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Feel like you’ve seen or heard some of these things before? You’re not alone. While computing and the Internet has improved countless things about our lives; it certainly has complicated others. While spam is primarily an annoyance, there are also risks and vulnerabilities associated with them as well.
Traditionally spam is thought as an email problem. However, with the proliferation of instant messaging, text messaging and social networks spam can be used to broadly define unsolicited bulk messages.
How did they find me?
Despite what your co-workers may have teased about, receiving spam does not mean that you frequent adult sites or spend too much time on the Internet. For many, it is simply the misfortune of having a common name. Since spammers typically use hijacked email accounts, they aren’t too picky about dropping a couple of million name combinations in the “to” field and hitting send. Often times, these emails are programmed in a way to use the recipient’s name as the sender’s address making it look as though you sent the email to yourself. Once a valid email is identified, the spammer may spoof that address to make the email appear as though it came from one of your co-workers.
Some of the other common ways that spammers receive your email information is through legitimate purchases from online, as well as, brick and mortar stores. You most likely signed up for direct marketing while signing up for online services such as fantasy sports or weather feeds. Your email was probably “scraped” if you belong to professional organizations where email is posted on the organization’s contact webpage or if your email is listed on your company’s webpage.
What can I do about it?
For personal email; if you already own an anti-virus product such as McAfee or Symantec, there is most likely a complimentary anti-spam product that is available as an upgrade. While these programs are usually effective, they are not always very intuitive and make reading and composing email a lot more complex than if you just went through and deleted all of the spam. There are also many open source solutions available through SourceForge such as SpamBayes.
Depending on your email provider, you may notice that mail you received has already been tagged as spam. Using an Outlook rule, I have all mail that is marked as spam by my internet service provider moved to a folder that I created called “Spam.” Periodically, I review the emails in that folder and delete them in bulk. On any given day, that reduces the number of spam in my inbox by 100-200!
For business email; you have several options depending on whether you use a hosted email solution of if you have your own email server. In the first scenario, you should start by contacting your email host provider to determine what anti-spam solutions they offer. If your company manages its own email systems, you have options to redirect your incoming mail directly to solutions such as Postini or an in-house anti-spam solution such as Proofpoint. In the first scenario, all of your incoming email is redirected to a third-party and scanned for spam/viruses before being forwarded to your company email. This solution is ideal for companies that do not have full time IT staff. In the second scenario, your incoming email is first scanned by a product or appliance before being sent to your email server. This solution is ideal for companies which receive a lot of legitimate emails that may be construed as spam. For example, a medical or insurance company that receives email related to “personal injury” or common prescription drugs.
Staying ahead of the curve
Anti-spam is a journey and not a destination. As quickly as companies implement rules to block one spam message, another type appears. On the surface, it would appear as though your anti-spam just quit working. In reality, the spammers have found another way to fool the anti-spam products into thinking it is legitimate email. The solution you choose should be continually updated in order to effectively identify spam. For more information on how you can become an anti-spam storm trooper visit the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.