Why is Spam So Prevalent?
Spam is perhaps the least expensive means of advertising ever created. It costs the same to email one or one million people—specifically, nothing—and even if a tiny percentage of people respond to the message, the whole exercise is worth it.
Estimates are that spam accounts for 80 to 85% of all the email sent in the world today. Preventing it remains one of computer security’s most pressing tasks, as spam tends to spread every kind of malware, from the most innocuous to the most dangerous—viruses, worms, adware, rootkits, etc. Keeping spam out of your home or small business email account will reduce your exposure to these dangers.
Control Your Email Address
No one can send you anything without your email address. Unfortunately, we give this information out all the time—every online form you fill out, every job application, even comment cards at restaurants and other businesses ask for it, and we usually provide it without much thought.
Giving out your email address is a bad idea even if the organization you provide it to has no malicious intent. Take this scenario: you give your email address to a small business, which is then compromised by a virus attack. The virus sends itself to every member of the businesses’ email database, including you.
As you’ve provided your email address to the business, you take the attack email for regular correspondence, and thus let the virus into your own system, where it finds your address book and attacks all your contacts. Situations like this one are all too common, and are all the reason you need to withhold your email address from all but the most important correspondents.
Of course, there will be situations in which you do want to provide your contact information. For such cases it’s wise to keep a second email address, ideally with an email provider that allows for online checking of correspondence rather than automatic downloading to your machine. This way, you can see messages without actually allowing them onto your computer.
Take Your Privacy Seriously
You can also elect not to receive additional email correspondence from most Web sites; simply uncheck (or check—make sure to read the directions carefully) the box that says you want the Web site’s owner to contact you with other information in the future. Do not surrender your right to choose who will contact you.
Social networking sites also provide far too much personal information unless you choose to limit it. As a matter of course, you should hide your email address on such sites to avoid its being picked up by spam “robots” that troll the Internet for email targets.
In addition, you should always choose to limit the personal information displayed on such sites, as malicious people could use that information in later phishing or social engineering attacks by impersonating friends or using personal information they gather from your unprotected profile. (“Social engineering” is simply a term for lying to people online using personal information against them, usually to perpetrate a fraud.)
Using Protective Tools
For the most part, your email service or program will provide assistance in blocking unwanted messages, as well as parts of messages (e.g., pictures, scripts, links) that could present a danger to your system. Disabling HTML in your emails, for example, foils spammers who send pictures with tags designed to notify them when the picture is displayed, thus indicating that the address is a legitimate target for more spam.
If you receive a message with pictures you want to see, you can always choose to view them; but setting your default to keep them hidden presents another hurdle to spammers.
In addition, most malware protection programs also offer email scanning. When selecting anti-malware software for your own system, look for this resource, and make sure it is actively scanning once installed.