One of the most common ways that cybercriminals hijack personal information is through malicious links and e-mail attachments. During the holiday shopping season, as consumers visit web sites that they don’t normally frequent, and make one-time purchases, there is a corresponding rise in the number of messages and updates we receive from places we don’t recognize. Cyber-thieves take advantage of this, ramping up their volume and adjusting their tactics to try to steal your personal – or professional – information.

Cybercrime, especially identity theft, is a multibillion dollar industry. Further, that kind of identity theft can be used for things such as laundering drug money – another multibillion dollar industry. Those spammy emails may seem like an inconvenience to us – but to the people who create them, they are a treasure chest.  Malicious traffic (malware, phishing web sites, “bot” traffic from infected workstations) accounts for 10% of web sites, 30% of web traffic, and over 2/3 of email traffic on the internet (the ESD’s email spam filter blocks over 50,000 messages in an average week).

How they do it, Method One: Malicious email

We have all seen this one – the e-mail with the malicious link or attachment. If you see a suspicious message:

  1. Don’t click the link/open the attachment
  2. Don’t forward the message – this only increases the risk of someone inadvertently clicking the link or becoming infected.
    1. If Agency Tech needs to see the original message, we’ll either ask you to send it to us, or ask you for permission to access your mailbox directly to examine it.
  3. Email the sender to ask if it is legit
    1. If it comes from someone you know, send them a new message (not a reply to the possibly-malicious note), asking if they sent such a note.
    2. If it comes from a web site or vendor, go directly to the vendor’s site. Log in to your account and check there, or send a message using their support/contact form.

When in doubt – delete!  If it’s important – the sender will reach out a second time.

How they do it, Method Two: Infected web sites

Fake news sites, clickbait sites and – especially during the holiday shopping season – fake vendor web sites can all contain not just malicious clickable links – but active content that will infect your computer just by visiting/viewing the page! When shopping during the holiday season, take a moment to look at the link before you click it (for images, if you hover your mouse over the image, the link will, in most browsers, display at the bottom of your browser window or in a tooltip).

Does the link name match the vendor name you are seeing?  Does it have a standard domain type, such as “.com”?  If you don’t recognize the domain type, try googling it to see ‘where in the world’ your web site is. If, for example you google “.tk web address”, you’ll not only learn that this is Tokelau, a New Zealand Territory – you’ll also learn quickly that it has the 3rd largest number of malicious Phishing sites in the world.  This might not be a place you want to enter your credit card data!

What you can do

All those standard warnings still apply – be careful what you click! If you should inadvertently click a malicious link or think you have been exposed to malware:


Any additional action poses the potential to spread the illness. Opening a document on that device, for example, doesn’t expose the document – but the entire server that the document is saved on.

Contact us!

The ESD’s Technology Helpdesk treats potential virus exposure as a significant data emergency. The first available technician will be sent to help you scan for viruses, and if possible will identify and research the virus to ensure that we look in all of its known hiding places and erase all traces.

You can find additional tips to reducing and responding to spam and malware in this document in the “Help and How-To” section of Agency Tech’s MyPSESD site.