How to Spot a Malicious Email

It is estimated that over 80% of emails sent each day is spam. Of that, a significant portion contains some sort of virus, phishing or malicious intent. Not only does this represent a major security risk, but unwanted and email also affects productivity and clogs your network. In the event that an email slides pass your spam filter, how can you tell whether it’s malicious? Here are a few ways.

1.You don’t recognize the sender

First and foremost, if you do not recognize the sender, DO NOT open any email attachments or click links within. Even if you do recognize the sender, if doesn’t seem like an email they would send, or if you’re not expecting an attachment, do not click anything. Legitimate senders can be compromised and send malicious emails.

Also, keep in mind that spam senders have gotten very good about timing their malicious email to match current events or the time of the year. You will see emails matching things on the news or around the world.  You will also see an increase in accounting and tax related items during the tax season. This goes the same for holiday spirited malicious emails during the holiday season, etc.

2. It contains a .ZIP file

ZIP files should ALWAYS be questioned as attachments. If there is any question about the attachment, do not open it on your workstation. If you have your email on your smartphone, it is typically safe to open the Word or PDF document on that device. Please keep in mind, even smartphones are not bulletproof from malware.

3. The sender’s email address is misspelled

A lot can be determined by the email address sending the message.  Frequently, it will spoof an existing company such as FedEx but instead of the email coming from Person@FedEx.com it is coming from Person@FedExx.com or Person@FedEx.it or something “off” of the normal.

4. Links paths don’t match

Finally, if there is a link within the email that you want to determine if it’s legitimate or not, you can hover your mouse over the link without clicking it to see the path it intends to go to. Just because someone wrote the link as https://www.google.com does not mean it’s going to https://www.google.com, it may be written to go to another location.  Hover over the link and you’ll see the true path in a little pop-up window.  If it does not match the website as it looks, DO NOT click it. As a failsafe, open your browser and go to FedEx.com by manually typing in the address and visit the page, log in with your account, and find out if there are truly any issues that need addressed.

How to Spot a Malicious Email

What else can you do?

Download the Cybersecurity Policy Handbook

Leave a Comment