What is Email Spoofing? Definition & How to Stop It | Graphus (2023)

One of the most devious and effective ways bad actors use to create believable phishing emails is through a technique called email spoofing. Learning more about this practice, how to spot a spoofed email and how to defend against spoofing can help keep businesses out of trouble.

What is Email Spoofing? Definition & How to Stop It | Graphus (1)

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What does email spoofing mean?

In an email spoofing cyberattack, bad actors try to trick targets into providing personal information, handing over money or financial data, or downloading malware by sending malicious emails that appear to be coming from trusted sources like a legitimate brand, organization, government agency or business associate.

Spoofing vs. phishing

Email spoofing is a technique that is commonly used as part of a phishing attack. While not all phishing attacks involve spoofed email messages, a spoofed message is a good indicator that an unusual message is a phishing attempt.

Spoofing vs. impersonation

Brand impersonation or brand fraud is typically a component of an email spoofing attack. Using this technique, bad actors will attempt to mimic a message from a well-known brand, like Microsoft, DHL or UPS, to create a false sense of security in their victims and make their malicious message seem like authentic, routine communication.

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Why do hackers use spoofed emails?

Bad actors use email spoofing in phishing attacks for a variety of reasons including:

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To benefit from the good reputation of a trusted individual or organization

Hackers love to use someone else’s good reputation to make themselves seem trustworthy. Spoofing is a quick way for them to do that. The most commonly spoofed brands are also brands that people interact with every day. These brands are familiar and generally trusted. DHL, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Google and LinkedIn arethe five most spoofed brands.

To avoid spam filters and block lists

By spoofing messages from companies or people that the victim regularly corresponds with, bad actors have a better chance of sliding past common defenses like spam filters or blocked sender lists. Spoofed messages, especially new scams, can also sneak through secure email gateways more easily.

To convince victims to download malware

Presenting a trustworthy front is a great way to get victims to trust the links and attachments that come with a malicious message. That makes it easy for the bad guys to use spoofed messages to deploy malware like ransomware.

To conductbusiness email compromiseattacks

Spoofing is a common tactic used in business email compromise. Cybercriminals choose to spoof messages from inside a company because employees will not look too closely at them. Sometimes, those messages will appear to come from executives that employees will want to please, making those employees more likely to provide requested information. Bad actors will also spoof messages from a company’s suppliers and partners to trick employees. Business email compromise (BEC) is the most expensive cyberattack a business can experience. It’s64x worse than ransomwareaccording to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center.

To pose as a government agency

Spoofing a government message is a go-to tactic for phishing operations because government messages have a higher chance of seeming trustworthy. People are also easily frightened by government messages creating urgency that will drive victims to provide financial or personal data. For example, cybercriminals often pose as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service near income tax deadlines to snag unwary taxpayers.

To take advantage of emergencies or disasters

Bad actors will not hesitate to take advantage of a stressful situation to make a profit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercriminals spoofed messages from theWorld Health Organization (WHO)to persuade victims to download a COVID-19 exposure map that was actually ransomware.

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How common is email spoofing?

Email spoofing is extremely common. An estimated25% of all branded emailthat people receive are actually malicious spoofed messages. It’s also a risk that is growing exponentially. Spoofing has skyrocketed bymore than 360%since 2020.

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How does email spoofing work?

Bad actors could take a number of routes when it comes to creating and using a spoofed message. Typically, this process starts with the cybercriminal creating a believable fake domain from which to send their spoofed message. Then, they may send an actual branded message and simply change the copy and the links. Alternatively, they could construct their fake message themselves, aiming for a similar look and feel to a legitimate message from the supposed sender. Once they’re ready, they’ll send the message to potential victims, often using email address lists and files obtained from the dark web.

What is an example of a spoofed email?

Here are real-world examples of email spoofing used as part of successful phishing attacks.

