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 which and 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?
Spam is known to be junk or unwanted e-mail, which has arrived in your inbox. Many of us receive a lot of spam emails which contain phishing links, malware or fake documents which has been downloaded onto your computer in a phishing attack. To avoid the spam email, the best thing to do is to keep your anti-virus software updated and delete the spam emails after a few days to see if you receive any other 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 can mark emails as junk so that they obtain an increased spam score rating and automatically avoid your inbox.
Why Do People Send Email?
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 is because emails can be sent at such a low cost. They can equally be tracked and metrics can easily be applied for effectiveness of the campaigns sent. Equally, malicious individuals can deploy the same approach and use it for more sinister reasons such as using spam emails to lure people into ransomware attacks, downloading malware and spreading malicious content further via botnet attacks. Email is a very effective way to do this as people are so easily caught out.
Can Spam Email Be Dangerous to Users?
Yes it can be. Especially to those who get caught out. The reason for this is because it can hide malicious links than 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 in nature. Keep cool, and keep your head and slow down making sure you read emails carefully before acting and responding to them. Never respond however to a spam email. Simply delete it and definitely mark it as spam or junk in your email system.
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 [email protected] or [email protected] – indeed there might be several emails of that name. Spammers merely guess them and add them to their list. Tools can be used to combine names and domains automatically (similar to ones that are used to brute force crack passwords). The lists can be long.
Mass email lists can be purchased illegally and legally. If you sign up to a website or a cloud service make sure you cover off and read their privacy policies in terms of who will see your personal information. It might be it gets sold onto third parties and before you know it you’re receiving spam.
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 (and worse) or can be sold on to others.
Some people have been tricked into giving up their email address. For example, someone might email you, you reply, but this then gets forwarded onto another account which collects your information. This then gets added onto a list.
If you email address (and any alias of your emails address) is 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 useful and 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 running a trace) this does not necessarily mean that an email is genuine. Here are some tips on how to spot an email spam:
- 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 a number of tips and tricks, so you won’t ever get caught out again:
Types of Email Scams
Believe it or not there a wide variety of spam emails which work in a variety of 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 just a summary of the types of email spams and scams (which we go into a lot more detail about in our e-book above) 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 which removes spam and malware from your emails. You should also never open suspicious attachments or click on links that look suspicious or 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 bucket loads of spam in, 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 like more security, please contact us as we have a number of services we offer personal and business users to remain safe in their communications and to avoid receiving unnecessary spam.