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What is spoofing: Definition, types, and prevention

Imagine getting an email from one of your usual service providers, clicking on a link, and ending up on an odd-looking website. You might have been spoofed. A successful spoofing attack can help a hacker access your computer network or extract sensitive information. Read on to learn about the different spoofing types and how to protect yourself.

What is spoofing: Definition, types, and prevention

What is spoofing?

Spoofing attack definition

A spoofing attack is when a person or program poses as another entity by falsifying data to gain an illegitimate advantage. It often involves tricking other people or computers into thinking they’re communicating with a trusted source when they’re not.

Simply put, spoofing is a deceptive practice where cybercriminals pretend to be trustworthy persons or entities to gain the victim’s trust and unauthorized access to a system and its data.

How does spoofing work?

Spoofing involves two aspects — the spoof itself, which can be a fake email or website, coupled with a social engineering tactic. Spoofers typically use the names of popular, trusted companies to trick you into believing that the communication is coming from a legitimate source.

For example, you could get a spoofed email resembling legitimate Amazon emails and urging you to review your recent purchase by clicking on a link. If you’re not careful enough, you might click on the link and possibly download malware or be redirected to a fake login page, urging you to enter your login credentials. That’s what criminals count on — you believing in their fake identity.

In a successful spoofing attack, victims unwittingly divulge personal information, download malware, end up with infected computers, or even suffer financial fraud and identity theft. But the same can happen to you in a successful phishing attack, so what’s the difference between the two?

Phishing vs. spoofing: What is the difference?

Even though their goals are similar, the main difference between phishing and spoofing is that phishing is a broader term for cyberattacks that use deception to elicit sensitive information, while spoofing relies on creating a false identity or scenario to bypass security measures or gain trust. Spoofing techniques can be used in phishing attacks as well.

Phishing attacks usually involve sending mass emails, messages, or creating fake websites, but spoofing attacks generally entail more technical methods like manipulating the email header, website URL, extension, or the IP address.

Types of spoofing

There are different types of spoofing attacks, from email spoofing, one of the most widely used, to more technically elaborate ones like DNS spoofing and GPS spoofing. So let’s look at the spoofing types one by one.

Email spoofing

Email spoofing is a technique where the sender forges email header information to make an email appear as if it’s from a legitimate source. For example, it might look like you got an email from PayPal, urging you to review your latest transactions by following a link.

In sophisticated attacks, the fraudulent sender address might show no apparent misspelling or inconsistencies, and the email body might look well-crafted, complete with quality copies of logos and images. However, less elaborate spoofing attempts might have linguistic and visual errors and inconsistencies.

Spoofed emails often contain requests for personal or sensitive information, links to fraudulent websites designed to steal login credentials, or attachments that can install malware on your computer or network.

How to detect email spoofing

To avoid falling for the trap of spoofed email messages, inspect the email header carefully for misspelled email addresses and domain names. Even the most subtle mistake can indicate a spoofed email.

Then evaluate the email body. Are there any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors? These can be red flags, especially when the email is supposed to be from a reputable source.

Be wary of emails that sound too pushy, urgent, or dramatic. Spoofers often use these tactics to prompt quick and thoughtless actions from their victims. Poor quality or slightly off-brand design and logos can also signal spoofed emails.

How to prevent email spoofing

To stop spoofing emails from harming you, carefully examine every email and its header. Be cautious with emails that have suspicious sender addresses, unexpected requests, or unsolicited attachments.

It is crucial that you use a well-known and secure email provider that offers built-in security measures and filters suspicious emails. Activating a spam filter is also highly important because it blocks many spoofed emails from reaching your main inbox. Lastly, using disposable email addresses to sign up for lesser-known websites can protect your primary email address from being targeted.

IP spoofing

IP spoofing is a technique for gaining unauthorized access to a computer network by altering the source address in IP packet headers to a fake IP address. By doing so, hackers make it appear as if the network traffic is coming from a trusted source, often resembling an IP address from within the target’s own network.

