Of late there has been a large increase in the problem where individuals receive spam email from what appears to be friends and/or family but which, in reality, was not sent by that person. This occurs when a users account has been hacked or where an email address is being spoofed.
So What Are Spoofing and Hacking?
Hacking: Hacking is where a person’s email account has actually been compromised. An automated process or an individual has gained access to someone’s email by entering the users email and correct password. In the case of hacking it is vitally important to change the password of the email address that has been hacked to prevent re-occurrence.
Spoofing: Spoofing is a little harder to understand. However, in summary, any email can be made to ‘look’ like it has been sent by any person. For example I could make a quick change to my email settings and change my ‘send’ name to Mickey Mouse and when you receive it in your inbox the email will show as sent by Mickey Mouse. In the vast majority of cases this is what is happening when you ‘seem’ to receive emails from people you know. The email actually originates from elsewhere, but through other means, the sender knows that there is a link between you and the name they use and hence they ‘spoof’ that name in an effort to make you open the email. Emails that are sent this way generally contain a link or an attachment – NEVER click on these links or open the attachments.
So Have I Been Hacked or Spoofed?
One way to tell if your email has been spoofed is to look at the header of the email. Unfortunately this is often hidden by today’s email readers and not readily available. In the header the details will show where the email originated, although deciphering that information can be tricky in itself.
If you have been hacked however your online email account MAY show any mail sent in the Sent Folder. That said it depends on how the account was hacked and what mechanism was used to send email out. Note that almost every case that I have seen of late has been Spoofing NOT Hacking.
What Can I Do About It?
Sadly very little. If someone reports to you that they have received emails from you that were not sent by you then you should change your email password, whether this has been through hacking or spoofing. From a security standpoint make sure that your antivirus and internet protection software is installed and fully up to date. If spoofing becomes a big problem then you could change your email address and notify friends and relatives that they should ‘block’ your old email address so that it is put in their spam/junk folders. Although I would suggest this as a last resort as changing your email address is always a pain.
Spoofing always starts where someone’s email account has been hacked and their Contact List copied. Sadly, even though we all know better, the most common reason for this is due to people using the same passwords on multiple sites and also not setting their own passwords after they have been set by their broadband provider.
Why Do They Do It?
For devilment and profit. Some of the links and attachments are simply mischievous but most are looking to change the settings on your system or to add code that will monitor your system to give someone external access. The most common modify your internet search settings and redirect any searches through a third party so that they control which sites you actually visit and perhaps where you purchase product. The golden rule is to NEVER click on the links or open attachments that are included in these emails. If you think you have done so already then run a full scan with your antivirus software.