No, you cannot get hacked just by opening an email. The only way you can get hacked through an email is by interacting with the contents of the email, such as clicking on a malicious link or attachment.
Continue reading to learn more about malicious emails and how to avoid getting hacked through them.
What Happens if You Open an Email From a Scammer?
If you open an email from a scammer without interacting with it, it won’t infect your machine, but the scammer will be able to gather data to use for targeted cyber attacks. For example, the scammer may be able to gather your IP address, the Operating System (OS) that you use and your location.
A scammer having your IP address or location can be dangerous because they can use it to launch other cyber attacks like doxxing. In a doxxing attack, a threat actor gathers as much personal information as they can about their victim and then publishes it online as a form of harassment. When sensitive data like your street address or phone number is published online, it can lead to real-life stalking or physical assault.
While opening an email from a scammer can expose some of your information, interacting with the email can expose a lot more. When you interact with an email from a scammer by clicking a link or downloading an attachment, the scammer can infect your device with malicious software known as malware. When malware is installed on your device, it can spy on you and track your keystrokes, leading to your sensitive data being compromised. Compromised data can eventually lead to identity theft and breached accounts. Having your identity stolen not only takes a lot of time to recover from, but it can also be emotionally, mentally and financially draining.
What Does It Actually Mean To Get Hacked?
Getting hacked means that someone was able to gain access to your account or device without your permission. When your account or device is hacked, it opens a door for threat actors to compromise your data, including other online accounts. It also places you at risk of having your identity stolen, depending on how much information the scammer is able to gather about you.
Accounts can be hacked in many different ways. For example, if you have an account with a company, and that company suffers a data breach, any data that was a part of the breach can be published on the dark web for cybercriminals to get a hold of. A cybercriminal can then use those breached credentials to hack into online accounts that use the same credentials.
Hacking can also occur if you use weak passwords. Weak passwords are passwords that are short in length, use personal information such as birthdays and contain common dictionary words and phrases – making them easily guessable. When passwords are easily guessable, the accounts they are used for become easy for cybercriminals to hack.
How To Avoid Getting Hacked Through Email
Some precautions you can take to avoid getting hacked through email include not clicking links or attachments, verifying the sender’s email address, spotting red flags and installing antivirus software.
Don’t click unsolicited links or attachments
Clicking on unsolicited links or attachments is dangerous because it can lead to malware infections which can ultimately lead to compromised data.
Malware can do different things, depending on the type that is installed on your device. For example, keylogging software can track your keystrokes, so if you’re manually typing sensitive information, like login credentials, the threat actor will be able to know what you’re typing and use it for their own malicious purposes. If spyware gets installed on your device, threat actors can gain access to your device’s camera and microphone and even take screenshots of your activity as you use your computer.
It’s important to avoid clicking on any links and attachments that you weren’t expecting so your data remains safe.
Verify the sender’s email address
One of the best ways to ensure that any email is legitimate is by verifying the sender’s email address. You can do this by clicking the display name of the sender and closely inspecting the email address. Often, scammers will spoof display names to make the email seem like it’s coming from a legitimate source. Look for things like an “L” replaced with a “1” or an “O” replaced with a zero. Small things like this can help you identify if the email you were sent is from a scammer so you know if it’s safe to interact with.
Some phishing emails can also come from known contacts who have been compromised. To confirm if a sender’s email is legitimate, you can verify with the sender directly using another form of communication. If the email claims to be from a company, go to the company’s official website and call the number they have listed to confirm the email was actually from them. If the email claims to be from a friend, family member, coworker or boss, contact them through text message or another messaging platform to ask if they sent the email. If they claim that they did not send the email, they can take the necessary steps to warn other email contacts so they don’t fall for the scam.
Look for red flags
An email from a scammer will often contain red flags that you can use to determine whether the email is legitimate. Some red flags include:
- Urgent language, like “ACT NOW”
- Threats of dire consequences
- Misspellings and grammatical errors
- Offers that seem too good to be true
- Requests for personal information
- Links that don’t go to official websites
With the increasing use of AI, cybercriminals have also started using large language models like ChatGPT to make phishing emails harder to spot. Phishing emails that are generated by AI tend to have better grammar and can even mimic the language, tone and style of legitimate emails – making them highly believable.
Install antivirus software
Antivirus software is a program that you install on your computer that prevents, detects, isolates and removes malware and other known viruses. Having this type of program already installed will help keep your device safe from any type of malicious software that tries to infect your computer.
Some antivirus software also scans your emails and blocks any email that contains malware and viruses before it lands in your inbox. This helps you avoid clicking emails that will place your data and device at risk of infection.
Keep Safe From Email Scammers
Email scammers aren’t going away, and as technology advances, so do their techniques for hacking and scamming individuals. It’s important that you know what to look out for so you can keep yourself and your data protected at all times. Before choosing to interact with an unsolicited email, remember to look for common red flags and verify the sender’s email address.
Learn more about what you can do if a scammer has your email address to keep yourself safe.