Cybercriminals might use this spoofed IP address to bypass security measures, gain access to networks, intercept data, or overwhelm servers in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

An IP spoofing example

An example of IP spoofing is GitHub’s DDoS attack in 2018. Hackers temporarily disrupted GitHub’s service by exploiting a misconfiguration in external memcached servers and overwhelming GitHub with an enormous amount of traffic.

The hackers sent requests to the memcached servers with a spoofed IP address, which they made to appear as GitHub’s IP address. When the servers responded, they directed their large responses not to the attacker, but to GitHub, because of the spoofed IP address. This resulted in a huge amount of data flooding GitHub’s servers, causing the website to become temporarily unavailable.

URL (or website) spoofing

URL spoofing, also known as website spoofing, involves creating fraudulent websites that closely resemble legitimate ones, often with similar-looking URLs. Links in phishing and spoofing emails frequently take you to these spoofed websites.

Website spoofing attacks can also involve domain spoofing, where cybercriminals slightly alter the web address (domain) with minor misspellings or different domain extensions to trick users into believing they are visiting a trusted site. For example, they could use “www.example.co” instead of “www.example.com.”

Browser spoofing may also be involved, where the spoofed website manipulates the browser into displaying false information in the address bar. The goal is to make users believe they are on a legitimate site and trick them into entering sensitive information, such as their login credentials or financial details.

Caller ID spoofing

Caller ID spoofing is a technique where a scammer disguises their true phone number, making it appear on your caller ID as if the call is coming from a trusted or official source, like a bank or a mobile carrier. This tactic is often used in scam calls to increase the likelihood of the recipient answering. Their goal of caller ID spoofing attacks is to deceive the victim into providing personal information.

Scammers might use the obtained information in a SIM swapping attack, where the scammer persuades a mobile carrier to transfer the victim’s phone number to a SIM card in the scammer’s control. If successful, a SIM swapping attack enables the criminal to intercept calls and messages intended for the victim, potentially granting access to the victim’s online accounts.

How to stop spoofing calls

There are a few ways you can prevent spoofing calls from bothering or harming you. Check with your mobile carrier for services or apps that identify or filter out spam calls. Enable the services or download the recommended app. If your carrier doesn’t offer such services, consider downloading a reputable third-party app for blocking spam calls.

If you’ve answered a spam call and you recognize the same number calling you again, block that number immediately. You can check out our article on how to block spam calls on iPhones and Androids.

Neighbor spoofing

Neighbor spoofing is a tactic where a scammer manipulates the caller ID to display a phone number that appears similar to the recipient’s own phone number, often matching the same local area code and prefix. Scammers do it to increase the likelihood that the recipient will answer the call, believing it to be from a local, familiar source.

How to stop neighbor spoofing

Same as with preventing spoofing calls, you should install an app on your phone to identify and block suspected spam calls. Or check in with your carrier to see if they offer spam call blocking services. And if you don’t recognize a local number, you don’t have to answer it.

Text message spoofing

Text message spoofing or SMS spoofing is a practice where scammers alter the sender information in a text message to make it appear as if it’s coming from a trusted source, such as a known contact or a reputable organization. If the recipient believes the message is from someone they trust, they are more likely to share personal data or click on malicious links.

In some cases text message scams can become particularly bizarre, for example, receiving messages that appear to come from your own phone number. This is another form of text message spoofing used to confuse and deceive recipients. Check out our blog post to make sure you know what to do when your phone is spam texting you.

How to prevent SMS spoofing

To prevent these spoofing attacks, you should treat unexpected messages with caution and examine them carefully. Never click on links or download attachments from suspicious text messages. And do not respond to messages requesting personal or financial information, because typically no respectable service provider would ask you to share sensitive information via a text message.

