Seeing Spam! How to Spot Fake and Potentially Malicious Emails


Traditionally, spam emails were more an annoyance than a
threat; random emails advertising items or services you neither want nor need, directed
to your junk mail box without a second glance.

However, as email technology has advanced, so too have the
tactics used within spam emails. Spam emails are much more dangerous, using a range
of methods to make you (the recipient) take action, whether it be clicking a
website link or opening an attachment. This action may result in a malicious
program infecting your PC which then proceeds to do one of two things, or both!

1) The program uses your email account to send out
more spam; using the legitimacy of your email address to infect your contacts.

2) The program infects your PC with a virus. This
could be anything from Cryptolocker ransomware; encrypting your files and
demanding a cash random, to Keylogger spyware; deeply hidden in the PC,
monitoring every keystroke whether this be your card details when making a
purchase or your online banking login details.

These infections can be catastrophic for your businesses;
resulting in a combination of business downtime, loss of earnings, damaged
reputation and loss of company data.

How to Spot Spam

When deciding if an email you have received is legitimate or
spam, the following clues should set alarm bells ringing:

  • Unknown
    sender –
    You don’t know the sender or their company. Immediately be
    suspicious and never click on any links or attachments. A lot
    of effort goes in to making spam email look genuine and legitimate, take a
    close look at the email and see if they use any of the tactics listed below. If you’re unsure,
    use Google to search for the company and contact them by telephone.
  • Demanding
    cash or personal details –
    This is a particularly common tactic,
    usually used in combination with attachments pretending to be invoices, or
    Subject titles posing as banks. Again if you don’t recognise the company or the
    transaction then delete the email or call the company directly!
  • Attachments
    Never open an attachment from an unknown sender. And, even if it’s from someone
    you do know; if you are not expecting it, then you may want to contact them to
    check they definitely sent it. File formats to be wary of include .exe, .zip,
    .scr, .com, .bat. However Word and Excel documents containing macros are being
    increasingly used by spammers to infect PC’s. Be very vigilant when it comes to attachments.
  • External
    links –
    Legitimate website links may sometime be used to hide a hyperlink
    to a malicious website. For example, while the following link shows the BBC web
    address, it will actually take you to our website. www.bbc.co.uk. Hovering
    your mouse over a hyperlink will display its true destination. Don’t click on any link if
    you don’t know where it will take you.
  • Plain
    text / no signature –
    Plain text emails with no images or signatures are
    more likely to pass through spam filters, if the email is using any of the
    above tactics in a plain text email then it could be spam.
  • Are you
    expecting the email? –
    Remember many spammers infect PC’s so that further
    spam emails can then be sent from trusted and legitimate email addresses. If
    you receive an email out of the blue from a colleague, supplier, customer or
    any other contact, containing a suspicious attachment then contact them by
    phone to check it is legitimate!

How to Stop Spam

  • Spam
    Filtering –
    Network Support Solutions offer a Spam Filtering service which
    blocks spam emails before they ever reach your server or mailbox. Our spam
    filters communicate with other filters all over the world to keep up to date on
    the latest sources of spam. By stopping the spam before it reaches your server
    removes the possibility of human error by opening an attachment or clicking a

  • Anti-virus
    software –
    Good and reliable anti-virus software should be installed on
    all machines including servers. This will either block any attempt to infect
    the PC should a link be clicked or attachment opened OR will identify and
    remove the infection by running a full system scan. Contact us for
    recommendations or quotes on anti-virus software
  • Be
    vigilant –
    Keep your employees and colleagues educated on the dangers of spam
    emails and how they can spot potentially malicious emails.

 If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this
article feel free to call 01743 290588 or email katy@networksupportsolutions.co.uk;
we’ll be happy to help.