Spam, simply put, is unsolicited e-mail. Most of us get spam in our e-mail boxes on a regular basis. In an effort to stay on top of the spam game, I have e-mail boxes set up specifically to catch spam, and I get about 10,000 per month, complete with viruses, phishing scams and the regular barrage of those irritating types of spam.
Generally, spam is only a nuisance, but the viruses and phishing scams they carry are dangerous.
How to avoid spam in the first place
Once you put your e-mail address online, in searchable text format, you become a spam target. Scammers send search bots out to crawl the Internet searching for text that has e-mail formatting, (e.g.; firstname.lastname@example.org) collect those e-mail addresses and add them to their spam distribution lists. One way to avoid spam and still get your e-mail address on your web site is to embed it as picture on the page. Pictures are not searchable for their purposes.
Spam often contains attachments. These are the infected files that can hurt your machine and can eventually disrupt your entire network. Usually, you will see them in .zip format. Zipped files are, under most circumstances, not able to be scanned by most A-V software programs or firewalls when they come in with e-mails. That happens when they are unzipped, (an automatic process with new operating systems) but that is too late. It is important to NOT open attached files without scanning them with your anti-virus program. Most anti-virus programs will automatically put their service on the right-click dropdown menu on PC's. This allows you to save the file to your desktop, right-click the file and click the menu item that is your anti-virus program. You may also open your A-V program and browse for the file and scan it that way. Common files types of attachments to avoid: .zip, .scr, .exe, .dll
Other spam will try to entice you to click a link to update an account, verify information or other tricks to lure you into giving them your personal information. Those links, while looking legitimate, the actual hyperlink behind the text is not the same as the link you are seeing. The website you will wind up on is not where the link says. If you click the link, you will find yourself on an unfamiliar website that immediately infects your machine. You may not even notice you are being infected. Once the virus or malware hits your machine, even the best software, while notifying you and even stopping the spread of the attack, will not clean it from your system and that virus will continue to propagate itself under specific circumstances.
Just because you have a Paypal, FedEx, Bank of America or UPS account does not mean every e-mail you get from such an e-mail address is legitimate. In fact, most of the time, they are not. Do not pay attention to the return address, as those can be spoofed.
So far today, in an Outlook box with spam filtering, I received eight spams with attached zip files from a total of 213 spams. In another box, without SPAM filtering, I had 515 spams, with 207 of them containing an attachment of some sort. The subject lines varied dramatically from "We have kidnapped your baby" to something as benign as "Get a FREE gift card from WAL-MART." The link in the latter mail was coded to take me to a phishing site. I get enough spam already. If I were to fill out the form on that site, even though it might not infect my computer, I will certainly find a lot more spam from their various partners and spam distribution lists.
As long as spam can be sent for free, it will not stop. Since 2002, there have been suggestions to charge for e-mails to put a stop to spam. Just one penny per e-mail would make it cost-ineffective to send spam.
Chuck Benedon is a computer safety expert at Brookfield-based Vanguard Computers Inc.