What is SPAM? (And how can you avoid it?)

091703-emailspamYou’ve seen the too-good-to be true promises in your inbox: A new friend wants to connect with you on social media! Free money! A better experience in the bedroom! You’ve won the lottery!

But before you open the email, you should be skeptical. Chances are nearly 100 percent that those messages are spam -- and they carry a heavy security risk.

Named for the ubiquitous canned meat, spam is unsolicited bulk email, often advertising, that is sent indiscriminately. The sender – called a spammer – sends out thousands of messages with hopes that just a few people will click on it so they can collect personal information or install malware on your computer. Malware is short for “malicious software” and includes viruses, Trojan horses, keyloggers, spyware, adware, and worms.

Spam is on the rise. According to Nationwide Insurance, 97.4 billion (that’s BILLION) spam emails and 973 million malware emails were sent each day during the first quarter of 2013. For spam, that’s a 98 percent increase in spam and a 157 percent increase in malware. Phishing, a subset of spam, was up 74 percent.

And even though most of us know we shouldn’t open spam email, we still do. According to a study published by c|Net, about 30 percent of Americans open spam email even though they know they shouldn’t. And then, nearly 9 percent of those people opened an attachment connected to a spam email.

How can you tell if an email message is spam? Here are some clues:

  • The subject line is too good to be true. (Sorry, that means you did not win the British lottery.)
  • Poor spelling and grammar.
  • You don’t know the sender.
  • You don’t recognize the email address – even if the sender’s name is familiar. Sometimes a spammer will mask their messages as a friend or company you know.
  • The file or email is unsolicited or unexpected.
  • The file is attached to a blank email with little or no explanation of what’s attached.

When in doubt, don’t open an email message, click on any links in a message, or download attachments. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you know the person the email purports to be from, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask that person if they sent you something.

How can you protect yourself? With software and some skepticism, you can greatly decrease the amount of spam in your inbox.

  • Make sure your email is protected by a spam filter. If you own your own domain, this is going to be through your website host. If you’re using a web-based email service such as Gmail or Yahoo, this is going to happen through that service. Check your spam or junk folder periodically to make sure nothing legitimate ended up in there.
  • Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, and then keep it up to date.
  • Use a firewall to protect your computer and network. (Learn more about firewalls.)
  • Use the “junk” or “spam” button in your email program to identify spam messages that may slip through the filter. This helps your email provider identify more messages as spam.
  • Prevent images from automatically displaying in your email. If images are downloaded, this lets a spammer know your email address is active.
  • Don’t set your email to automatically accept appointment and meeting requests or to automatically download attachments.
  • Don’t open attachments unless you are sure they are safe: You know the sender and recognize his or her email address; you were expecting it; there’s a message attached explaining the attachment.
  • Only download software, games, music, and more from trusted websites.
  • Be careful who you give your email address to.
  • Use the BCC area on email (short for “blind carbon copy”) if you’re emailing a large group of people. This helps protect their addresses.

Do you have questions or concerns about email security? Let us help! Contact us today.

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