I want to thank Patrick Runald, Chief Security Advisor, at F-Secure for the following (and final) guest post for our readers!
Fed up with spam? You’re not alone, so is everyone else. Spend a couple of days without checking e-mail or emptying your junk mail folder, and you often return to an inbox bulging with irritating spam messages.
The days when junk mail was just a passing annoyance are long gone. Last year about 80% of the world’s e-mail traffic consisted of spam. The sheer volume of spam, as well as the sophistication used by spammers to get us to pay attention to their messages, is growing year by year. Internet companies are spending millions trying to prevent the whole system grinding to a halt under the weight of spam messages.
We spend hours of precious life dealing with spam. It’s a pain to sift through 754 e-mails to make sure we don’t delete that single important one, which has somehow ended up in the wrong folder. Or to worry about our own e-mails getting drowned in the sea of spam. Spam demands our time and attention. It’s a distraction from the enjoyable things we could be doing online.
Spam is also a major security risk because it is often used to distribute spyware and other harmful viruses which are designed to attack our computers, privacy and bank balances. Clearly, the more time we spend on the Internet, the more essential it is to our online wellbeing that we get spam under control.
Developing spam control
There are some effective ways to minimize the headache caused by spam. The first is to grasp the real nature of the problem. Junk mail, spam, undesired bulk electronic messages – whatever we call it, it’s all about exploiting human traits like curiosity, greed and insecurity for financial gain. Spamming e-mail inboxes, blogs, forums, newsgroups and, increasingly, mobile phones, is an industry run by criminals who make money out of it.
So what can we do about spam? The first line of defense is preventive: avoid getting on the e-mail spamming lists in the first place. When surfing the net, don’t give out your e-mail address or any other personal details unless it’s really necessary. Avoid filling in questionnaires and pop-ups that appear on the screen. When you do sign up for something, check the small print at the end of the form and refuse permission to be contacted by third parties. This means you are less likely to end up on the spamming lists that are compiled and sold by criminals on the Web.
Another trick for more spam control is to start using separate e-mail accounts, instead of your primary e-mail, for things like online newsletters and for posting messages on public forums. It’s quick and easy to set up an extra e-mail address with Yahoo, Hotmail or your internet service provider. As a result, your primary e-mail is protected from spam and it’s convenient to use the other e-mail accounts for occasionally sorting out the junk from what you really want to read. Remember that e-mail addresses using common names are more prone to receiving so-called ‘dictionary spam’ because they are easy to guess for the spammers. For example, email@example.com will automatically attract more spam than firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most e-mail programs have spam blocking or filtering features and making the effort to understand the settings can save a huge amount of effort later. It’s also important that you know, for example, how long messages remain in a junk mail folder before they may be automatically deleted. Advanced security applications, like F-Secure Internet Security 2009, contain effective anti-spam features as a standard part of an easy-to-use and comprehensive security package.
A healthy skepticism
Whatever precautions we take to protect our e-mail addresses, it’s more than likely that some spam messages still find their way to the inbox. It’s helpful to have consistent policy against these unwelcome intruders.
The basic rule is very simple: clicking on the link or attachment of a spam message is always is simply asking for trouble. Links and attachments in spam messages can infect your computer with hidden programs that steal your personal information, such as passwords and online banking details. Clicking on spam messages, regardless of what they say, invariably brings more spam to your e-mail address. Actually buying something advertised in a spam message is a reckless gamble that nearly always ends as a costly mistake.
Since spam is designed to lure you into clicking on something that you shouldn’t, you need to fight the urge to make that click. Ignore all those too-good-to-be-true offers because they are almost guaranteed to be scams. Say no to the promised celebrity pictures and remain aloof from dubious get rich quick schemes. Be highly skeptical of e-mails from people you don’t know, even if they address you by your first name and claim to have seen a video of you on YouTube.
Remember that spammers are constantly refining their social engineering tactics. Clicking on the “unsubscribe” message of a newsletter that you never requested just attracts more spam. It pays to keep a record of what you have signed up for and to systematically trash all the other spam messages.
Security gives peace of mind
Resisting spam is important for maintaining a healthy computer, so you can enjoy your online experience to the full. It also means that you won’t be joining the millions of Internet users around the world whose computers have been turned into zombie botnets – the networks of infected computers remotely controlled by criminals, whose combined computing power is used to create the daily avalanche of spam.
Online wellbeing comes from knowing that you can enjoy the benefits and pleasures of the Internet, while your computer remains protected from the constantly evolving security threats. If you have been clicking on spam e-mails and think your computer may be infected, the best way to regain peace of mind is to install professional software like F-Secure’s Internet Security 2009. This will clean up any harmful stuff that may be lurking inside your computer and make sure you stay protected with automatic security updates.
With junk mail under control, you can relax and enjoy the time that you’ve wrestled back from the spammers. Whether it’s surfing or strolling, online or offline.