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Spam, Phishing, Targetted Phishing


Spam, phishing, and targeted phishing require different handling.


If you receive spam, please use our spam reporting procedures to send the spam to our anti-spam vendors, thus improving the service going forward.

Some spam messages include instructions for supposedly removing your address from the mailing list. This will purportedly stop spam from that spam source. However, if you follow the instructions, chances are you are only making matters worse. Spammers use the removal replies to confirm addresses to receive even more spam.


If you receive a phishing email, please report it to and use our spam reporting procedures to send the spam to our anti-spam vendors.

Phishing typically involves attempts to acquire sensitive information, such as usernames or passwords. Phishing attempts frequently attempt to trick you into visiting an invalid website. For example, many phishing attempts redirect you to sites that appear to be eBay, Citibank, or PayPal, but are actually not. The phishers are trying to trick you into typing your username, password and other sensitive information into these invalid website's. The phishers would then steal your username and password to use on the real eBay, Citibank, or PayPal.

Targeted Phishing

If you receive a phishing email, please immediately report it to

Cyber criminals are using sophisticated targeted phishing attacks to compromise computers at Berkeley Lab. The attack emails refer to familiar scientific projects, conferences, or experiments and may appear to come from colleagues, your supervisor, or even lab management. The attackers craft the messages to trick you into clicking a malicious attachment or link. Did you know a single click can compromise your system? Unfortunately, you cannot count on antivirus software to protect you from these attacks since the malware is designed to avoid detection. This is a hard problem.

The best defense for these attacks is to be aware of the attack methodology, remain vigilant, and report anything suspicious. If you receive an email that looks suspicious, asks for information or action, and is specifically targeted at you in the context of your affiliation with Berkeley Lab, UCB, UC, or DOE, please forward it as an attachment to Computer Protection Program is interested in anything that falls within the category of "targeted social engineering".

See the social engineering page for more information.


Send to

Send to

Paypal Phishing

Email from "the helpdesk" asking for your password

Bank Phishing

Email from "UC" asking for your "At Your Service" password

Scams involving foreign accounts (419)

Below are examples of targeted phishing attacks seen against Berkeley Lab with commentary to assist you in avoiding similar attacks.

Example 1

In this example, the attacker sends a message from a fake address of a lab senior manager.

Subject: FW: Agenda
Body: This below agenda just came in form from Susan, please look at it.
>From: Norris, Susan (ORO)
>To: Manager, Senior; Rabovsky, Joel MJ
>Subject: Agenda
>Thanks, nice to know that you all care this so much!
>Susan Norris
Attached: Agenda Mar 4.pdf

This attack was sent to 19 lab employees from an account created by the attacker to look like a senior managers Gmail account. Berkeley Lab is moving to Gmail, but all Berkeley Lab email accounts will remain, not The attacker's email contains a fake forwarded email with a malicious pdf file. If you opened this file with an unpatched version of Adobe Reader, your computer would be compromised.

Example 2

In this example, the attacker sends a message related to a conference. It is even possible you recently attended this conference. Attackers have been known to create target lists from conference attendee lists.

Subject: AIAA ASM Meeting in Reno
Body: Dear Solid Rockets Technical Committee Members,
Attached is the agenda for our upcoming meeting in Reno. Please let me know whether
or not you will be attending so that we can get a proper head-count for the dinner on Tuesday.
Attached: agenda.exe

Attackers prey on your curiosity. You may have an affiliation with this organization, you may not. Either way, you probably want more information. What is this conference? Where is it? Why am I getting this email? The attackers want you to think there is more information in the attachment. In fact, the attachment is a virus.

Example 3

In this example, the attacker sends a vague message about needing a project number.

Subject: Please send me a number for the following project.
Body: Attached is the file to use.
Attached: project.mdb

The vagueness of the message is part of the allure. You need more information. You hope there is more information in the attachment. In fact, project.mdb is a virus. What is unique about this example is the usage of a .mdb (Microsoft Access) file. Commonly malware is .exe or .zip files, but you should be aware malware can take many forms. At Berkeley Lab we have seen attacks using Microsoft Word (.doc), Microsoft Excel (.xls), Microsoft Access (.mdb), images (.jpg), HTML (.html), and Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files.