  • Employees at technology company Seagate received emails from someone claiming to be the company’sCEO that requested them to provide new W-2 forms. The message looked legitimate, and many employees sent their personal and financial data to cybercriminals.
  • Cybercriminals faked messagesfrom Union Banksent to businesses and consumers offering COVID-19 relief payments and loans to capture personal and financial data.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportationpublished a noticeabout fraudulent emails disguised as official Office of the Senior Procurement Executive (OSPE) correspondence, including fake Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and Requests for Information (RFIs).

Can email spoofing be detected?

Email spoofing can be detected if you’re aware of the signs that indicate spoofing and take care to look for them in unexpected messages. It’s also important to be aware of which brands are most commonly spoofed to know when to be especially on guard. Unfortunately,97% of employeescannot recognize sophisticated phishing threats like spoofing.

How can you tell if an email is spoofed?

These red flags can indicate that a message is spoofed.

Check the email header information

  • Does the “from” email address match the display name? If the email address associated with the display name is actually coming from someone else, the message may be spoofed.
  • Does the “reply to” header match the source? If the reply to address does not match the sender or the site that they claim to be representing, there is a good chance that it is forged.
  • Determine where the “return path” goes. This identifies where the message originated from, and if it seems unusual, it may indicate a spoofed message.

Look at the physical characteristics

Take a good look at the format, logos, colors and fonts used in the message to spot inconsistencies. If anything seems off, trust your instincts and stop interacting with that message.

Consider the Content

Does the message seem like others you’ve received from this sender in spelling, grammar and language? If not, it may be spoofed. Is the message driving you to do something urgently to avoid a consequence? This is a common technique used by bad actors in spoofed messages used for phishing.

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How can you avoid falling victim to a spoofed email

While it’s not possible to prevent bad actors from sending spoofed emails, with the right tools you can protect your organization from falling prey to these tactics.

Secure email gateways (SEGs)

A SEG uses data from threat intelligence reports to detect email spoofing and stop phishing messages to prevent spoofed messages from reaching their destination.

Authentication protocols

These common authentication protocols can also stop spoofing:

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM):DKIM is a standard email authentication protocol that uses asymmetric encryption to create a private and public key pair, with the public key published in the domain’s DNS record. This is accomplished by adding a digital signature to the header of an outgoing email. When the receiving server receives the email with the signature in its header, it asks for a unique public key TXT record to verify the authenticity of the sender’s domain.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF):SPF is an email authentication protocol that enables organizations to specify the mail servers or IP addresses approved to send emails on their behalf. Once the recipient’s server receives the email, the DNS records are checked to identify whether the IP address is listed in the SPF record. If it isn’t, that email is not authenticated.

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC):DMARC brings visibility to whether the spoofed email should be accepted or rejected by recipients based on a set of established criteria in tandem with SPF and DKIM email standards.

Security awareness training:Security awareness training helps employees become savvy about phishing threats like spoofing. It also helps employees learn to practice good cyber hygiene and be aware of dangers like opening suspicious messages or providing sensitive information to the wrong person. Through phishing simulations, employees gain experience in spotting trouble like spoofing using real-world examples.

Antimalware and Anti-phishing Software:Email security software that includes anti-phishing and antimalware protection offers strong protection against spoofing and other malicious phishing messages. AI and security automation technologies make that protection even more substantial by using machine learning to eliminate the need for uploaded threat reports, enabling the software to detect new threats and zero-day threats as well.

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Prevent email spoofing with Graphus

API-based Graphus protects businesses from spoofing with smart AI that prevents 99.9% of sophisticated phishing attacks from reaching employees automatically. Graphus is cloud-native, quick to deploy and will go to work on its own or augment your Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace native email security. And all of this protection comes at half the price of ourcompetitors. Learn more about Graphus today.

Stay safe from even the most sophisticated cyberattacks and social engineering scams

Put the powerful TrustGraph® AI of Graphus to work for your business, and in minutes you’ll get a powerful, easy-to-use, and customizable EmployeeShield® against phishing attacks.

