It used to be easier to tell where an email came from or if the links looked legitimate. Now it seems that many of the emails we get look "phishy." All of this has led to click anxiety.
So how can you tell if that email or the links in your email are legitimate?
Here are some things to look for.
The Display Name Shouldn't Be Trusted
Cybercriminals love spoofing the display name that shows in your inbox. It's easy to do and can be done yourself in Outlook or Gmail. Even marketing tools like Mailchimp let you change the "From" field to anything you want.
In this case all you need to do is look at the mail header to see where the email actually came from.
Don't always trust the email header either.
Unfortunately, these criminals work overtime to stay one step ahead.
They are using more sophisticated ways of making that email look like it came from a friend or other trustworthy sources.
Spoofing is surprisingly easy and part of the reason why phishing scams are so widespread. All the cybercriminals need are an email server and some software that is easy to install and use.
There really aren't many good non-technical ways to figure out if an email is from a legitimate source. The simplest method is to see where the "reply to" of the message header leads to.
If it looks like your reply would be redirected to an address that's different from the sender's displayed address then be very cautious.
When in doubt, send the suspicious email to your IT support people. They will be able to determine pretty quickly.
Know where the links lead before clicking.
There are a ton of legitimate ways to shorten or mask a domain/url. A domain is that web address like (i.e. takemehere.com) that brings you to a website.
Places like bit.ly allow marketers to shorten really long domain names, so they can make their ads or emails more appealing. If you go to bit.ly, yes that is the full domain name, and enter any long domain name like, www.iwanttogetareallyshortnameformylink.com/prizes you will end up with a domain name that looks like this instead https://bit.ly/2K3N47I.
Here's an easy way to determine if a shortened link is legit. Go to a shortened URL expander webservice like www.checkshorturl.com.
If the cybercriminal didn't use a shortened url, they can also bury the domain name below words in your email. For example, if I write the following:
"Click here to get early access to the upcoming Pink tour. I can place any domain I want under the 'click here' words and take you to a website that might have malware.
Make sure you hover over any links to see where they are taking you first.
Phishing scammers love when you click on links.
Getting you to click on links is like hitting the lottery for these phishing scams. There are websites that we refer to as 'drive by websites.' Either it is a site the hacker owns or the link leads to a legitimate site that has been compromised and redirects you to another site controlled by hackers.
Once on these sites, these cybercriminals use sophisticated malware kits that can find vulnerabilities in your software.
Again, make sure you hover over these links and see where they are taking you. When in doubt send a 'phishy' looking email to your IT support staff.
Scan links with a link scanner.
There are many tools available to check the safety of a link before you click on it.
As an example, we use the domain name www.restech.net/schedule to schedule security assessments. We would either hide the URL with a click here or it might give you some click anxiety to click on a scheduling link.
Tools like Norton SafeWeb, URL Void, ScanURL and others offer link safety checking that would let you know if this is a legitimate site.
Another thing that you can do is a Google search on the suspicious looking URL and see if any malicious activity has been reported.
Cyber and email security can be a pain but a necessary one.
All this click anxiety can put a damper in my productivity. I say that with some humor.
Bottom line is that cybersecurity is now a necessity. Phishing scams and cyber threats are big business for these cyber criminals and they aren't stopping. They just keep on using more sophisticated methods.
If you have a suspicious email that you can't figure out, send it to your IT support staff. Also make sure that your software is always updated and patched and that you have the latest anti-virus and firewalls to help protect you.