purpose is to warn of an actual or impending security breach or threat, like identity theft.

 

Over time, it has become increasingly less difficult for such hackers to feign legitimacy. To appear as credible as the source they are impersonating, hackers often get their hands on corporate logos and recognizable graphics, embedding them into their email-attacks. This trusted imagery is typically a powerful tactic, successfully convincing many victims to click on links that result in the implementation of malicious software or files that have the potential to bring about grave destruction to the device, its operating system, and its applications. Furthermore, these malicious files may also disperse throughout the network, putting the data of friends, family members, clients, business associates, etc. in jeopardy. 

 

In order to avoid spoofing attacks, users should be mindful of and when possible, thoroughly review, all communications that land in their inboxes. The main tell-tale sign of email spoofing is the presence of spelling errors located in the sender’s email address. Additionally, the prevalence of grammatical mistakes, impersonal greetings, time-sensitive threats, unexpected files, vague or absent information, as well as awkward sentence structure and unusual phrasing, should also serve as a red flag to users. Moreover, email correspondence from unknown senders and that contains questions pertaining to personal, private information should be cause for suspicion. Users just trust their instincts when navigating potential spoofing attempts. Deleting any questionable emails received and quickly shutting down browsers are highly advised precautionary measures. However, if the user is unsure of the legitimacy of an email that they have received, simply calling the individual, company, or organization in question will undoubtedly provide clarity.

What is Phishing?

More often than not, phishing attacks incorporate some of the very same tactics as spoofing. This is due to the fact that phishing typically includes the mobilization of deceptive, yet seemingly legitimate email correspondence. However, “unlike spoofing, a phishing scam usually provides a link to a bogus website where the end-user is required to enter sensitive account information.” To put it simply, the purpose of phishing is for cybercriminals to manipulate victims into willingly handing over private and confidential information relating to one’s personal and/or business affairs. In leveraging a spoofed email address, hackers carrying out phishing attempts typically request the verification or update of a victim’s personal information. In order to do so, victims are then required to either visit an external URL or send a reply. And the email and web addresses utilized by these cybercriminals typically feel legitimate and familiar to the user, easily convincing them to respond or follow through with the requested action.

 

Generally, after clicking on the link provided in the phishing email, victims are directed to a seemingly reputable and legitimate site. These sites often resemble the sites that they are impersonating so well that victims are easily persuaded to divulge private information like passwords, social security numbers, banking PINs, tax IDs, credit card numbers, etc. And victims who innocently disclose this information may unknowingly bring about long-lasting harm to their assets, along with permanent blemishes to their credit ratings. As technology has advanced, hackers have unfortunately grown more proficient in skills like web programming and computer coding, making it even easier for them to deceive their victims.

 

But device owners should not fret, as there are several methods that can help to steer clear of these phishing attacks. Individuals are advised to take careful note of subtle spelling and grammatical errors in both domain names and email contents, the presence of attached files, overly dramatic or aggressive subject lines, and requests for private user credentials, as these should all be a cause for skepticism. Specifically, if email attachments do not consist of the prominent “.jpg,” “.docx,” “.png,” etc., users are highly recommended to proceed with caution. Attachments including the naming devices “.exe,” “.zip,” and “.scr,” for example, should typically serve as a word of warning for users. Similar to spoofing, users that suspect a phishing attempt are urged to deleting any questionable emails received and quickly close out browsers. On top of this, experts implore individuals to contact their service providers regarding such disreputable and unethical activity. This can enable service providers to provide the individual in question, as well as its other customers, will the utmost thorough protection of data, information, assets, and identities.

Ensure Email Security

For greater email security and peace of mind, users are encouraged to seek out the assistance of an email security platform, like Trustifi. Trustifi’s team of highly skilled and experienced IT professionals provides its clients with an abundance of email security solutions, including advanced threat protection for malicious activities like spoofing and phishing.

 

References

Cholewa, Thomas. “The Difference Between Phishing & Spoofing.” Small Business -

Chron.com, Chron.com, 21 Nov. 2017,

smallbusiness.chron.com/difference-between-phishing-spoofing-70932.html#:~:text=Phishing%20and%20spoofing%20are%20clearly,is%20a%20means%20of%20delivery.

 

“Spoofing and Phishing.” FBI, FBI, 17 Apr. 2020,

www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/spoofing-and-phishing.

Try Trustifi Today

EMAIL SECURITY PLATFORMS
FOR BUSINESS

See if Trustifi Is Right for Your Organization