Spoofing: What It Is And How To Protect Yourself Against It

Learn about caller ID, DNS, email, and IP spoofing

Spoofing is particularly insidious because it essentially involves criminals who impersonate other people or entities in order to steal personal information or even circulate malware. Keep reading to learn what spoofing is, how it works, what forms it can take, and how to protect against it.

What Is Spoofing?

"Spoofing" is a bit of an umbrella term. According to internet security company Malwarebytes, spoofing is a type of cybersecurity attack in which a person or thing impersonates another entity to gain the trust of its victims and gain access to computer systems, spread malware, and steal money or personal data.

In spoofing attacks, unsuspecting victims (or their computer systems) are usually tricked by pieces of information that look like they come from a trustworthy source, but likely came from a scammer trying to deceive them into giving them money or their personal data.

Hacker in hoodie holding a laptop in front of giant digital display screen\
Bill Hinton / Getty Images

Different Types of Spoofing Attacks

There are a number of different kinds of spoofing attacks, the differences of which usually depend on what method of communication is being spoofed. For example, things like emails and caller ID information can be spoofed to look like they're communications from a trusted government agency or banking institution just to get you to give up personal information.

Caller ID Spoofing and Neighbor Spoofing

Caller ID spoofing and neighbor spoofing actually go hand-in-hand because the latter is a type of caller ID spoofing. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), caller ID spoofing happens when a scammer "deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity."

Screenshot of Call Blocker app

Caller ID spoofing is basically a phone scam in which victims can be tricked into answering phone calls and divulging personal information because the caller ID for the scam phone call looked like it came from a legitimate source, like a government agency.

Neighbor spoofing is a kind of caller ID spoofing attack in which scammers spoof their own caller ID information to appear as phone numbers local to you or even as the phone numbers of your friends and family. And as the Better Business Bureau notes, in many cases, neighbor spoofing calls show up as "a random number with the same area code and first three digits as your own phone number.

In other cases, the number displays as coming from a local business or person in which you’ve previously communicated. Scammers employ neighbor spoofing as yet another tactic to get you to pick up the phone and engage with them.

DNS Spoofing

Also referred to as DNS cache poisoning, DNS spoofing is a type of spoofing attack usually seen in spam emails and on sketchy websites.

According to cybersecurity company Kaspersky, DNS spoofing attacks take advantage of "system vulnerabilities in the domain name server to divert traffic away from legitimate servers and directs it towards fake ones." Basically, the malicious code used in a DNS spoofing attack can be hidden in things like links in spam emails or in banner ads on websites.

Once someone clicks the links infected with this code, their computer will direct them to fake websites designed to look trustworthy and trick them into unwittingly giving up personal information. These websites also make people and their computers vulnerable to harmful things like spyware, keyloggers, or worms.

Email Spoofing

Email spoofing attacks are basically just emails sent by scammers using fake sender email addresses in an effort to steal personal information or infect the email recipient's computer with malware.

Email Spoofing

IP Spoofing

Internet Protocol (IP) spoofing is unique on this list because instead of relying on deceiving humans to launch their attacks, IP spoofing is mostly about tricking computer systems into accepting data by providing a false source IP address. Hackers attempt to either pretend to be a trustworthy source or just hide their own identity. If successful, IP spoofing attacks can result in harmful cyber-attacks like DDoS attacks.

How to Protect Against Spoofing

Now that you're more familiar with how spoofing attacks work. Let's take a look at how to guard against becoming a victim of a spoofing attack.

  1. Ignore phone numbers you don't recognize. For caller ID spoofing and neighbor spoofing, the main thing to remember is to avoid answering phone calls from numbers you don't recognize. If you do happen to pick up, don't answer any questions or press any buttons if prompted either. Just hang up.

  2. Avoid suspicious links. To avoid DNS Spoofing, don't click suspicious links in emails or on banner ads on sketchy websites. Kaspersky also recommends users regularly scan their computers for malware.

  3. Verify the email. With email spoofing, verify the legitimacy of the email before interacting with it. Does the email address look familiar or correct? Does the message have typos and grammar mistakes? If the message seems suspicious, but appears to be from a friend or family member, reach out to that person or company to verify they're the ones who sent the message.