Five Signs of Malicious Email Content and How to Protect Your Business


In 2009, the percent of email classified as spam or unsolicited peaked at more than 90 percent. Since then, spam rates have declined to 56.7 percent as of March 2017. But unfortunately, while spam email is declining overall, the number of emails that contain malicious content has increased. That means it’s more important than ever for users to know how to spot and protect themselves from malicious email content. Learn more from Tolar Systems.

How to Identify Malicious Email

Cybercriminals have several ways of using email to initiate a cyberattack. These include:

  • Getting you to open a malicious link.
  • Getting you to open an attachment.
  • Getting you to divulge personal information.

To get you to cooperate with these attempts, cybercriminals have become experts in posing as someone you trust, such as a person or business that is known to you.

But while these criminals are becoming ever more devious, you can outwit them by keeping an eye out for clues that can give away a malicious email.

Here are five ways to tell if the email or link you’re about to open may be malicious.

  • Email references applications, services or businesses you don’t use: If you receive an email from Wells Fargo, but you don’t bank there, there’s a good chance it’s malicious. On the other hand, just because you do have a Wells Fargo account doesn’t mean the email is necessarily safe, especially if you didn’t initiate contact, provide an email or sign up to be contacted. Make sure to carefully inspect these emails for any red flags. The next few tips can help.
  • Poor spelling and grammar: Phishing emails are often created by non-English speakers in foreign countries and as a result, it’s common for them to be filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. If you receive an email claiming to be a financial institution or any other business that contains poor spelling or grammar, you should be on high alert.
  • Requests for personal or payment information: If you receive an email from a financial institution or any other business you frequent, it should never contain a request for personal information, especially not payment information. NEVER send payment information of any kind via email.
  • Link URLs don’t match: More links today are embedded in the text, i.e., you don’t see the actual URL where you’re being sent unless you hover your cursor over the link. Make sure to do this; if the link doesn’t match where the email claims to be sending you, then it could be a malicious link. For instance, if you receive an email asking you to visit the Microsoft website, but the links in the email are sending you anywhere but, the link is likely not genuine.
  • Link URLs don’t use proper domain structure: If you understand a little bit about how domain names are set up, it can help you spot malicious emails. Web domains follow a very specific structure that tells a browser where to go. Typically, the structure looks like either or simply, If a link says it’s sending you to the Apple website, but the “Apple” fails to appear in the “main domain” spot, it’s likely to be a malicious email.

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If you spot any of these signs, DO NOT open the malicious email or click on any links. Report it to Tolar Systems or your security administrator.

Malicious email content is on the rise. Security applications and software alone cannot protect you from social engineering threats like phishing and spoofing. Educating yourself and casting a critical eye on your email inbox is crucial to protecting yourself and your business.

You can learn more about some of the common threats small business owners are facing and get more tips to protect your business on our recent blog: 2017 Cybercrime Trends and Security Update, or contact Tolar Systems today to learn more about keeping your business safe.