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Who Really Sent That Email?

We’re seeing a pattern in security problems caused by “fake emails.” Although the pattern is not restricted to business emails, they seem to show up more frequently in offices. Here’s what’s happening.

Just like good marketers, email spoofers and hackers have noticed that Wednesdays and Thursdays are “light days” for email traffic. If someone who’s not overwhelmed by email gets no messages (OK, this might be theoretical), it doesn’t raise eyebrows because they’re not accustomed to a huge number of messages. When traffic gets back to its normal level on Friday, nobody bats an eye or says anything. That leaves the hackers free to move about.

What we’ve found when that happens is that a hacker has created a rule to move email messages to a place where they can do their dirty work. One of their tricks is to change a log-in to a fake website that looks like one you frequently visit. When your password is not accepted, you have them send you a link to change your password. When you sign into the fake site with the real password, they can use it to update your info on the real site and keep all of the function for themselves.

That “password” scenario is the one that seems to be most common way for hackers to gain their access, and as in most cases, the cybercriminals count on the fact that you’ll be too busy to notice anything unusual – and that you won’t say anything until well after the fact.

While offices – even SOHO businesses – seem more susceptible to this type of attack, anyone can be a victim. Here are a couple of telltale signs that you might be under attack.

The first is that you get an email that directs you to a website that you can’t log into because your password is invalid. If you use a “master password” application, that should tip you off right away. If you enter passwords for your sites and have them written down in a safe place, consult your records. If you can’t enter a password that you firmly believe is correct, that should be a tipoff, too.

The second telltale sign is that people got messages that looked like they were coming from their office’s email system. To see if something like that is a fake message, you have to find the IP address for the computer. If it didn’t come from your computer system, that could be the tipoff, but not always. In one case we had to solve, a New Jersey company was victimized by a New York IP address, but that didn’t raise any concerns at first because the company does a lot of business with New York IP addresses.

We can use a number of tools to help pin down the IP address from where the email originated, and the earlier we can get on the case, the better the chances of resolving your issue. If you want us to look at a message, you need to follow this procedure:

  1. Drag the message from your email inbox to your desktop. You’ll see it as an envelope.
  2. Email us that envelope as an attachment.

If you are convinced you have a threatening email, call us right away – 973-433-6676 – so that we can ask you a few “yes or no” questions and help you take appropriate steps before the consequences get really costly. If your questions aren’t urgent, email us for answers or to set up an appointment to talk. Email security problems will only get worse as time goes on.