SOS – Recognising a Suspicious E-mail

In Brief

E-mail is one of the most favourite means of communication of cybercriminals. It is cheap to use, it does not require any identification on the part of the sender and the service is very quick.

E-mails can be used as a tool for many forms of attacks. This chapter will deal with analysing e-mails to find out how to recognise a suspicious e-mail without opening the links it contains or its attachments.

E-mail From a Bank

Be aware that Luxembourg retail banks do not send e-mails. To communicate with their customers, instead, they send letters by post and communicate via their ‘e-banking’ platforms, or call their customers using an account manager known to them.

Spam

Spam is another name for an unsolicited e-mail. These can be advertising, hoaxes (fake messages) or phishing-type attacks. Your service provider or your e-mail client should have the ability to recognise and flag spam.

Do not open spam unless you are certain that an e-mail flagged as spam is legitimate. Under no circumstances respond to spam. That will confirm to the sender that your e-mail address is valid.

Impersonal E-mail

If you receive an e-mail that does not mention you by name, be careful – it is probably a spam mail.

A legitimate correspondent who knew your e-mail address would have your identifying information and use it to address you as appropriate.

Handle this type of e-mail with great care. If the e-mail contains any of the elements (detailed in the sections below), do not respond.

E-mail Implying Urgency

If the e-mail does not address you by name and it implies urgency, it is very probably a hoax or phishing. Do not respond to the request. Ignore this e-mail (See: E-mail – best practices).

If the e-mail does not address you by name and it contains a link, it is very probably trying to lure you to a malicious website (phishing or infection by malicious code exploiting technical vulnerabilities). Whatever you do, do not click on that link (See: E-mail – best practices).

E-mail With Attachment

If the e-mail does not address you by name and it includes an attachment, it is very probably an attempt to infect your machine with malware. Any type of file could include malicious code. Whatever you do, do not open the file. A lot of social engineering type of attacks operate based on infected files attached to e-mails exploiting human vulnerabilities (See: E-mail – best practices).

Personal E-mail

Even if the e-mail is properly addressed to you, still take care and check the following elements:

Known Sender

You know and trust the sender. The e-mail was expected and was announced during earlier communication – you can trust the e-mail and its contents. You should, however, remain wary of opening attachments which, despite everything else, could contain malicious code or links leading to malicious websites.

If the sender is known, but addresses you in an unfamiliar fashion, be very careful. The use of another language, a different style of writing or the unusual inclusion of spelling mistakes are very significant clues which may point to this e-mail being criminal. Handle with care and call up the sender (if you know the sender) to make sure the e-mail genuinely was sent by them.

(See: E-mail – best practices)

Unknown sender

You receive an e-mail from an unknown sender and the e-mail does not fall within a known and strictly professional context. Be careful when handling the content, including any attachments.

The e-mail could include attachments infected by malicious code, or it could try to lure you into visiting malicious websites by following a link posted in the message.

(See: E-mail – best practices)

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