Most people have encountered some form of spam email. Probably deleted it and thought nothing more of it. So, why are they making the news now? The Guardian has reported that a large number are being sent to unsuspecting recipients, demanding various amounts of money through the bitcoin currency. They claim to have recorded the target through their webcam, threatening to expose their behaviour if the ransom is not paid. The hack seems even more believable due to the message coming from the recipients own email address - suggesting their devices have been compromised by the criminals. Now they are appearing more realistic, what exactly is a phishing email and what do you do if you receive one?
‘Phishing’ is a type of cyber-attack that attempts to trick the victim into handing over information such as passwords or credit card details. The tactics used by hackers can range from threatening ransom requests, to emails that duplicate famous brands such as Apple and eBay. These malicious tactics are often used for financial gain, to spread the malware further or even to embarrass and humiliate those who receive them.
The recipients of these attacks are usually not targeted for any specific reason, so, how do the attackers find your contact details? Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, the easiest way for spammers to get email addresses is through leaked databases. When large companies such as Facebook and Amazon suffer a security breach, it means that hackers can download the information and use it to contact you. At the same time, they can download other personal details such as passwords and your date of birth to make them appear more legitimate.
Even though these messages can seem scary, they are fairly harmless if unopened and deleted, according to Gov.uk. Once they’ve been removed from your device, you can report them to Action Fraud (the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime). However, if you have opened the email and have had data or funds stolen, you should report it as a crime to the police.
As we become more accustomed to a life surrounded by technology, it is easy to assume we would not fall for these types of spam emails. However, as they become more sophisticated it can be harder to differentiate the real from the fake. If you are ever unsure, play it safe and don’t open it! For example, banks generally won’t contact you by email, so if they do and you want to confirm the message, give them a call rather than emailing back. We also like to follow the rule, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is!