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How to Identify Phishing Emails?

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  • Difficulty Level : Basic
  • Last Updated : 17 Sep, 2021
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E-Mail service has become quite an important means of communication for organizations and the community. The use of E-Mail in business operations and different sectors such as banking, finance, IT operations, and many other aspects has increased significantly. But this form of communication also invites various threats that can even result in a big disaster. Phishing is a term that is quite popular among every individual. It is still one of the most effective forms of Social Engineering methodologies in this technological era. 

The main aim of the attacker is to either steal the credentials of employees to get inside the system or misuse those credentials as well as also trigger a larger attack. Hackers can easily create a fake email with help of fake email generators or by spoofing the emails of any legitimate person. By doing so, they can easily hide their identity and leverage the victim to open any malicious links or any executable malware. Organizations these days are giving some general training to employees and also taking preventive measures by deploying necessary tools and programs but at last, it is the human error that triggers this kind of attack. Sometimes, hackers can also use services like relay servers that are generally used by an organization to send E-Mails in bulk amounts. So, this kind of mails can be in the form of marketing E-Mails or emails with terms like “no-reply”. So, it is quite necessary to identify these phishing emails.

Email analysis can be done in order like

  1. Header Analysis of an Email.
  2. Check for grammatical mistakes that are uncommon.
  3. Do understand the motive of the sender in the email.
  4. Always open attachments if the source is trustworthy and reliable.

Header Analysis is efficient to solve this problem because it contains raw data on an email like the original name of the sender if tried to hide, envelope data, check whether email passes DKIM(Domain Key Identification Mail) and SPF(Sender Policy Framework). DKIM and SPF are kinds of frameworks or we can say standards that can help to decide that whether the source of the sender is legitimate or not.

Sample header showing that mail is from a legitimate source

Above shown is a sample header of an email that is sent via a relay service of Gmail. So here, SPF and DKIM are passed, and also return-path and from fields are the same which should be. If they are different, then certainly it is an attempt of phishing or spoofing. Now header analysis can give results effectively but it has also limits. If an attacker has used spoofed email, then he will be able to bypass the SPF/DKIM easily and also return and from fields will not differ.

An email appearing to be legitimate

Now, the above-shown email certainly appears to be legitimate as it is from a well-known organization. 

The next step is checking for spelling mistakes and errors everything seems to be proper, check what the email is conveying. Now, this email is regarding some updates in their policy of working. So, the victim might click on the update user settings icon to update his/her profile. Now, here interesting point to note is how actually it can be easily leveraged to force him/her to get the credentials. It will either redirect the victim to the profile page or if not logged in then ask for the same. But, when clicked on other linked items such as Social-Media icons and Playstore icon, it will still redirect to one and the same page that is the login page.

All links redirecting to the same login page

Now, this should certainly not happen that other linked icons ask for the same login. It appears clearly that attacker is forcing the victim to enter his/her credentials so that account details are compromised and the victim would not even notice. So, this email appears legitimate but it is not.

 The easiest and vulnerable target is always a human. No matter how much automation we make, how advanced our systems are prepared for such conditions, still, Social Engineering is one of the most effective ways for hackers to harm any organization, and that too quite devastating. So, identification of such Phishing Emails is very necessary for individuals as well as for larger organizations.

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