Scammers and cybercriminals are continuously looking for new methods to breach your security, get into your accounts, and steal your hard-earned funds. To secure your personal information, you must take every precaution—both online and in the digital world. This includes your email address, which ne’er-do-wells may use to achieve a great deal.
So what can a cybercriminal do with just your email address?
Are Scammers Really After My Email Address?
They are, indeed. On August 16th, 2022, DigitalOcean was obliged to reveal a data breach and notify all of its customers that “a number of DigitalOcean customer email addresses may have been read by an unauthorized person.”
Email data breaches are rather prevalent. Along with the email address, physical addresses and passwords or hashes of passwords are sometimes disclosed. Even if no other information is revealed, a genuine email address may present fraudsters with several possibilities to take advantage of you. Here’s how it works…
1. Leaks Show Email Addresses Are in Use
There are essentially an infinite amount of email addresses. If Gmail were the sole email service in the planet, the 30 character restriction implies there are 30 36 or 30 undecillion potential permutations. Other email providers have significantly larger restrictions, and the overall number of email providers in the globe is unknown.
Sending emails to random addresses isn’t going to cut it when fraudsters are seeking for prospective victims. The vast majority of possible email addresses are unutilized, have never been used, and will never be used. They may boost their chances by including frequent words, phrases, and figures into their attempts.
Verifying that an email address is currently being used saves fraudsters time and money (sending bulk emails is not always inexpensive), which is why email address lists are freely traded online. If your email account is compromised, you should anticipate a considerable rise in junk mail, spam, and phishing efforts.
2. Your Email Can Make You a Target for Spear Phishing
Spear phishing is a phishing effort in which the fraudster customizes a phishing email for a particular recipient. The more the fraudster learns about the target, the more likely the effort will be successful.
According to Mailchimp, the DigitalOcean vulnerability announcement was part of a fraudsters’ effort to target bitcoin users. By itself, this provides bogus email users with an avenue of attack for spear phishing, as well as a motivation to attempt.
The email address contains more information about the target. Many individuals include their entire names and birth year as part of their email address, giving an attacker even more information to use against the victim.
Finally, if your email address—or a portion of your email address—is a username for social media accounts (for example, if your username is “email@example.com” and your Twitter handle is “yeezydave1992”), they will be able to look over all aspects of your life, including your relationships, hobbies, and musical tastes, and then craft an email to trap you.
A little digging may turn up additional individuals you may know: your mother, your employer, or your clientele. These are the folks who may expect to get an email from you and would not be shocked if they received one from your address.
For example, you may state that you now see the address “firstname.lastname@example.org” as juvenile and request that they contact you at the considerably more respectable “email@example.com.” Alternatively, they might send an email to a customer informing them that your banking information has changed and requesting that the next payment be sent to a new account.
Spoofing an email is quite simple and takes approximately five minutes using Telnet. In our experience, each email sent in this manner has a 20% chance of passing past Gmail’s first-level spam filters. The effectiveness of other providers’ defenses will differ.
4. Your Email Address Is Half Your Login
In many circumstances, an attacker will only need two pieces of information to get access to your many online accounts: an email address and a password. If they already have your email address, all they need to know now is your password.
There are minimal password strength requirements when registering an account online. These may include a minimum length, the usage of capital and lower case characters, numerals, and symbols, among other things.
Passwords, on the other hand, are tough to remember, particularly when you have to remember various ones for different services. The most popular password in use today is “123456,” with “123456789” coming in second, and lists of common passwords circulate on the web, leave alone the dark web.
An attacker just has to match a popular password with a previously known email address. While we are not implying that your current password is insecure, it may be useful to create a new, strong password to safeguard your account.
5. An Attacker Can Fake Your Email Address With Unicode
Spoofing an email account to mislead the target’s friends is fast and straightforward, but it has a low success rate, and emails replied will be seen by the person being impersonated. It is significantly preferable (from a criminal standpoint) to establish an email address that seems similar but is invisibly different. Not just mildly different, but almost indistinguishable.
Consider these two characters: “a” and “a.” Do they seem to you differently? One is the Cyrillic letter “а,” which is not the same as the Latin character “a.”
Unicode spoofing enables attackers or other interested parties to generate a domain name that seems to be the same as a legal domain. Receiving an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org” is not the same as receiving one from “david@mаkeuseof.com.” Other readily spoofable characters include к, о, р, с, у, and x.
An attacker who acquires that domain name will be able to send emails that look to be from a genuine source, and they will be able to receive answers and interact as if they were a makeuseof.com employee.
You shouldn’t feel secure just because your email account is with a prominent service. While some of the more apparent spoofable names are no longer accessible, there are plenty of other top level domains available for purchase.
Yes, your email can be spoofing to effectively trick others, and an attacker can do it for less than $10.
Keep Your Email Address Hidden
You can’t entirely avoid handing up your email address—there it’s to be utilized, after all. However, you should protect your primary email address, i.e. the one you use in combination with your bank and PayPal accounts is distinct from the one you use for sign-ups and digital services.
Ideally, you should have a distinct email account for each individual or organization with whom you have communication. If your email address is ever revealed, this will mitigate the harm. If you don’t have the time, think about utilizing aliases.
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