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How email marketers can help end phishing

You probably know what phishing is–an attempt to impersonate a legitimate website in order to trick you into revealing account information through an email that asks you to log into your account. The way it asks is the trick: it asks you to click on a button in the email to launch the website and log in. But when you click on that button, you are taken not to the actual website, but to the phisher’s site, where they happily collect your ID and password.

That ID and password might be valuable all by itself, depending on which website the phisher was impersonating. But even if it was a seemingly innocuous site, you might be giving valuable information to the phisher:

  • Do you use the same password on multiple sites–even banking sites?
  • If your ID is your email address, that can help phishers crack other, more valuable sites.

Now, I know this is a marketing site, so you might be asking, “What does this have to do with marketing?” Plenty. The way marketers send out their marketing emails is what gives phishers their opening.

Take a look at this email:

eBay Phising Email

I don’t know if it is from eBay or not. I didn’t press the button to find out. And I didn’t bother to contact eBay to find out if it was from them or not. All I did was go to the eBay directly (without pushing the button) to see what they needed me to do. I didn’t really see anything there. So, this email might be from a phisher.

If it is from a phisher, it is well done–which is exactly why we all need to be teaching our customers to be very wary of clicking these kinds of emails. If this email is actually from eBay, then it is “safe,” but it is a terrible idea for a few reasons:

  • You are expecting you customers to click on buttons in your emails to log on–exactly what we are trying to teach them not to do.
  • You are doing this in the guise of protecting their account–even dumber.
  • You are giving phishers a great target by sending emails like this. If you succeed in teaching your customers to click on emails like this, phishers will copy your emails and hijinks ensue.

I want to be very clear that I have no idea if eBay is guilty of making this error. But I know that marketers are still sending emails like this every day. Stop! Only when customers get the idea that none of these emails are ever a good idea to click on will phishers need to find a better way to steal our credentials.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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