How to spot malicious email messages

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Be vigilant. Watch for messages that may contain malware or ransomware.

I don’t know if this is a fluke or a sign of the times. In just the past five days I have learned of at least five businesses getting hit by hackers/spammers. By “hit” I mean at least one employee fell for a convincing but malicious email message.

malicious emails, malware, ransomware, prevent email threatsThis is further evidence that you and your staff must be careful. Take the time to review each email. In our rush-rush pace, we tend to burn through our emails, not always paying close attention. Hackers count on that. They include a simple message or request with the dangerous link. The subject line is one that could apply to your situation.

I was one such recipient. The subject line was “Help me”. Odd, to say the least. I was expecting a message from the sender — with an attachment — but the message I received was totally out of the blue.

So I replied with the question, “Did you send this?” I was pretty sure she did not. My suspicion was confirmed a few days via a message from her IT support.

How to spot a suspicious email message

The classic signs of a malicious message include (but are not limited to):

– Vague, generic message (“I wanted to show you this.” “This is what we talked about.”)

– Subject line written in a similar fashion.

– No name in salutation. The message will go out to thousands of people, so it doesn’t make sense to address the message to one person. The message may not have a salutation at all.

– Poor grammar or spelling. Odd word usage and syntax.

– The recipient is someone you’ve never heard of or haven’t done business with in several months (or longer).

– A link that is named like a PDF file: e.g. Recapofmeeting.pdf Keep in mind that attachments appear in a particular spot in your email window. And, each file type has its own distinct icon.

I learned recently that the only safe file type is .txt. Verify the message is legitimate before opening any attachment.

– The body of the message includes a link. This is how the hacker gets you. Just viewing the message can do no harm. Clicking on a link, though, opens the door to your computer and server(s). NEVER click on a link you’re not sure of until you’ve verified its source.

– There is no message, just a blank email window. (Though it may include the sender’s signature line.) Hackers don’t want to write something that clearly doesn’t apply, so they don’t include a message. They hope the subject line with entice the recipient to click on the link or open the attachment.

Dangerous messages have been floating around cyberspace for years. I encountered my first one in about 2001. The message came from a business person my staff and I had recently met with. Her subject line was something like, “This is what we talked about.” In an odd twist of fate, the spammer came up with a subject line that applied to our situation.

All of us at the office tried to open the attachment. None could, because we used Macs. The virus affected only Windows machines. (I’m sure that small measure of safety no longer applies.)

Vigilance can stop malware and ransomware threats

A little bit of vigilance can save you and your business a lot of work and hassle. Or worse. Hackers today have elevated the game: They can hit you with ransomware. While you may not give in, the costs of replacing and rebuilding server(s), and the disruption to business operations, can be high.

Take the time to carefully read or study every message. Especially one that is even slightly suspicious. That pause can save you bundles.

Delete that suspicious message. Then delete it from your DELETE folder so you don’t inadvertently open it at a later date.

Be aware and be cautious. Don’t let the bad guys infect your business.

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Tom Fuszard, content writer, blog writing, pr writing, web copy

 

 

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