About Spam Email

By Sandra Ketcham

Spam email is a term used to describe messages sent in bulk or incoming emails that are received without consent. Spam email typically comes in the form of drug offers, illegitimate business proposals, hoax messages or product advertisements. Some spam emails contain viruses, while others appear to be from legitimate financial institutions and are used to obtain sensitive personal or financial information from email users. Spam is not only annoying, but it can be dangerous and result in identity theft and financial ruin. Both business email users and home users need to take steps to reduce the amount of spam they receive and increase their awareness of the risks associated with spam email.

History

Spam has been around almost as long as the Internet, and has exponentially grown over the last few decades. Over time, laws against spam have been created, but they have been poorly implemented. From one of the earliest recorded uses of spam, an email advertisement sent to 600 addresses in 1978, to an estimated 30 billion messages sent per day in 2005, to more than a billion sent daily in 2007, spam email continues to be a massive problem. However, the total amount of spam has begun leveling off recently, and the amount received by most email users has slightly decreased.

Significance

Approximately 100 billion spam emails are sent each day. This costs the U.S. workforce in lost productivity and security, and costs home users incalculable time and money. As the number of spam emails sent each day continues to increase, and as the deceptiveness of those emails becomes more sophisticated, the significance and expense of spam escalates. Spam emails are used for more than just simple advertising. They are used to harvest personal and financial information, act as a gateway for hackers and other criminals to gain access to private and commercial systems, execute phishing schemes and commit fraud and other financial crimes. Preventing email spam should be a priority for both home and business email users, as security breaches caused by spam frequently result in system damage, data loss and financial fraud.

Types

There are numerous types of spam email, the most common of which is harvested address spam. This type of spam relies on a type of spider, or spam-bot, to search the Internet looking for email addresses. The spider then collects the email addresses and transmits them to the spammer, who will use that database of addresses when sending spam emails. The second most common type of spam emails is virus spam, which is typically sent automatically from an infected computer. Sometimes this type of spam email contains the virus and helps spread the infection, while other times the message is clean and the virus simply emails all contacts in the address book of the infected user. Other types of spam emails include those targeted toward specific domain names, hoax messages that encourage email users to forward the message in order to harvest additional addresses and consumer-oriented spam. This last type of spam email is often automatically generated through the use of email databases that have either been created using spiders or purchased from third parties. Phishing emails are often distributed using this method.

Warning

Spam email is frequently used to scam recipients through a process called phishing. Spam emails are sent that include links to banks or other organizations that appear legitimate. When an email user clicks on these links and is taken to the fraudulent website, they are instructed to enter personal or financial information, verify their password or other security information or complete a form of some kind to prevent their account from being closed. Phishers take this information and use it to gain access to real accounts. A similar approach, known as spear-phishing, is a type of targeted spam email that uses known information about a specific email user to create an email or enticement that appears to come from someone known to the recipient. Phishing can lead to financial ruin and identity theft, and is one of the most damaging types of spam email.

Prevention/Solution

Spam prevention is becoming increasingly difficult. The most important step in preventing spam emails is to use a quality spam filter that utilizes context-sensitive threat detection technology to review both the sender's reputation and the content of the email. Additionally, you should avoid using the carbon copy feature of your email program when sending group emails, and instead use only blind carbon copy to prevent spammers from obtaining your email address and the addresses of others in your contacts folder. It is important to provide only trusted websites with your email address, and to copy and paste web links from emails into your browser instead of clicking on them. If you are not absolutely certain that a financial email is legitimate, do not use any links included in the email at all. Instead, type the address directly into your browser's bar to ensure you are directed to the real destination.

References & Resources