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Email Spoofing – What is it and how does it affect you?

Spoofing, in IT terms, is a fraudulent or malicious practice in which communication is sent from an unknown source, disguised as a source known to the receiver. Spoofing is most prevalent in communication mechanisms that lack a high level of security.

Email spoofing is one of the best known spoofs. Since core SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) fails to offer authentication, it is very easy to forge and impersonate emails. Falsified headers are used to mislead the recipient, or network applications, as to the origin of a message.

Spoofed emails may appear to be from a known sender (often from within your own organisation/domain) and request personal or company information, they can also be used to request fraudulent actions. The attacker (or spoofer) knows that if the recipient receives a spoofed email that appears to be from a known source, it is likely to be opened and acted upon. Attackers use business networking and social media sites to gather information and email addresses for authoritative figures within targeted organisations.

One known example of this relates to a company employee, working in accounts, who received what appeared to be an internal email from a director requesting immediate payment of a supplier invoice, a copy of which had been sent as an attachment to the email complete with bank account details for the transfer. In this particular instance the authorisation process in place managed to stop the payment, but you can see how easy it would be to be duped into paying.

A spoofed email may also contain additional threats like Trojans or other viruses.

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What can you do to avoid being a victim of spoofing?

The only sure way is to not have email but that isn’t really an option in a world where an ever increasing proportion of both business and personal interactions are conducted online. It is down to everyone who sends and receives email to be vigilant, sadly we now need to scrutinise every incoming email and treat it as a possible threat, regardless of its reported source.

If you are ever in doubt about the authenticity of any email do not respond and definitely DO NOT OPEN ATTACHMENTS until you can verify that it has come from a trusted source. If you are unable to do so the safest option is just to delete it, asking someone to resend if it was genuine is always the better option to being a victim of fraud or having to clean up your system following an infection.

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