By: Paul R. Barresi, IT Manager
According to various sources, approximately 300 billion+ emails are sent worldwide every day. Unbelievably, more than half that number either has the potential to infect your computer with malware or make you reveal your passwords and other sensitive information. These come from criminals who want your money, your company’s data, your personal identifiable information (PII) or all the above. Today’s blog takes a decided non-tax bent and focuses on ways to identify emails that threaten you or your business.
No matter how good your company’s email filtering system is, some bad emails will make it through. You could have a few sitting in your inbox right now. How can you tell a legitimate email from one that isn’t? How can you be sure the person sending you that PDF is who they claim to be and there’s not code in that document aimed at locking your files or rendering your PC inoperable? Fortunately, there are simple ways to weed out these emails.
Where is That Email Really Coming From?
It’s easy for a person to pose as someone else, copy graphics and text into the body of a message, and send emails pretending to be from somewhere they are not. For example, I once received an email supposedly from our CEO. Her name was on it, but the address was a random Gmail account, not her work or known personal account. That was an immediate red flag.
Just seeing the sender’s name is not enough. To know the real origin of an email, open it, and inspect the reply-to address. For example, Apple ID Support’s email address is email@example.com. If you see AppleID@yahoo.com or Apple.ID@apple-support.com then the email is fraudulent. For a deeper analysis, someone who is knowledgeable can examine what’s called the internet header of the email. The internet header is like a journal that lists the origin of a message, the email servers it traveled through and other information. You can learn a lot from the internet header and determine if the email is real or not.
If something seems off about the sender address, trust your instincts.
Bad Grammar and Typos
If an email allegedly coming from a professional source is full of typos, grammatical errors, odd word choices and generic greetings like ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ take it as a sign that you should delete the email.
Check Those Links
The real destination of a web link in a questionable email is always camouflaged. A spammer or other bad actor can type in whatever description they want. A sure way to see where a shortcut will take you in Outlook is to hover the mouse arrow over the link. You’ll see a small pop up with the web address. If the description and web address doesn’t match or seems wrong somehow, don’t click on it.
Be wary if URL shorteners like “Bitly” are being used. A Bitly link will be random letters and numbers that look like this: https://bit.ly/3Et2JKQ. You’re forced to click on it to see where it goes since there’s no way to tell otherwise. These are always suspect so do not click on them.
Avoid Logging in Through a Web Link in an Email
Whether or not it’s your bank, the IRS, Apple, Microsoft or your local convenience store, no company or financial institution will ever reach out though email to ask for password verification, a credit card number or to request personal identifiable information, like a social security number.
You might receive an alert saying that an account will be locked or cancelled immediately if you don’t log in right way. Never let panic do the thinking and rush you into a bad decision. Emails like these are always bogus and can safely be ignored. However, if you need peace of mind, contact this organization using the customer service number on their website to see if the email came from them. Never call the phone number listed in the email itself.
Beware of Attachments
Opening an email attachment is the most common way a computer can be infected. Don’t let curiosity get the best of you because the results could be devastating. Never open an attachment, especially if it’s a Microsoft Office file or a PDF, unless you know the sender and you are 100% certain that it’s safe to do so.
It’s OK to be a Little Paranoid
Even if you know the sender, you must still be on guard. Let’s say you receive an unexpected email from a friend or coworker with an attachment or a link to a website. The email address checks out and everything seems normal. However, it seems a little odd this person sent you something and didn’t mention it previously. Before you do anything, pick up the phone and call or text the sender. Verify the email came from them before opening any attachments or links.
I Messed Up. What Do I Do?
When you’re busy it is easy to overlook some of the red flags noted above. That’s understandable. If you have clicked on something dodgy and now strange things are happening to your computer, you should act quickly to mitigate possible damage to your computer and the network on which it’s operating.
Hopefully your anti-malware solution stopped whatever it is dead in its tracks. If not, and you are certain that your computer has been infected, disconnect from the network you’re on right away. That means physically pulling the network cable out of your computer or disconnecting from your Wi-Fi network. Much like a disease that spreads from person-to-person, malware will spread throughout your network PC-to-PC if left unchecked. You don’t want your problem to become everyone’s problem so cut off that access point quickly. Next, contact an IT professional, a cyber security professional or at least someone knowledgeable in computers so they can assist, if needed. Depending on the type and severity of infection, the solution could be from some simple file deletions to a full rebuild of your system. Acting fast is critical.
If the problem is not software, but more like entering your login information on a fake bank website, for example, immediately contact your bank and tell them what happened. They will assist you with changing your password and put fraud warnings on your account to keep an eye out for dubious transactions.
Good Anti-Malware Solutions and Regular Data Back Ups
Make sure whatever anti-malware solution you use, it is functioning properly and your subscription is up to date. Do not rely on free protection available on the internet. You get what you pay for. The freeware may not be as aggressive or comprehensive as other solutions available for purchase.
Back up all your important data and have a backup job running at least once a day. If your computer is taken down by malware, then restoring the operating system is only half the battle. You need your data too! There are plenty of commercial backup and recovery solutions on the market, but the most effective are the ones that allow both a cloud backup and a local backup to a large capacity external or flash drive. If your drive fails or has been compromised, you can always recover your data from the cloud.
Use Secure File Share Portals
If you have access to a secure file share portal, such as Sharefile or other proprietary systems your financial advisors may use, use them! These portals allow an extra layer of security to sensitive data you may be sharing with your trusted advisors.
The Drucker & Scaccetti IT team utilizes protective software and third-party experts to enhance their already-deep knowledge in cyber security to keep your financial data safe. We hope their post today will help you thwart the efforts of those looking to disrupt your systems and steal your personal data.