What is spam email? It is a question we are often asked, followed by “and how can I stop it?”. The reality is that spam email can be highly disruptive, insulting, and dare I say it, sometimes amusing (but rarely). Spam email, which is also referred to as junk email, is an unwelcome email that has arrived in your inbox. The name originates interestingly from a Monty Python sketch and is named from the canned pork product called ‘Spam’.
Spam email can be dangerous. It can lead to your machines and computers becoming infected with viruses and malware.
What is Spam Email?
Many of us receive a lot of spam emails that may contain phishing links, malware or fake documents which are then downloaded onto your computer in what’s known as a phishing attack. To avoid spam emails, the best thing to do is to keep your anti-virus software updated and delete spam emails after a few days to see if you receive any further annoying emails. You should also use a reputable email service where additional security can be added which includes DKIM and SPF applied as a minimum. You should mark spam emails as junk (and not junk to genuine emails in your junk folder) so that they obtain an increased spam score rating and automatically avoid your inbox.
Why Do People Send Spam Emails?
The most common use of spam email is for commercial reasons, such as promoting a product or marketing an event. Many businesses still use this approach to raise their profile and awareness of their business. The reason email is popular is that it can be sent at such a low cost. They can also be tracked and metrics can easily be applied for monitoring the effectiveness of the campaigns sent. Sadly, malicious individuals can deploy the same approach and use it for more sinister reasons such as using spam emails. They lure people into ransomware attacks, the downloading of malware and spreading malicious content, sometimes even via botnet attacks. Email is a very effective way to do this and people are easily caught out – especially when the email sent can look so genuine.
Can Spam Email Be Dangerous to Users?
Yes, it can be. Especially to those who get caught out. The reason for this is that it can hide malicious links that can infect your machines and computers with viruses and malware. To further trick people into clicking them or replying to the email with personal information, the emails often sound urgent or important. Keep cool, keep your head and slow down, making sure you read emails carefully before acting and responding to them. Never respond to a spam email. Simply mark it as spam and delete it.
How Do Spammers Find Your Email Address?
There are several ways that spammers will find your email address. These include:
Guessing Your Email
If you work at an organisation such as Apple for example, and your name was John Smith, you might have an email such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Spammers merely guess them and add them to their email lists. Tools can be used to combine names and domains automatically (similar to ones that are used to brute force the hacking of passwords). The email lists they can generate can be very long.
Mass email lists can be purchased illegally but also legally. If you sign up for a website or a cloud service make sure you read their privacy policies and focus on who will see your personal information. It might be it gets sold to third parties and then before you know it you’ll be receiving spam emails.
There have been numerous reports in the media of large-scale hacking where hackers have obtained personal information, passwords and email accounts. These lists can form the basis of spam attacks (or worse) and the personal data can be sold on to others.
Some people have been tricked into giving up their email addresses. For example, someone might email you, and you reply, but this then gets forwarded to another account that collects your information. Your email then gets added to a list.
If your email address (and any alias’ of your emails address) are available on the web, then these can be ‘scraped’ and used to launch spam attacks.
How to Identify Spam Emails
Spam email is a major issue. Not only can it deceive the end-users, but it can also use up valuable resources and time, slow down computer systems and be dangerous to public health (as happened to the NHS in 2017 from an email chain). The techniques deployed in spam marketing are often hard to spot and the information they contain may not even be beneficial to you.
The hardest part about spam emails is that the majority of them appear to be sent from legitimate email servers. Whilst you can generally trace the source of spam emails to an individual source (by checking the domain name, user or by running a trace) this does not necessarily mean that an email is genuine.
Here are some tips on how to spot spam email:
- Check the name in the email address.
- Check the grammar in the email itself.
- Check (but don’t open attachments) immediately.
- Check the ‘reply to’ address of the email.
- Check the email signature.
- Don’t immediately click any links, check them first.
- Check how the email makes you feel – does it feel legitimate?
For a more detailed look into how to spot and prevent email spam as well as email scams, download our detailed e-book below, which will take you through several tips and tricks so you won’t ever get caught out:
Types of Email Scams
Believe it or not, there are a wide variety of spam emails that work in different ways, mostly to try and trick users. There is no “one spam fits all approach” when it comes to spam email. This is why when people ask us what is spam email, it can be difficult to answer directly.
Here’s a summary of the types of email spam and scams that exist:
- Commercial adverts.
- Business email compromise.
- Email spoofing.
- CEO fraud.
- Bogus invoice schemes.
- HMRC scams.
- Bank scams (and payment providers).
- Nigerian scams.
- Deactivation scams.
How to Combat Spam Emails
You can use email software or a spam filter to remove spam and malware from your emails. You should also never open suspicious attachments or click on links that look suspicious or emails that you don’t trust. If you are not sure, report the email to your email provider.
You can always mark your emails as junk and spam, but if you are getting bucketloads of spam in your inbox, then speak to your email administrator or IT support. They will be able to alter the security settings on your account if you are using a reputable email service such as Microsoft Hosted Exchange or Office 365.
If you are using a free or personal email but would like more security, please contact us as we have several email services we can offer for personal and business users. This keeps you safe in your communications and ensures avoiding and receiving spam. Feel free to read our article on Ways to Avoid Fraud so that you can stay safe offline and online.