Chances are if you have an email account, then you have received spam messages. Simply put, spam messages are unsolicited emails that attempt to profit off innocent Internet users. Some spam messages are relatively harmless and simply try to entice you to buy items that you don’t need or that don’t work, but other spam messages can be malicious and contain viruses and other malicious programs. These messages are a nuisance, and no one wants to deal with an inbox full of “junk mail.”
While spam often seems like a harmless annoyance at first, it is also a very dangerous threat to your computer. While some messages are harmless ploys to entice you to purchase odd items, spam is also one of most popular attack vectors for hackers. Hackers use spambots to send out massive amounts of emails that contain dangerous attachments, pictures and links.
These dangerous emails can infect your computer with viruses, malware and spyware. The hackers use these malicious programs to steal your financial and personal information, including credit card numbers, bank account information and user names and passwords. These dangers make spam a serious threat to the security of computer users.
Due to the way spambots work, it is virtually impossible to avoid all forms of spam. However, there are a few simple ways you can minimize your exposure to spam. First, never publish or post your email address in a publically accessible area on a website. Spambots crawl the Internet and collect publically posted email addresses to add to their mailing lists.
Another way to avoid spam is to avoid using your primary email address when signing up for newsletters and website memberships. Many websites sell this information to advertisers who then use the email addresses on their mass mailing lists, which are often sold to third parties. Instead of using your primary email address, create another email address that you use only for signing up for websites. This way, you can still access member information, and your primary email box remains clean.
If you are already receiving large amounts of spam, don’t despair. There are still ways you can clean up your inbox and restore your email sanity. The first step is to unsubscribe from any legitimate mass mailing lists you have joined. If you are receiving spam from legitimate businesses, such as Best Buy or Wal-Mart, you can often respond to a message with the word “Unsubscribe” in the subject or body of the email to be removed from their list. Additionally, many emails will have a link at the bottom that you can click to unsubscribe as well. However, this typically only works for the legitimate companies who have you on their mailing lists.
Unscrupulous spammers usually don’t offer you a way to get out of their spam cross hairs. Unfortunately, these are also typically the spammers who are sending nefarious and dangerous messages as well. When dealing with these spammers, be very careful not to open the spam messages or click on anything within them. Even just opening a malicious spam message can infect your computer with malware or viruses. When you receive a spam from someone you don’t know, or that looks suspicious, select the message and use your email program’s “Junk” or “Spam” button to safely remove the suspicious message from your inbox.
While this will take manual intervention at first, eventually your email client will automatically filter more of the suspicious messages directly into your spam folder. Most email clients, including Windows Live, Yahoo! and Gmail, use complex spam detection algorithms that dynamically adapt to spam trends. When the filter notices certain senders or email subject lines being consistently marked as spam, they then learn to automatically flag similar messages as spam without your intervention. It takes a little while for the filters to catch on, but when you consistently flag these messages as junk or spam, the filter does begin to do a better job of keeping them out of your inbox.
While it might be impossible to completely eliminate spam, it is possible to get spam under control and avoid your computer becoming infected from spammed malware. As long as you never open suspicious messages and remain vigilant about reporting spam, you can minimize the amount of spam you come in contact with and keep your computer safe.