Example 4

In this example, the attacker purportedly met you at a recent conference and is seeking employment.

Subject: AIAA Conference
Body: My name is xxxx xxxxx and I met you at the 42nd AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference last month.
I have both a M.A.Sc. and a B.Eng. in Aerospace Engineering Propulsion Systems. Currently I work as
...blah blah... In the meantime, I provide you a link to my resume for your review.

The important part of this example is to note the virus is not actually attached to the message. In fact, the virus is on some web page. The email provides a link to the virus. This attack is designed to bypass the virus filters that email is subjected to before being delivered. There is less scrutiny of web traffic than of email attachments, so links to viruses are a common methodology.

Example 5

In this example, the attacker pretends to be from the DOE.

Subject: HSPD-12 Identification Briefing
Body: As identified by Executive and Department of Energy (DOE) orders, all DOE and National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) Federal and contractor employees, and other government agency personnel detailed to
the DOE, regardless of their security clearance status, will be participating in the switch to the new
HSPD-12 badge system. The DOE HSPD-12 Identification Briefing (HIB)....

In this example the attacker appears to be pointing you to a DOE site to change your badge. Notice the URL given is not a .gov site. Also ask yourself if you had heard anything about this email before it arrived? If you have never heard of this project, it is probably a scam. In this case, the website they link to looks very official. It displays DOE banners and graphics. Notice how the attacker tries to give the message a sense of urgency. The attacker wants you to believe something needs to be done immediately. They are trying to get you to react before you think. Do not let an email such as this pressure you into clicking before you think.

Example 6

In this attack, the attackers refer to lab managers and attempt to use the recipient to spread the phish further.

From: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention <programs@cdc.govname>
Subject: Government Health Program
Body: In attention of [Real LBNL Manager] at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Within the last few years there has been a
continue increasing of work-related diseases. A large part of interviewed personnel (about 65%) thought that
stress at work was one of the essential factors. Centers for Disease Control an Prevention (CDC) has started
a graduate program to study this issue. This is a Governmental Program and your duty is to verify that the
attachment you`ve received is complete (if not you can find it here), and forward it to all.

This attack was targeted to only 6 lab employees that work with financial data. The attacker makes the message appear to come from the CDC. Notice how the attacker also refers to a lab manager to give the message legitimacy. The attacker provides a link to the document. The attacker does this because an attachment is much more likely to be caught by email virus filtering. A link is not as likely to get caught. The attacker asks the recipients to forward the message to others. The attacker is trying to leverage the 6 people to spread the malware further.


Below are tips to avoid targeted phishing attacks.

  • Be wary of vague messages
  • Lookout for attackers preying on your need for more information
  • When viewing an email think, "could this be an attack?"
  • Be suspicious of official lab correspondence not from an email address
  • Use extra caution with attachments you are not expecting
  • Be cautious clicking links; a single click can compromise your system
  • Consider picking up the phone to verify suspicious messages
  • Do not forward or spread suspicious messages
  • Avoid using the Internet Explorer web browser
  • Ensure your anti-virus definitions are current
  • Get a second opinion by forwarding as an attachment to


A number of web resources are available to increase you skills in detecting the phishing.

  • CPP has a webpage with information on common social engineering techniques
  • When sending official lab email, prevent it from looking phishy
  • Carnegie Mellon has a flash game to build you skills in identifying phishing


If you receive a hoax, please forward it to

While the vast majority of computer security information on the Internet is accurate and useful, there are unfortunately a number of hoaxes circulating as well. For that reason, do not forward others warnings about computer viruses, Trojan horses, or any other Internet danger unless you are sure it is true.

The following website are good resources to determine if a given message is indeed a hoax.

CIAC Hoaxbusters
Symantec Antivirus Research Center—Virus Hoaxes
F-Secure Corporation Hoax Warnings


If you receive an email that looks suspicious, asks for information or action, and is specifically targeted at you in the context of your affiliation with Berkeley Lab, UCB, UC, or DOE, please forward it as an attachment to

Details to help you determine between spam, phishing, and targeted phishing can be found here.