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How to Prevent Spam

As you settle down to check the emails of the day, you may notice an unusually large amount of correspondences waiting for you in the Inbox. While the occasional email from your best friend or online bank statement is hidden somewhere in there, chances are – you have been hit by an onslaught of junk email (also known as spam). In this day and age, you are definitely not alone, as tens of millions of Internet users are plagued by unsolicited messages that almost never amount to anything but a raging headache.

How to Prevent Spam

What is Spam?

Spam is the online equivalent to postal junk mail. The main objective that spammers hold in regards to sending unwarranted messages is to entice a sale or spark the interest of their products and services [1]. Sometimes, spam simply promotes an email scam. The problem with spam is that however unsuccessful a spam campaign turns out to be, additional attempts to “spread the word” does not cost the same as sending junk mail through the post office. Also, when one spammer falters, another is ready to take their place.

Today, “spammers” get a hold of or purchase a collection of email addresses to use in conjunction with their sophisticated email structures so they may send billions of email messages on a daily basis. Many of these attempts are even able to bypass the latest in email spam filters. Unfortunately, it is very hard and nearly impossible to pinpoint how a spammer was able to zero in on your email address, but there are some signs to look out for and precautions to consider that can lessen the frequency of spam.

Often, spam is the result of some sort of activity you have participated in across the World Wide Web. Sometimes, when trying to receive information, you may give out your email address to the wrong company or person. Nowadays, it is rather common to become a random target, as spammers now have access to all sorts of software and spamming techniques that allow them to reach a wider population.

Over the years, email spam has grown at an alarming rate. Not too long ago, in 1978, the first known email spam included an attack on only 600 addresses. When you fast-forward to 1994, the first large-scale spam campaign reaches millions of people, as it traveled through 6,000 newsgroups. The following years would suffer a staggering increase in daily spam with a 60 billion per day increase in the past two years alone: (June 2005: 30 billion; June 2006: 55 billion; December 2006: 85 billion; February 2007: 90 billion) [2].

While the email approach is one of the most pressing kinds of spam, there are other ways in which spammers attempt to annoy Internet users. These include instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, blog spam, Internet forum spam, and even mobile phone messaging spam [3].

The Negative Effects of Spam

Besides the annoying time-consuming process of deciphering between legit email messages and spam, the action also carries many different negative features that can drain time, energy, privacy, and money. There are also sometimes costs involved with the receipt of spam, as direct expenses come from the purchase of anti-spam software to the indirect financial influences that come when identity theft takes place as a result of falling victim to faulty spam practices.

On the work front, spam consumes the time of employees, and causes a loss in man-hours and productivity [4]. Businesses are sometimes the worst hit by a spam attack. There is also an invasion of privacy that takes place with spam, as well as threats to Internet safety, including the transfer of computer viruses, Trojan horses, and other malicious applications.

Sometimes, the main purpose of spam is to commit identity theft with their clever technological tactics. The act of deliberately portraying false claims and centering their messages on fraud is a common practice in spamming. Often, fake names, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information generally attached to “disposable” accounts are successful in tricking consumers. The best of the best are able to obtain credit card numbers and personal information that they will later use to their benefit.

Unwanted email clutter is very characteristic of spam techniques, as spammers mostly peddle their products, but will also market shady financial opportunities; pass on adult content; attempt to scam; discuss health issues; focus on the Internet; present leisure propositions; and spread religious scriptures. It is believed that spam-containing pornography is responsible for 2.5 billion emails sent on a daily basis in 2006 [5]. Common email subject lines include topics on mortgage refinancing, product samples, and supposedly free items.

How to Prevent Spam

Unfortunately, there is no one way to prevent spam and receive a guarantee that you will never receive another bombardment of unwanted information. To at least get on the right track, a few preventive measures help Internet users. A few suggestions include:

a) Disguise Email Addresses [6]:

When engaging in public electronic correspondences, it is wise to disguise your email address so that the computer programs that spammers use to collect and process addresses will not pick up your personal details and presence on the Web. For example, instead of posting your email address in a public place as “myname@yahoo.com,” it is suggested to type it out as, “myname at yahoo dot com.” It is the “@” sign that spammers are most interested in locating when sending out their email address detection programs.

b) Online Forms:

Use caution when filling out online forms that request an email address. If you don’t want to receive unwanted email messages, then avoid clicking on boxes that ask if you wish to receive notifications, alerts, “special offers,” or newsletters. If you are unsure, you should always read the privacy policies of websites in order to make sure their procedures are agreeable to you.

c) Use Multiple Email Addresses:

To get information you desire or test an unfamiliar website, a second email address set aside for this very purpose allows potential spam to attack an email address you do not primarily rely on for your major correspondences.

c) Use a Filter:

Spam filtering is a popular way to prevent spam and the good news is – many Internet Service Providers and free email services now provide this luxury to their consumers. While a filter is not the end-all of spam, it is a great way to prevent a high amount of annoying cyber junk from attacking your Inbox. An example of a spam filter includes products, such as SpamAssassin and MailScanner.

d) Rethink Your Email Address Choices:

Many spammers try to guess potential email addresses and if yours is short and sweet, you face a higher risk of being “found out” and receiving more spam attention. Common and short names are almost always dead giveaways.

e) Avoid Suspicious Looking Items:

To prevent spam, as well as the risk of contracting a computer virus, it is important to avoid opening suspicious-looking attachments. Ignoring unknown emails is a good way to also prevent spam. Additionally, when you forward unknown emails to family, friends, and coworkers, you run the risk of falling into common spamming traps that wastes time and energy for all parties involved (except for the spammer). This action also encourages the same spammer to continue sending you messages.

f) Avoid Unsubscribing:

While it seemed like a good thing to do at first, unsubscribing to unwanted spam actually does more harm than good. If a spammer has discovered your email address by chance, clicking on the link to unsubscribe only lets the know they have found a valid victim, where they will take advantage and continue to spam.

g) Advanced Prevention Programs:

There are also advanced spam prevention programs, (usually paid spam filters and blocker subscriptions) that may use various techniques to protect your Inbox and computer. Common program features may include a quarantine list (holds suspicious messages and separates known wanted email messages from unwanted items); whitelists (a list of friendly email addresses); blacklists (a list of unwanted email correspondences); and bulk tags (messages you may review and then later decide their fate) [7].

Resources

[1] http://spam.anti-spam-software.com/why.htm
[2] IronPort Systems, Inc. (28 June 2006). Spammers Continue Innovation: IronPort Study Shows Image-based Spam, Hit & Run, and Increased Volumes Latest Threat to Your Inbox. (Press Release)
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_%28electronic%29
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_(electronic)#Costs_of_spam
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-mail_spam
[6] http://www.cdt.org/speech/spam/030319spamreport.shtml
[7] http://www.ccsf.edu/Services/Technology_Learning_Center/spam/barracuda.htm

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