Email Phishing - What Is It and How to Protect Your Mailbox?

By Haseeb Awan

What is Phishing?

Phishing is an internet scam in which hackers imitate reputable companies using email, text messages, advertisements, and other ways to steal confidential data. A hacker typically carries out phishing by attaching a link that takes you to the company's website. You can fill out your sensitive data such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and account numbers - but the website is a brilliant ruse. The information you supply gets directly to the scammers.

What is Email Phishing?

Let's understand how email works to comprehend email phishing or spoofing better. 

SMTP protocol delivers emails to the recipient's mail servers. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is an Internet protocol that hasn't changed much since its inception. By exposing any email address, any server can send an email. The sender field (from) is, after all, just another text field that isn't secured.

Email spoofing/phishing involves mimicking an email address, as discussed earlier. The goal is to disguise the sender's true identity and make it appear like a reliable address. It is used in various ways to make phishing assaults more plausible.

This article will discuss email phishing, how it works, identifying if you are being spoofed, and protecting your mailbox from phishing attempts.

How Does Email Phishing Work?

Phishing frequently employs email spoofing, making an email from a recognized or trustworthy source. It makes pretexts more convincing or effective in phishing and more complex spear-phishing or BEC assaults.

Phishing scams are more common now, so we must avoid emails with misspellings, unrealistic requests, and fishy links.

However, attackers have developed, and phishing has become more sophisticated. It is now considerably more difficult to distinguish a malicious email from a legitimate one. Phishing emails nowadays typically know the latest content and style regulations. Hackers have begun to include logos, signatures, and social media links, among other things.

Email spoofing adds to the confidence of the victims by presenting them with the idea that they are communicating with a verified or trusted contact. As a result, they are more inclined to open the link or respond to a request for personal data.

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How to Identify A Phishing Email (Without Failing)?

Today, recognizing a phishing email is tricky but not entirely impossible. Naive hackers give themselves away by making common mistakes like requesting personal information, not greeting the person they're communicating with, making grammatical and spelling errors, using an unofficial email address, and linking to spammy or misleading webpages. However, to ensure you don't fall prey to tech-savvy hackers' attempts, here are seven signs to recognize phishing emails.

  1. A legit sender will never ask you to share your sensitive information via email.
  2. A legit sender will avoid flattery and call you by your name.
  3. A legit sender usually has a domain email (xyz@efani.com)
  4. A legit sender will never make grammatical errors or spelling mistakes.
  5. A legit sender will inform and educate you instead of creating a sense of urgency to buy the product or visit the website.
  6. A legit sender will not send unsolicited attachments without any initial introductory emails.
  7. A legit sender will always send the legitimate URLs

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing?

We have included the personal efforts and technical assistance required to protect yourself from phishing and enhance email security.

Personal Efforts

  1. Avoid clicking on the email link; instead, use your own link by navigating to the website via a browser bookmark or search engine.
  2. Do not share your personal details with anyone on the internet.
  3. Educate yourself about the current phishing trends, stats, and approaches.
  4. Train your team and clients about phishing signs and their prevention techniques.
  5. Mark any shady email and sender as spam or junk.
  6. Get technical assistance to secure your mailbox.
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Technical Assistance

  • Set Up SPF (Sender Policy Framework):

The servers must first be declared. SPF is a DNS record that specifies which mail servers are allowed to send emails to your domain. It will enable you to list the domain name's authorized servers and IP addresses. It is the initial stage in the authentication process.

When an email from your company is sent, the recipient's mail servers verify that it came from one of the approved domains. The communication will be classified as junk/spam if it does not originate from an authorized domain.

SPF records that are incorrectly set up may cause delivery issues. Based on the email solution provider, they will sometimes provide configuration instructions. When installing SPF, you can also refer to these recommended practices.

  • Install DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail)

The DKIM protocol must also be deployed as a backup. It uses a combination of public and private keys to verify the authenticity of the email sender's domain. The keys are used to sign and confirm communications' origins. It is actually a signature on your DNS record that contains the signatory's identity.

The private key is used to append the signature to the header of outbound emails. Whereas the public key examines the source and if it is updated when the recipient's servers get the email. The DKIM protocol works with SPF to evaluate a message before marking it as spam.

  • Get DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance)

The DMARC record certifies the implementation of the DKIM and SPF protocols, specifically the header-to-sending-domain interaction.

It specifies what happens if an email fails specific criteria. Discard, restrict, or ignore are the three possibilities. The guidelines are set to tolerate soft or rigid alignment.

Eventually, the DMARC protocol generates reports that reveal which communications from your domain have been validated and which have not. This can help you see potential threats, exploitation, or configuration problems.

  • Bonus Tip: Configure BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification)

BIMI does not strengthen security but adds visual proof to validate the sender's identity. The brand logo is shown right in the email. If you have DKIM, SPF, and DMARC protocols enabled, and the DMARC is set to restrict or discard, you can add BIMI.

Although BIMI has been in use since 2019, not all email services support it, such as Outlook and Office365, to name a few.

Even though it may seem like a good idea to strengthen trust by identifying which image is typically shown next to a contact, this does not protect against phishing. Moreover, a hacker may add a brand image to their email and set up a domain with DKIM, SPF, and DMARC. Here BIMI becomes a disadvantage as the recipient will be much less wary of this email.

To Conclude:

These three procedures reduce the chances of faking a specific email address. They are also used to safeguard domains that do not send emails. Email phishing is substantially less prevalent now than before these measures were implemented.

In addition to technical assistance, personal awareness and vigilance are just as important. A social engineering audit allows teams to put their instincts to the test by launching attacks tailored to the situation. Employees become more conscious of the risks they confront due to real-life scenarios and better understand vulnerability.

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