Email spoofing: What is it, its dangers, examples, and protection?

Jorge Felix Last updated: November 8, 2022 Read time: 9 minutes Disclosure

Email spoofing is an annoying strategy employed by hackers. It makes a false email look authentic by meddling with its metadata. This article explains all you need to know about it in detail.

Sneak peek at Email spoofing

Email spoofing is one of those hacks in which the victim does most of the harm. The purpose behind these is mostly to attain your confidential information. Hackers use different methods to spoof people via email today. However, it’s easily avoided by simple vigilance and reading emails attentively.

We have some bad news for you. We’re pretty sure that you’ve been emailed spoofed at least once. Email spoofing goes after everybody, targeting private individuals and big corporations alike.

So let’s see your case. Have you ever found a genuine message in your inbox, but you couldn’t be sure? Let’s say it was from somebody you know. But then it had a link asking you to do something out of character. So you must choose to click or not to click; that is the question.

And if you followed the link, everything seemed even weirder. This is the doubt the sender wants you to have. It opens the possibility for the hacker that you will follow the link and then the instructions on the target webpage. And then, you fell for it. Hopefully, when you saw the link’s target, you realized that it wasn’t legitimate after all and did nothing to compromise your security. But a lot of people do. And that’s what email spoofing is.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about email spoofing. Learn what it is, why people do it, and how to fight it successfully.

So what is email spoofing, anyway?

Email spoofing consists of sending an email with a fake sender address. This spoofing type aims to make the recipient think the message in question comes from a trusted source. It’s often associated with phishing attempts, which are strategies hackers use to squeeze sensitive information from otherwise sensible persons.

It’s not so hard to tell a spoofed email from a genuine one. However, their malicious nature, coupled with a lack of vigilance on the user’s part, can turn them into serious security risks.

Why are people spoofing emails?

The motivation that drives email spoofing is no mystery. It’s a criminal tool. A malicious actor adopts it as a resource to steal private data of all types. Here are the most frequent reasons for email spoofing:

  • Identity theft. Pretending to be a trustworthy agent can help a criminal persuade the recipient to give away enough data to steal his identity.
  • Phishing. This is the most common reason for spoofing emails. It’s an effective way to start a phishing attack. The goal is to make the recipient follow a malicious link in which he will be persuaded to surrender essential data.
  • Bypassing spam filters. Nobody likes being blocklisted, and spammers are always fighting back, so their messages keep reaching us.
  • Anonymity. Email spoofing can be a way to hide identity.

Why email spoofing poses a risk

Email spoofing is a risk for individuals and organizations. The damage it can do is that it doesn’t need to break into a system, guess a password, or bypass the usual security measures in any network or email delivery system.

Instead, the hacking attack relies on the human being as the weakest link in the chain, especially if you can make them doubt. And this is a powerful thing for hackers. It’s the idea behind social engineering and the reason why a man like Kevin Mitnick became such a successful hacker.

And the danger multiplies with the frequency. You don’t need to be a computer wizard to do email spoofing. That allows many more wrongdoers to try it and many more attacks of this kind to exist.

How can they spoof my email address?

Email spoofing
(Gettyimages)

Email protocols are among the most rudimentary ones in the digital age. The protocol has a syntax, and the spoofer can abuse that syntax to forge an email. Moreover, it comes in many flavors. Each has different complexity and attacks another part of the email.

Display name

The only forged part of the “display name spoofing” is the sender’s name. This can be quickly done by registering a new Gmail account with the name of the contact you intend to subvert. But beware of this: the “mail to:” field will display another email address. Did you ever get that email from Jeff Bezos asking you for a bit of pocket money? There’s your example.

This method has the advantage that it can bypass most security countermeasures. In addition, it looks normal, so the spam filters treat it accordingly.