Beware of those random weird email links

 

Why argue with a winning malware formula?
Why argue with a winning malware formula?

Haven’t seen them for a while, but it looks like those random email-hijacking links are still around. Why argue with something that works?

I just got one. It had a weird title, something like [etiohg. First clue. It was from a friend I haven’t heard from for a while. It was sent to a bunch of other people, including mutual friends. I know the sender isn’t the most computer-savvy person in the world, so there’s that.

Can’t blame her for sending it. She probably didn’t even know it went out on her email.

This one had no greeting, just a link. One of those shortened ones. Not even a bit.ly-shortened link, but some other one.

Did I click on it? What, do I look like I wandered in off the shrimp boat just yesterday? I did take the domain name of the link (something.eu, a made-up name) and typed it in, and it was some shopping site in a foreign language, offering Rolexes for little bit of nothing.

The .eu part of the address is real, and that tells me something about the server. .eu is for European Union, which still exists for some reason.

A ton of red flags, and being halfway computer literate (plus hard experience) meant stay away.

To my understanding, here’s how this works. You click on the link and it somehow gives the sender access to your email account. I think it’s more or less automatic, but the sender basically controls my email. From my address he can send more of these emails, it taps my address book (now numbering in the thousands) and sends more of these emails to some or all of them.

It’s the gift that keeps giving.

So here are my red flags:

  • I haven’t heard from the person in a while. But even if the email is from somebody I regularly communicate with, it’s still suspect.

  • A weird-looking link, usually shortened. I can send anything through bit.ly and you wouldn’t even know what it is until you click on it.

  • A country code (top-level domain, like .com or .eu) that you don’t recognize. Here’s a list of them through Wikipedia. Bonus points if the country code is from some nation that is not our friend.

  • No message, just the link.

I sent my friend a reply, with a Re: [etiohg in the headline. Here’s the text:

(Friend’s first name), I got a couple of these emails from you. I think someome hijacked your email account & turned it into a spam machine. Might be a good time to change your password. Don’t click the link.”

–Eric

I didn’t want to scare my friend, but, well … there it is. Now if I had the presence of mind to send that reply to everyone it got sent to (reply to all) I would have done so.

Anyway, if you get one of those, don’t click the link. Then, as I mentioned, change the password of the email account. Now. It probably needed to be changed anyway.

Then maybe — if you actually catch it in time (no promises there), chase that email with another offering your apologies and a warning to not open it.

If you’re unlucky enough to have spread the plague of malware and your friends bit on it, do the obvious thing. Blame it on someone else.

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Author: Eric Pulsifer

Eric Pulsifer is a veteran wordsmith with experience as a journalist, editor, musician, and freelance writer.