Almost half of ransomware attacks use phishing email with an infected attachment or a web link that opens a malicious program. Executing either will start the encryption of the data and display the instructions to pay the ransom. So, phishing email has a significant role in ransomware attack scenarios.

Cause of Ransomware Infection (Source: Statista, 2016)

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a type of online fraud where cyber criminals send an email that appears to be from a legitimate company asking the recipient to provide sensitive information.

How Do I Recognize a Phishing Email?

Always take a few seconds to observe an email before clicking on any link or attachment, or even replying to it.

KnowBe4, a security awareness training provider, has very reliable instructions to help you identify phishing email. Let’s have a look.

Phishing Email Sample

From: YourCEO@organization.com

To: You@yourorganization.com

Date: Monday December 12, 2016 3:00 pm

Subject: My money got stolen

Hi, I’m on vacation in London and my money and passport were stolen out of my bag. Could you wire me $3000 via Bank of America?

They gave me a special link so this goes right into my account and I can buy a ticket home:

http://www.bankofarnerica.com

Thanks so much. This really helps me out!

Your CEO

 

Observing the From Field

  • I don’t recognize the sender’s email address as someone I ordinarily communicate with.
  • This email is from someone outside my organization and it’s not related to my job responsibilities.
  • This email was sent from someone inside the organization or from a customer, vendor, or partner and is very unusual or out of character.
  • Is the sender’s email address from a suspicious domain (like micorsoft-support.com)?
  • I don’t know the sender personally and they were not vouched for by someone I trust.
  • I don’t have a business relationship nor any past communications with the sender.
  • This is an unexpected or unusual email with an embedded hyperlink or an attachment from someone I haven’t communicated with recently.

Observing the To Field

  • I was cc’d on an email sent to one or more people, but I don’t personally know the other people it was sent to.
  • I received an email that was also sent to an unusual mix of people. For instance, it might be sent to a random group of people at my organization whose last names start with the same letter, or a whole list of unrelated addresses.

 Checking Hyperlinks

  • I hover my mouse over a hyperlink that’s displayed in the email message, but the link-to address is for a different website. (This is a big red flag.)
  • I received an email that only has long hyperlinks with no further information, and the rest of the email is completely blank.

I received an email with a hyperlink that is a misspelling of a known web site. For instance, www.bankofarnerica.com – the “m” is really two characters – “r” and “n”.

Checking Dates

  • Did I receive an email that I normally would get during regular business hours, but it was sent at an unusual time like 3 a.m.?

Observing the Subject Line

  • Did I get an email with a subject line that is irrelevant or does not match the message content?
  • Is the email message a reply to something I never sent or requested?

Observing the Attachments

  • The sender included an email attachment that I was not expecting or that makes no sense in relation to the email message. (This sender doesn’t ordinarily send me this type of attachment.)
  • I see an attachment with a possibly dangerous file type. The only file type that is always safe to click on is a .txt

Checking the Content

  • Is the sender asking me to click on a link or open an attachment to avoid a negative consequence or to gain something of value?
  • Is the email out of the ordinary, or does it have bad grammar or spelling errors?
  • Is the sender asking me to click a link or open up an attachment that seems odd or illogical?
  • Do I have an uncomfortable gut feeling about the sender’s request to open an attachment or click a link?
  • Is the email asking me to look at a compromising or embarrassing picture of myself or someone I know?

 

How Can I Protect Myself from Phishing Email?

Because many ransomware infections start with an email, you need to make sure your email system runs fine-tuned, anti-phishing policies. Most serious providers like Microsoft (for Office 365) have anti-phishing features enabled on their email servers. But, as we’ve often seen, some emails have gone under the radar and reached the users’ mailboxes. This is why you need to educate your users about phishing email.

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Written by Sadissa Babeni Marketing Content Writer @ SherWeb

Sadissa is an IT professional and joined SherWeb in 2013 as a technical writer and trainer. A former systems administrator, she brings her decade-long field experience to SherWeb's marketing department, with her broad knowledge of cloud computing and service management. Sadissa is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate in Windows Server and Office 365, and has earned other IT certifications over the years. She has a passionate interest in singing in vocal ensembles and learning foreign languages.