Understanding Spam


It is estimated that spam makes up to between 60% and 90% of all email communications, and with such numbers it is no surprise that a whole industry is dedicated to protecting us from them.

Although most of us associate spam with marketing or advertising, it is actually not what defines it, but rather the fact that these ‘junk’ emails are unsolicited and sent without the express consent of the recipient, except where there is a clearly defined customer relationship. So even a simple newsletter you didn’t ask to receive could be spam.

Spamming can be used to draw traffic to websites, or more commonly, to sell products or services, as you are undoubtedly aware. While these emails can be irritating, they usually come from legitimate companies and are on the whole harmless. Asking the company to remove you from their mailing list is usually enough to stop receiving these communications.

However, there is a much darker side to spamming, which is that some spammers work with virus writers with the sole purpose to install viruses and malware on computers. These can range from software that will use your computer to perform other tasks – such as sending spam… – often without you suspecting anything, or can have devastating consequences such as destroying files on your computers and infecting any other computer connected to your network. Malware and viruses are often hidden in attachments, so if you are in any doubt as to the legitimacy of an email, do not open any attached document and do not click on any link contained in the email. Just delete it and empty your “Deleted Items” box immediately.

Getting your email address in the first place has, sadly, probably been very simple. Perhaps you signed up to a newsletter from a genuine company and were by default added to a mailing list to receive communications from so-called “selected” third parties, which unfortunately can include spammers. Some companies will make it easy for you to opt out as you sign up, while others will quietly tuck it away in your “preferences” or “options” page. To minimise spam, make sure that you read the company’s marketing and privacy policies, and opt out of unwanted mailing lists.

Spammers also use ‘robots’ to scan the internet and gather any email address that they may find in social networking websites, newsgroups, etc. so you may want to exert caution before leaving your email address on a forum or a blog for example.

Another way to prevent spam is to not reply to spam emails from untrusted sources, not even to unsubscribe, as by doing so you are indicating that your address is live and active and you will open yourself to receiving even more spam.

Having answered the questions “what is spam?”, “what are the effects of spam?”, and “how can I protect myself against spam?” there is one last, vital piece of advice: always use the spam filter on your computer. This is software which will sift through your emails to block spam. Although they also sometimes block good emails in the process, they are on the whole very effective in protecting you from spam, and should be used by everyone.

Written on behalf of Know the net

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