Man-in-the-middle attack

A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) is a type of cyberattack where a hacker secretly intercepts and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are communicating with each other. This way the hacker can eavesdrop on, manipulate, or steal sensitive information being exchanged.

Hackers typically intercept communications by setting up malicious Wi-Fi hotspots. If the user logs on such Wi-Fi and their connection is not protected, the cybercriminal might gain access to their data passing through the hotspot.

MITM attacks are one of the reasons why storing your credit card information online is risky. When you store this type of information on a website or an app, each time you make a transaction your device communicates with the server to retrieve and use these details. During an MITM attack, a hacker could intercept this communication.

ARP spoofing

An Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) is a communication protocol that uses the device’s IP address to discover its hardware address within the local area network (LAN). ARP spoofing, also called ARP poisoning, is a type of cyberattack where a hacker sends falsified ARP messages over a local area network. This links the hacker’s MAC address with the IP address of a legitimate computer or server on the network.

What is the aim of an ARP spoofing attack?

The aim of an ARP spoofing attack is to eavesdrop on network traffic or intercept, modify, or stop the data intended for that IP address.

DNS spoofing

DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, is a cyberattack where a hacker uses corrupt domain name system data to redirect online traffic to a malicious destination.

For example, if you want to visit google.com but the attacker intercepts your DNS request, the attacker could send back a fake IP address that leads to a fraudulent website resembling your intended destination. This could happen even if you enter the correct website address.

How to prevent DNS spoofing

To prevent DNS spoofing, you should never click on suspicious links, regularly scan your device for malware and clear your DNS cache, as well as use a VPN to shield your online traffic from snoopers.

GPS spoofing

GPS spoofing is a form of cyberattack where the attacker broadcasts fake GPS signals and interferes with nearby GPS receivers. As a result, the nearby devices display fake GPS locations. Even though it’s uncommon to encounter GPS spoofing in everyday life, sectors like the military, marine forces, and high-level corporations recognize it as a tangible threat.

How does GPS spoofing work?

In GPS spoofing, attackers use radio transmitters to broadcast fake GPS signals that override nearby GPS-enabled devices’ original location.

Facial spoofing

Facial spoofing, also called facial recognition spoofing or simply face spoofing, is a type of biometric spoofing where the attacker tries to trick a facial recognition system using a photo, video, mask, or some other substitute for a legitimate user’s face.

Since facial recognition technology is used as part of multiple factor authentication (MFA) for unlocking mobile devices and entering restricted areas, hackers carry out facial spoofing with the aim of gaining unauthorized access to devices, networks, and areas, as well as stealing sensitive data.

An example of spoofing

A common spoofing example is a text message that seemingly comes from your postal service, informing you about a parcel. The message might say that the courier tried to deliver your parcel to your home address, but you weren’t home, so now you have to click on the link and rearrange the delivery.

But what if you aren’t expecting any parcels? Don’t get too excited about a secret gift coming your way — this message could be a scam. Inspect the SMS for misspelled words and punctuation errors, and never follow a suspicious link.

How to prevent spoofing

Spoofing prevention heavily depends on your vigilance and awareness of the different types of attacks. But here are some specific measures you can take:

  • Don’t click on suspicious links.
  • Don’t open attachments in suspicious messages and emails.
  • Turn on your spam filter to filter out potentially dangerous emails.
  • Set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA) to protect your online accounts with more than just a password.
  • Keep your software up to date to fix security vulnerabilities that cybercriminals might exploit.
  • Look out for poor, inconsistent grammar and design in emails and messages to avoid falling into the snooping trap.
  • Brush up on your cybersecurity knowledge to be informed about the latest threats and protection methods.
  • Use trustworthy cybersecurity tools, such as a reliable VPN or antivirus and anti-malware software.

With most spoofing attacks relying on your gullibility, being cautious will go a long way. Make sure to double-check the source of the communication when in doubt, and employ all available security measures to stay safe from all sorts of cyberattacks, including spoofing.


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