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Is there a way to stop email spoofing? ›

The reality is that it's impossible to stop email spoofing because the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, which is the foundation for sending emails, doesn't require any authentication. That's the vulnerability of the technology.

What is meant by email spoofing? ›

Email spoofing is a technique used in spam and phishing attacks to trick users into thinking a message came from a person or entity they either know or can trust. In spoofing attacks, the sender forges email headers so that client software displays the fraudulent sender address, which most users take at face value.

What is spoofing and how do you prevent it? ›

Spoofing is a cybercrime that happens when someone impersonates a trusted contact or brand, pretending to be someone you trust in order to access sensitive personal information. Spoofing attacks copy and exploit the identity of your contacts, the look of well-known brands, or the addresses of trusted websites.

What is email spoofing and how is it identified? ›

Email spoofing is a type of cyberattack that targets businesses by using emails with forged sender addresses. Because the recipient trusts the alleged sender, they are more likely to open the email and interact with its contents, such as a malicious link or attachment.

Can spoofing be stopped? ›

Install an anti-spoofing app on your smartphone

You can protect your phone calls and text messages with an anti-spoofing app. These services typically focus on reducing access to your actual phone number by masking it with a secondary number (that you can often specify).

How did my email get spoofed? ›

Exposed email addresses can easily be acquired by cybercriminals, from compromised mailing lists, public message boards and even company websites. Email spoofing takes place when a message's identifying fields are modified so the email appears to originate from an individual other than the real sender.

What are 4 types of spoofing attacks? ›

Spoofing can take many forms, such as spoofed emails, IP spoofing, DNS Spoofing, GPS spoofing, website spoofing, and spoofed calls.

What is spoofing with example? ›

In its most primitive form, spoofing refers to impersonation via telephone. For example, when a caller on the other end falsely introduces themselves as a representative of your bank and asks for your account or credit card info, you are a victim of phone spoofing.

Which techniques can be used for anti spoofing? ›

The most reliable anti-spoofing technique uses a 3D camera. Precise pixel depth information provides high accuracy against presentation attacks. The difference between a face and a flat shape is discernible. While 3D attacks still cause difficulties, stable performance makes this technology the most promising.

What is anti spoofing techniques? ›

Antispoofing is a technique for identifying and dropping packets that have a false source address. In a spoofing attack, the source address of an incoming packet is changed to make it appear as if it is coming from a known, trusted source.

What is the most common type of spoofing? ›

Email Spoofing

This is the most common type of spoofing attack where the victim is targeted using email communication. The sender looks like a trusted source with an email address that closely resembles the original address.

What is the risk of email spoofing? ›

Email spoofing can greatly increase the effectiveness of phishing and other email-based cyber attacks by tricking the recipient into trusting the email and its sender. While spoofed emails require little action beyond removal, they are a cybersecurity risk that needs to be addressed.

How common is email spoofing? ›

Spoofing remains one of the most common forms of online attack, with 3.1 billion domain spoofing emails delivered per day. To complete the scam, a spoof email sender creates an email address or email header to trick the recipient into believing the message originates from a trusted contact.

What does a spoof email look like? ›

If the email is spoofed, the received field information won't match the email address. For example, in the received filed from a legitimate Gmail address, it will look something like "Received from 'google.com: domain of'" and then the actual email address.

What happens when you are spoofed? ›

Spoofing, as it pertains to cybersecurity, is when someone or something pretends to be something else in an attempt to gain our confidence, get access to our systems, steal data, steal money, or spread malware. Spoofing attacks come in many forms, including: Email spoofing. Website and/or URL spoofing.

Can spoofing be detected? ›

To mitigate spoofing, users must be alerted when there is a spoofing attempt. GNSS Resilience and Integrity Technology's (GRIT) situational awareness techniques include spoofing detection, so users know when a malicious attack is occurring.

Is there a way to stop someone for spoofing your phone number? ›

If you think you've been the victim of a spoofing scam, you can file a complaint with the FCC. You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be extremely careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information. Don't answer calls from unknown numbers.

Can hackers get into my phone through email? ›

One way that hackers are able to access your phone is to get you to click on infected links in text messages and emails. However, that's not always necessary. The very sophisticated hackers can use zero-click hacks that don't require you to do anything to activate the attack.

Can someone use my email address without me knowing it? ›

They can also send you emails impersonating someone else or a company to try to sell you goods or services that don't exist, which is known as phishing. Scammers can use phishing emails to access your email account too. “When a hacker knows your email address, they have half of your confidential information.

Can I tell if my email has been hacked? ›

How Do I Know if My Email Has Been Hacked? You can't sign into your email account. Hackers will often lock you out of your account as soon as they get access. If your normal email password isn't working, there's a good chance you've been hacked. There are strange messages in your “Sent” folder.

What is difference between spoofing and phishing? ›

Spoofing is an identity theft where a person tries to use the identity of a legitimate user. Phishing, on the other hand, is a phenomenon where an attacker employs social engineering methods to steal sensitive and confidential information from a user.

What are spoofing tools? ›

In IP spoofing, a hacker uses tools to modify the source address in the packet header to make the receiving computer system think the packet is from a trusted source, such as another computer on a legitimate network, and accept it. This occurs at the network level, so there are no external signs of tampering.

Why do people spoof? ›

By spoofing local phone numbers or information into called ID devices, scammers hope to entice the recipient to answer a call they would otherwise decline.

Why is it called spoofing? ›

The verb and noun spoof both refer to trickery or deception, and they trace their origins back to a game called "Spoof" (or "Spouf," depending on the source you consult), supposedly created by the British comedian and actor Arthur Roberts.

How do spoofers get my contacts? ›

The FROM header can be spoofed and the spammer can use any SMTP server that lets them log in, but to steal the contact list they have to log into the account.

Can someone send email using my email address? ›

Sending Email Through Your Email Account

Just like you do, if a spammer gains access to the username/password of your email account, they can log in and use your email server to send emails.

What type of security is good protection against spoofing? ›

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Using a VPN will allow you to keep your traffic protected via encryption. This means that even if your network falls victim to ARP spoofing the attacker won't be able to access any of your data because it has been encrypted.

Which of the following can lead to spoofing? ›

Spoofing is the act of disguising a communication from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source. Spoofing can apply to emails, phone calls, and websites, or can be more technical, such as a computer spoofing an IP address, Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), or Domain Name System (DNS) server.

Why do attackers use spoofing techniques? ›

Fraudsters often carry out spoofing attacks to steal sensitive data from unsuspecting users. The spoofing technique itself is at the heart of these spoofing attacks, which involves mimicking existing communications or pretending to be a trusted entity to trick people into divulging sensitive information.

What are spoofing indicators? ›

Spelling errors, broken links, suspicious contact us information, missing social media badges can all be indicators that the website has been spoofed. Website addresses containing the name of the spoofed domain are not the official domain.

How is IP spoofing detected? ›

IP spoofing is detected by analyzing the packet headers of data packets to look for discrepancies. The IP address can be validated by its MAC (Media Access Control) address, or through a security system such as Cisco's IOS NetFlow, which assigns an ID and timestamp to each computer that logs onto the network.

Is spoofing a virus? ›

Spoofed emails often request a money transfer or permission to access a system. Additionally, they can sometimes contain attachments that install malware — such as Trojans or viruses — when opened. In many cases, the malware is designed to go beyond infecting your computer and spread to your entire network.

How often does spoofing happen? ›

One common threat to be wary of is spoofing, where an attacker fakes an IP address or other identifier to gain access to sensitive data and otherwise secure systems. According to a 2018 report by the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), there are close to 30,000 spoofing attacks per day.

Can email spoofing be traced? ›

If a spoofed email does not appear to be suspicious to users, it likely will go undetected. However, if users do sense something is wrong, they can open and inspect the email source code. Here, the recipients can find the originating IP address of the email and trace it back to the real sender.

What are the 4 dangers of using email? ›

Email may be intercepted, altered, or used without detection or authorization. Email may be easier to forge than handwritten or signed papers. Email may spread computer viruses. Email delivery is not guaranteed.

What are some of the warning signs of a spoofed email and messages? ›

10 Most Common Signs of a Phishing Email
  • An Unfamiliar Tone or Greeting. ...
  • Grammar and Spelling Errors. ...
  • Inconsistencies in Email Addresses, Links & Domain Names. ...
  • Threats or a Sense of Urgency. ...
  • Suspicious Attachments.

What is the difference between being hacked and being spoofed? ›

When an email address has been spoofed, the spammer doesn't gain access to your email account. Hacking, however, is a different story. Hacking. This is when a criminal actually gets into your email account.

What are the common red flags of a spoof email? ›

Look out for:

Incorrect (but maybe similar) sender email addresses. Links that don't go to official websites. Spelling or grammar errors, beyond the odd typo, that a legitimate organization wouldn't miss.

How do hackers find email addresses? ›

Here are just a few ways in which cyber-criminals can exploit your email address.
  • Scamming Your Contact List. This is where most hackers begin. ...
  • Mass Email Scams. ...
  • Infiltrating Devices and Programs. ...
  • Ruining Your Online Reputation.

Does Gmail protect against spoofing? ›

Turn on spoofing and authentication protection
  • Sign in to your Google Admin console. ...
  • In the Admin console, go to Menu Apps Google Workspace Gmail. ...
  • In the Safety section, scroll to Spoofing and authentication.
  • Select the settings and actions you want to apply to incoming emails.

How do I get off email blacklists? ›

You can also directly contact the blacklisting service through email. The domain blacklisting services mostly have a delisting form in case you want to delist your IP or domain from the blacklist. Just fill in the form with your domain name and contact details and a valid reason for delisting.

How do I Nlock my email? ›

Block an email address
  1. On your Android phone or tablet, open the Gmail app .
  2. Open the message.
  3. At the top-right of the message, tap More .
  4. Tap Block [sender].

How do I know if I got spoofed? ›

If you get calls from people saying your number is showing up on their caller ID, it's likely that your number has been spoofed. We suggest first that you do not answer any calls from unknown numbers, but if you do, explain that your telephone number is being spoofed and that you did not actually make any calls.

Can you find out who spoofed you? ›

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to uncover a spoofed number as the technology makes it too easy for people to do without leaving a trail.

Can someone track me through my Gmail account? ›

Google uses your data and exposes you to ad tracking, which means, yes, Gmail can be traced. So Gmail isn't an ideal environment for sending anonymous emails.

How do I clear myself from being blacklisted? ›

If you are unable to pay off debts, your name will be flagged by the credit bureau, and added to a blacklist; and it will be more difficult for you to get loans in the future. The simplest way to clear your name from the credit bureau is to pay off the debt.

How do I clean my email list? ›

Best Tips to Clean or Scrub an Email List
  1. Start Scrubbing Your Most Active Email Lists – But Do Not Forget Your Other Lists. ...
  2. Start Cleaning Duplicate Email Addresses. ...
  3. Find “Spammy” Email Addresses and Remove Them from Your Email List. ...
  4. Remove People Who Unsubscribe from Your Email List. ...
  5. Correct Obvious Typos.

How can I remove my name from being blacklisted? ›

If you fail to pay outstanding debts, credit bureaus will add your name to a blacklist that will make it difficult for you to obtain loans in the future. Paying off your debt will remove your name from the blacklist.

What is the easiest way to block email addresses? ›

How to block emails in Gmail
  1. Open the unwanted email.
  2. Click the More Options (...) button beside the sender details.
  3. Click Block "Sender"
  4. Click Block to confirm when prompted, and Gmail will automatically mark the message as spam.

How do you know if your email is blocked? ›

Go through the list and see if you can find the name of the person who you think has blocked you. If their name appears, then they've not blocked you. However, if the name that previously showed to the list doesn't show anymore, then you're blocked.


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