by Neil Johnson
Situation: You receive an e-mail with content generally stating that “Your account has a problem” and you must “sign-in to your account” to “fix the problem." If you click the link and sign-in to “your account," you may have fallen for a phishing scam. The link was to the phishing scammers’ website and when you “sign-in to your account” you are simply giving the bad guy your account. Phishing is the use of e-mail to attempt to con you into giving up your account information. How do you determine if the e-mail is valid?
I’m Neil Johnson, a Network Applications Engineer for Jacksonville State University. I have worked for JSU for 17+ years and have been professionally managing e-mail systems for quite a bit longer than that. Phishing scams have been around a long time and I am constantly being asked about suspicious e-mails. Listed below are the non-technical recommendations that I personally use to quickly classify e-mail as good or bad. I don’t go through all these recommendations for every e-mail I receive. However, if I get an e-mail that requests for me to enter my account information - you bet I do. You should too! I don’t use any one of the recommendations to make my decision, I look at them combined.
So, what are these recommendations?
But, what if the recommendations don’t make you certain you are safe? If you get an e-mail that seems to indicate an issue with your bank account? It looks nice, reads fine, and is from email@example.com. You should find a reputable source (business card, phone book, or http://www.mybank.com homepage) for a valid phone number or support e-mail to contact them directly to verify the e-mail. Never use an e-mail address or phone number contained within a suspicious e-mail. Businesses are usually happy to help. In some cases, they may even thank you for your diligence.
What about JSU specific messages? Sometimes it is hard to tell if an e-mail is related to your JSU account(s). If you have been around JSU for very long, you already likely know that there are a lot official JSU e-mails. The Red & White, various newsletters, surveys, etc. I know from my experience that JSU is targeted often for phishing attacks. I also know that almost all e-mails that contain phrases similar to “webmail storage portal," “fix your full mailbox," “update your account," or “release the messages from your quarantine” are simply phishing attempts that are not from JSU.
Still don’t feel confident? If you still aren’t sure about the e-mail, you should not act upon the e-mail. Students and employees of JSU can simply forward the e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone from the JSU Technology Support Center will respond.