How to Protect Yourself Against Spam Emails
Email is one of the most popular and convenient communication channels where users can share data and transfer information with other people. It is also a convenient channel for spammers. Spam emails are a form of a cyber attack where hackers and other unscrupulous users send emails that include malicious attachments, suspicious messages, or phishing scams.
Email service providers mark suspicious emails as spam in the subject line to tip of the recipient that the email deserves a closer look before trusting the sender. This indicates to the recipient that the email is unsolicited, bulk junk email, from an untrusted email server or spam. If the receiver clicks on such a spam email, he may be directed to a phishing website or other sites that can download malware to a computer.
Why are we susceptible to malicious emails?
It is very common for most of us to encounter a barrage of such spam emails in our inboxes, but it is our online behavior that is mostly responsible for the success of spam emails.
Spammers sometimes use a cyber attack known as social engineering to phish for personal information. The goal of social engineering is to gain more information – like an password, email login, password, or bank account number – from the recipient. The spammer may pretend to be someone the user trusts or may an offer something that is too tempting to resist. Spammers do a lot of research into effective social engineering attacks and always on the lookout for easy targets.
Spammers are looking for personal information like names, school names, birthdates and the answers to other common password reset questions. After they gain the desired information, these spammers send additional emails to their targets, that include a believable, but fake story designed to lure or convince the recipient to give even more information – usually by clicking through the email to a scam website that is designed to collect data. Resetting a password is a common spam tactic.
With so much dependency on social media these days, we are much more vulnerable to such spam cyber attacks. Our social media accounts provide rich information about our events, email addresses, and activities. Spammers use this information to reach out to us. Therefore, we must think twice before sharing our personal information on a public forum.
How to Protect Yourself Against SPAM Emails
Think Before You Click!
Then think again. In most cases, the automated email filter detects a malicious email, marks it as junk, and sends it to the recipient’s spam folder. These emails usually include tempting offers, advertisements, false alerts, or information about cheap prescription drugs, how to earn more money, etc.
Be sure to scrutinize the contents of these emails before deciding on to open attachments. If something seems odd about the email, then don’t click on any links! Don’t download anything from the email including images. Mark the email as spam or junk to help your email service (like Microsoft Outlook for example) learn the spam pattern.
Occasionally look at the contents of your email spam folder to check for legitimate emails that were mistakenly marked as spam.
Verify the Sender
Email from addresses contain two names – the sending email address and the friendly name. If the sender is already in you contact list, the email may appear to be from their friendly name. For example, emails from my brother Steven, don’t show as coming from his email address, they from address just list the name Steven. However, if I look at the sending email address, I can see if it is truly his email address, which I would recognize. Those two elements must match – his friendly name and his legitimate email address.
Never Post Your Email address in Public Forums
Keep in mind that spammers surf and scrape public forums looking for easy prey. That’s you if you’re post personal information in a public forum. Hackers are always on the lookout for email addresses that are available cheaply, in this case for free, for sending even more spam emails.
Also, when participating in an online contest, deals, updates or applications – never use your business or personal email. Many spammers parse through email lists of such events to target new email addresses. It is easy to write an application that reads a website automatically and collects all the emails posted in a forum, blog, or comments section of any website. Keeping your emails on a public and unprotected forum invites others to send spam emails or even can hack your account by breaking a weak password.
Never Reply to Spam Emails
Almost all the spam emails contain malicious messages sent from suspicious sources. The rest are adverts, offers, and other money-making schemes, these may be hackers looking to intrude into your computer. Never respond to such spam emails. Replying to spam will confirm to the hacker that your email address is working. You will then be targeted for future emails. This includes trying to unsubscribe from spam – this click also (unfortunately) verifies that your email address is valid. Also, some spammers analyze log and recipient responses to their spam messages. They assess their performances. The more the recipient responds, the more future spam emails he will receive.
Use of Anti-virus Software and Spam Filtering Tools
Anti-virus software and spam filtering tools can scan every email and check for malware and phishing scams. If at all any malware is present, these tools will quarantine the spam and will prevent you from opening it. anti-virus software helps keep a computer free from malware and spam, but it is not a guarantee. Be sure your computer’s apps are kept up-to-date.
Use Multiple Email Addresses
It is imperative that you set up multiple addresses for personal, public and business correspondences. Your personal email should be shared only with a restricted set of family and friends. Also, create your personal email address in such a way that it is difficult to derive. Spammers often tend to build a list of target emails by assembling obvious words, names, and numbers. Therefore, you should resist the temptation to use parts of our name in your personal email address.
Another spam fighting idea is to keep changing your public email address. You can use these email addresses for online use where you need to register for public forums or contests.
Update Your Web Browser Regularly
In May 2017, malware WannaCry infected thousands of machines and shut down Britain’s National Health System. However, the patch had been released two months earlier by Microsoft. Update computer web browsers (like Chrome and Internet Explorer) on a regular basis to stay ahead of spammers. The updated version of the browser that is equipped with current security patches and libraries.
Beware of Fake Unsubscribe Links
Spammers also use legit looking emails containing bogus unsubscribe links. If you click on them, your chance of receiving spam emails will only increase. Therefore, it is advisable that you should never click on the ‘unsubscribe’ link in an email coming from an unsolicited sender. Always give an email a hard look to truly be sure it was sent by who is claims it was sent by.
Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers