What is email spam?
Email spam, often known as junk email, is defined as unsolicited email communications delivered in mass to a large number of recipients. Spam can be transmitted by real people, but it is most typically sent by a botnet, which is a network of infected computers (bots or spambots) controlled by a single attacking party (bot herder). Spam can be sent by text message or social media in addition to email.
Most people find spam bothersome, but they accept it as an unavoidable side consequence of email communication. While spam is bothersome (it can clog email inboxes if not properly filtered and cleared on a regular basis), it can also pose a threat.
Email spam senders, or spammers, change their methods and messages on a regular basis in order to fool potential victims into downloading malware, exchanging data, or donating money.
Spam emails are virtually invariably commercial in nature, with a monetary motivation. Spammers attempt to promote and sell dubious goods, make fraudulent claims, and mislead receivers into believing something that is not real.
The following are the most prevalent spam subjects:
Why do people send out spam email?
Spam email is frequently sent for commercial motives. While some people consider spam to be unethical, many firms continue to employ it. The cost per email is extremely inexpensive, and firms may send out large volumes of emails on a regular basis. Spam email can also be a harmful attempt to obtain unauthorised access to your computer.
How do you stop spam email?
Spam email can be difficult to stop since it is sent by botnets. Botnets are groups of previously infected machines that work together to create a network. As a result, tracing and stopping the initial spammer can be challenging.
If you receive a message that appears to be spam—for example, if the sender is unknown to you—mark the message as spam in your email application. Don’t open any links or attachments, including opt-out or unsubscribe links. Spammers may include these links to validate that your email address is valid, or the links may direct you to dangerous websites or downloads.
Is spam email dangerous?
Spam email can be harmful. It may contain harmful URLs capable of infecting your computer with malware (see What is malware?). Do not click on spam links. Dangerous spam emails can sound urgent, making you feel compelled to act. Continue reading to learn about some of the most common types of spam.
Common types of spam
1. Commercial advertisements
Whether an email message is spam or a genuine advertisement, it is subject to the CAN-SPAM statute in the United States.
When businesses get your email address, they frequently automatically subscribe you to their newsletter as a low-cost approach to market their items. Look for an option to opt in or out of marketing emails whenever you fill out an online form. While these emails can be annoying, the vast majority are harmless, and by law, they must include a clear opt-out or unsubscribe option.
If you unsubscribe and still receive spam, change your email settings to keep messages from the sender’s address out of your inbox.
2. Antivirus warnings
Antivirus alerts, ironically, are a typical spam strategy. These emails notify you of a computer virus infection and provide a solution—often an antivirus scan—to resolve the purported cyber threat. Taking the bait and clicking the link, on the other hand, may enable the hacker access to your system or download a harmful software.
Do not click on a random email link if you fear your machine is infected. Instead, look for reliable cybersecurity software to secure your endpoints.
3. Email spoofing
Why are phishing email scams so prevalent? Because spam emails expertly imitate authentic company messages in order to entice you to act. In a spoofing attack, a spammer chooses a firm brand that victims will recognise, such as a bank or an employer, and then replicates the company’s exact formatting and logos.
Before responding or clicking anything, double-check the From line to ensure that the sender’s email address (not simply the alias) is correct. When in doubt, contact the company to confirm that the email is genuine.
4. Sweepstakes winners
Spammers frequently send emails claiming to have won a sweepstakes or prize. They may ask you to visit a link or provide personal information in order for you to receive your prize. If you don’t recognise the competition or the email address appears shady, don’t click any links or respond with any personal information.
5. Money scams
Spammers, unfortunately, prey on people’s goodwill. A popular money scam starts with an email begging for assistance in difficult situations. The spammer makes up a storey about how they need money for a family emergency or a horrible life event. Some frauds, such as the Nigerian prince scheme, promise money in exchange for your bank account details or a minor processing fee. Always exercise caution while disclosing personal information or transmitting money.
- adult content
- financial services
- online degrees
- work-from-home jobs
- online gambling
A frequent myth is that spam is an acronym for “stupid pointless annoying malware.” The phrase is actually taken from a classic Monty Python Flying Circus routine in which the canned meat product Spam is repeatedly mentioned.
Spam, spammers and spambots
Spammers employ spambots to cruise the internet in search of email addresses to use in email distribution lists. The lists are used to send spam email to a large number of email addresses at once, usually hundreds of thousands.
Spam has a low conversion rate. Simply put, few people fall for letters from wealthy but desperate Nigerian princes or purported pharmaceutical companies claiming to have a patent on a miracle lose-weight-fast drug.
Spammers expect only a small number of recipients to respond or interact with their message, yet they can still cheat their way to a large payout because their dod
gy message can be readily sent to so many email addresses in a single stroke. That is why spam remains a major issue in today’s digital economy.
Common spamming techniques
Spammers send spam using a variety of methods, including the following:
- Botnets. Spammers can utilise botnets to capture email addresses and spread spam by using command-and-control servers.
- Spam with snowshoes. Spammers use a diverse range of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and email addresses with neutral reputations to spread spam widely.
- Spam email with no subject. This method entails sending an email with a blank message body and subject line. It could be used to validate email addresses in a directory harvest attack by finding invalid bounced addresses. In some cases, ostensibly blank emails may conceal viruses and worms that can propagate via HTML code inserted in the email.
- Spam with images. The computer-generated message text, which is unreadable to human users, is saved as a JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) or GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) file and placed in the email body.
- This strategy tries to avoid being detected by text-based spam filters.
Spam vs. phishing
Phishing mails are typically disguised as official communication from legitimate senders such as banks, online payment processors, government agencies, or any other institution that a user may trust.
These emails often drive recipients to a bogus version of a legitimate organization’s website, where they are encouraged to enter personal information, such as login credentials or credit card information – information that can be exploited to steal the victim’s money or identity.
Phishing emails are more complex than standard spam emails, which are typically mass-mailed, have a monetary objective, and do not necessitate a high level of technical ability on the part of the spammer.
Aside from the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States, several countries and political entities have enacted legislation to combat the spam issue, including the following:
- The Spam Act of 2003 in Australia
- Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations in the United Kingdom
- Canada: Anti-spam legislation in Canada
- European Union: 2002 Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications
How to fight spam
Email spam filters, which may be part of a security application or an email system add-on, can catch a large number of spam messages and route them to the spam folder rather than the user’s inbox. It is, nevertheless, impossible to totally remove spam. Some newer filters can read photographs and find text in them, however this may accidentally filter out nonspam emails with images that contain text.
However, consumers can lessen their susceptibility to spam emails by doing the following:
- reporting, blocking, and deleting instances of spam or suspicious-looking messages that occur in their inboxes;
- installing a third-party antispam filter on local email clients; 3. configuring the filter to block messages that contain specific words or phrases that appear frequently in spam emails; 4. creating an email allowlist of specific email addresses, IP addresses, or domains the user trusts and is willing to receive email from; 5. using a disposable email account or masked email address for online use, such as in forums; and 6.
- Never open attachments or click on links in emails from unknown senders.
use a throwaway email account or masked email address for online use, such as in forums; and never clicking on links or opening attachments in emails from unknown senders.
How do you deal with a problem like spam?
Spam blacklists were the most widely used anti-spam tool twenty years ago: and boy, did they stink. Filtering spam based on known problematic sender IP addresses only works if such IP addresses are not only known but also accurate. Because many spammers used the same internet service providers as everyone else, false positives were common, and most of us quickly turned such screening off.
Dedicated spam filtering solutions that use a combination of sender reputation rating and keywords appeared quickly and proved more effective. They did, however, require a period of training in which the recipient would have to manually classify email as spam or not.
Thankfully, anti-spam mechanisms are now embedded into email services, and Gmail, for example, claims that the machine learning algorithms that power spam filtering for 1.5 billion Google email users are 99.9 percent accurate. When you do the math, it still leaves a lot of true spam messages slipping through, and dealing with these is proving challenging. Mozilla is currently testing a new one-click email trick that could give a solution for 250 million Firefox users.
Mozilla’s one-click killer email trick to deal with spam
Mozilla is currently testing a new add-on for Firefox users called Private Relay that might delete undesired emails with a single click. The concept underlying the new add-in is unquestionably not novel. Nonetheless, Mozilla is making it so simple to use that it has the potential to alter the way we deal with unwanted, unpleasant, and potentially hazardous emails.
Email aliases are a concept in which you create different email addresses for services and websites that you sign up for while keeping your “true” email address to yourself. Gmail users, for example, may sign up using [email protected] rather than [email protected] because putting a ‘dot’ before the @ symbol does not change where the email ends up, but it does assist identify where spam is coming from. However, this is not as simple to administer as the Firefox solution.
Once installed, the add-on will allow an alias to be formed on-demand by just clicking on a “relay” button next to the email fields. All emails sent to that new address will be routed to your primary address. According to Mozilla, the Private Relay Firefox add-on can generate “unique, random, anonymous email addresses that forward to your real address,” after which you can “disable or destroy the email address.”
This user interface is what makes Private Relay so simple and powerful: removing the alias means no more emails will be received, and all spam from that sender and any others with whom they may have shared your address will be terminated.
If a service you use suffers a data breach and logins surface on the dark web, a potential attacker would not have your email address to use in a credential stuffing attempt. “We all create numerous online accounts, but the majority of them are linked to one or two of our email addresses,” Mozilla explained, “which implies that if just one account is stolen or tracked, every other account and its related data is now equally at risk.”
Why Is Spam Email A Threat?
While spam volume is not at an all-time high, spammers have become more adept. They now operate their operations using Traffic Distribution Systems (TDS), which effectively allows them to use the same campaign to be more effective, serving up different sorts of spam, and even malware, to different types of devices in different areas. These more sophisticated distribution mechanisms for sending large amounts of email raise the danger and cost that organisations confront. At the same time, for some users, distinguishing between spam, unwanted bulk mail, and wanted bulk mail is crucial, which poses an interesting problem for most IT organisations attempting to balance varied user needs and risk.
Receiving, processing, categorising, and disposing of spam and undesired mail consumes system and employee bandwidth, resulting in a service quality problem. Because most enterprise users can clearly identify typical spam email when it arrives their inbox, dealing with spam is thought to be more stressful because it is a more apparent annoyance.
How Can I Protect Against It?
The primary goal of basic spam protection should be to avoid Denial of Service (DoS) or service quality issues, as well as to minimise delivery to lessen user irritation. Look for an email gateway system that can protect a company from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), a technology that allows for a high capture rate and a low false positive rate when identifying spam using unique content analysis techniques.
Use a hybrid cloud or full-cloud email gateway solution with unique Big Data analysis tools for increasingly sophisticated spam that leverages TDS and other tactics to deliver campaign email and harmful email threats. This often entails the use of extensive datasets, such as historicals and velocity tracking, to construct behavioural models capable of detecting increasingly sophisticated campaigns, regardless of the amount and velocity of the spam email received.
A brief history of spam
Spam is a relatively new concern, yet it has a long history. Gary Thuerk, an employee of the now-defunct Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), sent out the first spam email in 1978 to promote a new product. The unsolicited email was sent to around 400 of the 2,600 people who have email addresses on the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. According to some sources, it resulted in around $12 million in new sales for DEC.
However, the term “spam” was not coined until 1993. It was used on Usenet, a newsgroup that functions as a cross between an email and an online forum. A bug in the company’s new moderating software caused it to automatically post more than 200 messages to a discussion forum. Someone jokingly referred to the event as spamming.
In 1994, Usenet was also the target of the first large-scale spam attack. By 2003, spam accounted for 80 to 85 percent of all email communications delivered worldwide. It had already become such a pervasive issue in the United States that the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 was enacted. CAN-SPAM is the most critical law that legitimate email marketers must adhere to in order to avoid being classified as spammers.
The average daily spam volume declined from 316.39 billion to around 122 billion between mid-2020 and early 2021. However, 85 percent of all emails continue to be spam, costing legitimate businesses billions of dollars each year.