We have all heard a million times, “Don’t click on links on the email.” But we still fall for it when the links look genuine and expose ourselves to risks.
Link manipulation also referred to as URL hiding, is commonly used in phishing attacks. In this method, a malicious URL is displayed as if it leads to a legitimate webpage or site. However, when you click on it, malware gets downloaded and installed in your system.
So, how can you identify illegitimate email links? What are the potential risks of email links? Let’s find out.
How Do Email Links Work?
Emails are typically written in HTML language — a language also used to build websites. Simply put, emails are basically small web pages messaged or sent to you. Even though plain email text does exist, they are rarely used anymore. Since emails are similar to a webpage, whatever you can do with a website, you can also do it with email — and one of the shared features is, linking.
Links or hyperlinks are icons, graphics, or texts that link to another file or webpage. You can turn a part of a text, an icon, or even an image into a hyperlink in an email. When someone clicks on the link, they redirect you to a new webpage. What you need to keep in mind about email links is the anchor text is not related to its hyperlink. Meaning the sender can hide a phishing link in plain sight.
For example, if you click on the link paypal.com, you’ll end up on Google even though the link appears to be from the PayPal website.
Why? Because the HTML code in the background instructed it to do so.
What Are the Dangers of Email Links?
Phishing is a cyberattack that uses disguised email to trick the recipient into providing personal data. For example, attackers can send you an email pretending to be the manager of your bank. They can either inform you about some issues with your account or a new feature and prompt you to click on a link. The link can take you to a convincing fake site that looks like your bank, where you’d be asked to enter sensitive data such as username, password, credit card number, etc. The scamming strategy has become so sophisticated that they will even redirect you to the bank’s original website after gaining your personal information, so you do not suspect anything.
Clicking on an email link can download and install malware to your computer. As we have already shown, the link text and its HTML code can be very different. Attackers can attach the link to a malware website to a genuine-looking link. When you click on it, you will be directed to their malware website, which will attempt to infect your device with different types of malware, such as ransomware, spyware, or keylogger.
Can You Get Virus Just from Clicking on a Link?
Your device can get infected by clicking on a phishing link. Phishing links can download and install the malware in your system. The worst part is, this entire process is done behind the scene, so it is undetectable to an average user. That means, even if nothing happens after clicking on an email link, your PC can still be infected with the virus. Some spyware can remain active on your system for months or years without you ever finding out. Cyberattackers can also use malware to make your device a part of their botnet, which they can use to initiate a DDoS attack.
How to Identify Illegitimate Email Links?
Phishing messages are getting harder to identify. There is a high likelihood that either you or someone who uses your devices will fall victim to these sophisticated phishing scams at some point. To stay safe from these attacks, watch out for these 4 telltale signs of a spam message before interacting with an email –
- Check for warning signs such as grammatical errors, unusual behaviour, odd phrasing, or a sense of urgency.
- Hover your cursor over the email links or images (without clicking) to check for legitimacy. It will reveal the actual hyperlink behind the link text.
- Scan the links using online services or tools to verify the legitimacy.
- If the email includes an attachment, scan it for viruses.
The best way to stay safe from phishing email links is by taking proactive measures to reduce spam emails. Spammers gain access to your email address when it is exposed on the Internet.
To check your email address visibility, go to Sniff Email — an online platform dedicated to finding out if your email address exists on the Internet. Enter your email address in the search field and click fetch to find out if your email address exists on the web within a few seconds. Based on the results, you can take appropriate action to remove it to reduce the number of spam emails that you receive.