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February 21
Phishing -What is it?
 by Alex Morones
UTSA Office of Information Security

UTSA is just like any other large business or organization – we are a target for spammers and others who try to steal information.


“Spam” is simply unsolicited email.  You can think of it as being similar to “junk mail” that the postal service delivers to your home mailbox.  Spam, on the other hand, is sent to your email inbox.  Some spam simply advertises a company’s offerings.  By sending out millions of spam email messages, the sender hopes a few people will visit the company’s website for more information.

Every day our email spam filter blocks literally millions of email messages that it recognizes as spam.  These messages never reach UTSA.  However, spammers are always looking for ways to make their email messages look like a legitimate email message.  Spam filters constantly update themselves to block new spam, but spammers always seem to be one step ahead.
Other spam email messages are malicious.  Phishing email messages usually contain a file attachment or a link to a Web page.
You should never open (double-click) an attachment from an untrusted source.  Likewise, you should never click a link in a suspicious email.

About Links in Email Messages
If you receive a suspicious email message that asks you to click a link “to provide more information,” you can try this trick.  Place your cursor over the email link without clicking the link.  Often, the actual email address of the page you will be sent to will be displayed.
In this example, the displayed link looks like a legitimate Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.  However, if you hover over the link (without clicking the link) you will see that clicking the link will take you to a completely different website that begins with “www.slayer...”  That is most likely an infected Web page.  Just visiting that site could automatically install malicious software on your computer.  (Note that we have blurred the actual website as a precaution.) 
Why Do I Get Spam Email?
Every large organization and nearly every email user receives spam. Spam blockers and filters do a great job of keeping most of the spam out of your inbox, but some messages do manage to get through.
How Can I Minimize the Amount of Spam I Receive?
One way spammers get email addresses is by using software to scour the Internet to find lists of email addresses.  Since UTSA is a public institution, our email addresses are readily available online.  That does not mean that your UTSA email address is on a spammer’s list.   Spammers also capture email addresses from the Address Book of compromised computers and from websites where people have entered their email addresses.  If you are entering a contest, leaving a public comment, or entering your email address as a requirement, consider creating a “throwaway” email address (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) that you set up for this purpose.
How Can I Spot a Phishing Email?

A phishing email can be hard to spot.  However, you can watch out for these common characteristics:

  • The email came from a bank or other company you do not do business with.
  • The email came from an unrecognized sender and it has a document attached.
  • The email is poorly constructed – it has misspelled words or bad grammar – this often means it was sent by someone who is not a native English speaker.
  • The email asks you to provide personal information – computer account passwords, bank account numbers, etc. – a legitimate company will NEVER ask you to provide this information via email.
Current Phishing Email Message (February 2013)
The UTSA Office of Information Security is notified when OITConnect technicians receive complaints about phishing email messages.  We are currently seeing these types of phishing messages:
  • Update Your Email Account/Your Email Account Is Expiring – these messages are very common
  • ICT SERVICE!! – this message wants to send you to a malicious Google Docs page
What Can I Do if I Receive a Suspicious Email?
If you inadvertently clicked a link in an email or if you are ever unsure if an email message is legitimate, contact OITConnect, 210-458-5555.




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