To a budding or established company on the web, the possibility of cyber attacks is very real and can be damaging to your reputation if not handled correctly. One of the worst of such online threats is the all-too-common “Joe Job” attack.
Essentially, a Joe Job attack happens when an attacker sends fake (spoofed) spam email that appears as though it originated from your domain. Email has always been one of the most insecure protocols on the Internet – anybody with even a minimal knowledge of technology can send email “from” whoever they want, without much effort.
Usually you become aware of such an attack when you begin receiving a flood of angry email replies to the spam (since the Reply-To address is often your own). Now begins the long arduous task of saving face amongst the onslaught of defamation. It seems daunting, but we have compiled a comprehensive guide to surviving a Joe Job attack, should you be unfortunate enough to become a victim:
1. Create email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org if these do not already exist. These should either be set up to forward to you, or you could configure your email client to also receive email from these addresses. This is so that information sent from SpamCop and other blacklist services is not missed. Whenever somebody submits one of the spam emails to SpamCop, real time reports will be forwarded to email@example.com. Fortunately, SpamCop is smart about these things and will realize that the emails are not originating from your domain.
2. Set up a spam information page with information about the attack and a form where victims can submit the header information from the offending emails to help you expedite the investigation. In cases where the attack is being carried out by a devious competitor, this will have the benefit of letting them know you’re onto them, and they need to stop. It also helps the people who are receiving the spam. They may be hearing about your company for the first time by receiving the defaming spam, and the proactive ones will almost certainly be browsing your site looking for answers. It will help immeasurably to provide them with the information they are looking for, letting them know that the email did not come from you and that there is something they can do to help end the attack. As you begin to receive more information it will also help with your own investigation. Appletree’s Joe Job information page is an excellent reference.
3. Create an alert link from your home page that directs people to the spam information page without distracting the customers who are there under normal circumstances. The point is that you need to address the issue with an official response and a way for proactive victims to do something meaningful to help stop the attack.
4. Once people begin sending you full header information thanks to step 3, you can begin doing some research to find out where the attacks are coming from. As you view the full headers, the only line which cannot be faked is the “Received” line, which usually contains the originating IP address. This may or may not be useful because a smart attacker will often bounce their emails off of several “open relay” servers, effectively hiding their original location. This information will still be very valuable to SpamCop, however, in building up a blacklist of known “open relay” servers, which will be beneficial in the long run. Make sure to create a SpamCop account and submit all of the spam emails you receive.
5. Notify your web host about what is going on. Even though the emails are not being sent from their servers, it is good for them to know what is happening. Sometimes web hosts will help with the investigation.
6. Utilize your social networks – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc – to send out helpful “security” reminders, while being sure not to instill fear. The people in your own network will appreciate the information even though they most likely did not receive the spam email. The spammer usually has different targets and goals, separate from your own. It is always a good idea, though, to make sure your own customers are aware of your spam policy and that you are actively on top of keeping them safe while doing online business with you.
Other than that, be very gracious and kind to the victims who complain about getting spam from your company. Being knowledgeable enough to briefly explain the nature of the problem will go a long way towards turning potentially bad press into a network of allies.