What is spoofing and how does it threaten your privacy?

Andrew Showstead

April 22, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection

For anyone who’s seen a soap opera or telenovela that featured a character with an identical twin or doppelganger, you know how deceiving appearances can be. That same idea of malicious look-alikes is exactly how spoofing works — but instead of a good and evil twin, there’s a real and fake IP address or a real and forged caller ID name.

Spoofing is a common digital attack where scammers disguise information like email addresses or website links to look authentic and trick unsuspecting recipients. If you believe their trick and end up sharing any sensitive data with the scammer, they can use it to break into your personal accounts and possibly even steal your money or identity. 

If you’re concerned about your digital security and looking to get ahead of spoofing threats, taking the time to understand what spoofing is and how cyber criminals use this scam is an essential first step. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What’s spoofing?

Spoofing refers to the act of falsifying pieces of information to trick someone into believing a lie and exposing their personal information. A spoofer is a bit like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as the attacker pretends to be a trusted entity to deceive their prey.

If the target of a spoofing attack falls for the lie and reveals any sensitive data, the hacker could use that information to access the target’s private logins, like banking accounts. On the other hand, if the target clicks a link or downloads a file that installs malware on their device, the hacker could use the malicious software to monitor their keystrokes and computer activity, gain more data, and compromise their device and private accounts.

How does spoofing work?

A spoofing attack depends on a target putting their trust in the false identity or information that a cyber criminal presents. For example, if a spoofer sends an email that appears to be from a legitimate PayPal customer service address questioning an unknown transaction and the recipient truly believes it’s from PayPal, the spoofer can then manipulate the recipient into sharing a PayPal login or clicking on a malicious link that collects private information.

The length spoofers will go to try to replicate data and gain the trust of their victim is what also makes these attacks so successful. Cyber criminals may alter email addresses to appear as if they're from a legitimate source, change caller ID information to trick you into thinking a call is from someone you know, or even manipulate website URLs to closely resemble a website you trust.

Common types of spoofing attacks and how to detect them

Spoofing attacks come in various forms, each tapping into a unique digital element to try to trick unsuspecting targets. Here are eight of the most common types of spoofing to be wary of:

1. Email spoofing

Email spoofing involves forging the sender address in an email to appear as if it's from a legitimate source. To detect email spoofing, check for discrepancies in the sender's email address and look for unusual language or requests in the email content.

For example, while Amazon’s actual customer service email may be “cs-reply@amazon.com,” a spoofed version may look like “customer-service@csamazon_support.com.” A spoofer can also make the display name of the email address match a typical Amazon email, but clicking “show details” may show an entirely different sender address.

2. Caller ID spoofing

Cyber criminals can disguise their phone number to appear as a familiar or trusted number using technology like VoIP, ​​which lets you make phone calls using the internet instead of a traditional phone line and input nearly any number as the calling number.

If you receive a call from a familiar number requesting personal information over the phone, don’t share any information. Instead, end the call and dial the number yourself to verify the caller's identity independently.

3. IP spoofing

With this type of spoofing, the attacker disguises their IP address to trick a network into thinking it's from a trusted source. Detecting IP spoofing can be complex, but unusual network traffic patterns and unexplained network access are common indicators.

4. GPS spoofing

GPS spoofing involves manipulating GPS signals to falsify location data. Sudden, inexplicable changes in your GPS location or inconsistencies between your location and your GPS reading are common red flags for this type of attack.

5. Website spoofing

Attackers may create a fake website that mimics a legitimate one to try to steal data. To spot these, look for slight variations in the URL, poor website design, or URLs that start with “http” instead of “https.” HTTPS stands for hypertext transfer protocol secure, which is the “secure” version (hence the “s”) of your network’s data transmission protocol. Simply put, these are the secure rules that devices follow to communicate with each other over a network.

6. SMS spoofing

Similar to caller ID spoofing, attackers can send text messages from a disguised number. Be wary of clicking links in unexpected texts and verify the sender's identity by manually entering their verified number and calling them directly. These tactics also apply to WhatsApp scams.

7. ARP spoofing

Address resolution protocol (ARP) is ​​a system that helps computers in a network figure out each other's physical location. Attackers often send falsified ARP messages over a local area network to make it look like their devices have the same IP address as another device on a network. This spoofing type is more technical to detect, but using your network’s security tools to monitor ARP traffic can help.

8. Wi-Fi spoofing

Cyber criminals sometimes set up rogue Wi-Fi networks that mimic legitimate hot spots. If you connect to the spoofed network, the cyber criminal responsible for the network will be able to intercept any data you transfer. Always verify the legitimacy of a Wi-Fi network before connecting and avoid conducting sensitive transactions over public Wi-Fi.

How to prevent spoofing: 10 tips to protect yourself from these attacks

Where spoofing attacks are prevalent, safeguarding your personal and professional data is crucial online. Here are some effective tips to help you steer clear of spoofing traps:

  1. Verify sender information: Always double-check the sender's details in any emails and messages you receive before responding with information or clicking on any links or attachments. Be on the lookout for inconsistencies or unusual email addresses, especially in emails requesting sensitive information.

  2. Beware of unsolicited contacts: Be cautious of unexpected calls, emails, or text messages, particularly those asking for personal or financial information. If in doubt, contact the organization directly using verified contact details.

  3. Use caller ID apps: Install caller ID and spam-blocking apps on your phone to identify potentially spoofed calls.

  4. Check website security: Before entering sensitive information, ensure the website you want to access uses HTTPS, and verify its authenticity, especially if you've reached it through a link.

  5. Secure your network: Protect your Wi-Fi network with a strong, unique password, and consider using virtual private networks (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection and prevent others from easily accessing or monitoring your data. These tools are especially useful for preventing IP spoofing on public networks.

  6. Regularly update your software: Keep your operating systems and security software updated with the latest versions. These updates often include patches that protect against recent spoofing techniques and any detected system vulnerabilities.

  7. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of security to your login credentials, requiring you to enter SMS codes, authentication app codes, or biometric data (like fingerprints or face scans), making it harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access even if they have your credentials. 

  8. Educate yourself on phishing techniques: Familiarize yourself with common phishing tactics to better identify potential spoofed emails and websites.

  9. Be cautious with links and attachments: Avoid clicking links or downloading attachments from unknown or untrustworthy sources. These could lead to spoofed websites or malware installations.

  10. Consider using masked contact information: To keep your email or phone number from landing in the laps of spoofers, use masked emails and phone numbers from IronVest. These tools generate email addresses and phone numbers for you to input on any online forms or accounts that require the information so that there’s no direct link back to your private contact information.

IronVest: Your protection against spoofing attacks

Spoofing attacks and their many forms present a significant threat to personal and organizational cyber security. These deceptions can lead to data breaches, financial loss, and compromised privacy. The sophistication of these attacks requires an equally sophisticated security approach, one that IronVest readily offers.

IronVest emerges as a robust solution to stop spoofing. It offers enhanced protection with an advanced suite of security features like biometric authentication and masked emails, giving you the ability to never share your email information directly with any online sites. Discover how IronVest can help you stay one step ahead of cyber criminals and maintain your digital privacy.

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