Preventing and Limiting Spam Email
Spam is unsolicited email sent in bulk to many individuals, usually for commercial gain, but increasingly for spreading malware. It is one of the great annoyances when using email and affects everyone. This article outlines measures to help prevent spam from occurring and to help limit the amount of spam you receive.
Whilst it is pretty much impossible to prevent spam altogether, the amount of spam you receive is directly related to how you handle your activities online and who you share your email address with.
Don’t Post Addresses Online
- Never post email addresses online such as in message boards, forums or on websites for all to see. Spammers (and Phishers) have automated processes that can ‘harvest’ these. If you must post it, then disguise the format (e.g. john.smithATgmailDOTcom).
- If you receive a lot of spam, a web search for your email address may reveal whether it is posted anywhere online and you can remove it.
Avoid Common, Guessable Formats
- The more complicated your email address, the less likely it will become a target for spam. Spammers use software that trys to guess email addresses and a commonly used format such as email@example.com will be a greater target of attack than firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Obviously, the trade-off is that your email address will not be quite as memorable or look as nice.
Limit Sharing of Addresses
- The more you share your email address, the more spam you will receive, it is that simple.
- Never share your primary personal or work email addresses with those you don’t know or trust.
Use ‘Disposable’ Addresses
- Many stores and online services request email addresses for things like account registration, mailing lists and discounts. Set up an email address specifically for these cases, so you do not have to use your primary personal or work email address.
- When spam becomes an issue for this additional email address, simply dispose of it and set up a new one. Services such as Gmail allow you to check and send from different email addresses in one place, facilitating easy management of multiple addresses.
No Email Based Screen Names
- If you participate in message boards, chatrooms, Twitter or similar where you display an on-screen name, don’t use your email address before the @ sign as the screen name.
- Spammers will often take screen names and add common email endings such as @gmail.com, @yahoo.com and @hotmail.com, in order to guess legitimate email addresses.
Delete without Opening
- It is often obvious from the subject line that an email is spam.
- Simply add the sender to your spam filter and delete the email without even opening it. If you do not open it, there is no possibility of the spammer being informed that your email account is active.
Disable Automatic Content Downloads
- Automatically downloading images or other dynamic content in emails might make them look nice, but can reveal to the spammer that your email account is active.
- As a minimum, turn off automatic image downloads in your emails until you are sure the email is trusted and not spam or a phishing email. Specifying to read messages in plain text only will add a further level of security, as all dynamic content will be blocked from download.
Don’t Forward Spam
- Be wary of emails from anyone asking you to forward the email on, such as petition, chain or joke emails. By forwarding these emails, you are effectively spamming others.
- In addition, these emails are used by spammers to obtain legitimate email addresses for spamming, as they contain the email address of everyone who has forwarded the message along with the addresses of everyone each person forwarded it to.
Never Reply or Click the Links
- Clicking links, including the ubiquitous ‘unsubscribe’ link, in spam emails or replying to spam, will confirm to the spammer that your email account is active, resulting in more spam being received. It may also direct you to a website that contains malware.
- Never reply to spam and avoid clicking links in spam emails. Only click the ‘unsubscribe’ link for marketing emails you remember signing up for.
Never Purchase anything from Spam
- Don’t fall for products or services advertised in spam emails, no matter how good they may sound. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
- Buying something advertised in spam only supports the case for spamming and will likely increase the amount of spam you receive, as the spammers now know you are willing to buy.
Avoid Opting In
- When purchasing or registering something online, there are usually one or more checkboxes allowing you to opt out of marketing communications or sharing of your information with other ‘partners’. If you opt in, you may be opting in to a lot of future spam.
- Always read the opt-out messages with care, as these are cleverly worded to get you to opt-in. Some of them require either selection or de-selection to opt out, whilst others require a mix of selection and de-selection to fully opt out!
Read Privacy Policies
- Understand how your email address may be used and whether they can share or sell it to other third parties, who could be spammers.
Use a Spam filter
- Activate Phishing and Spam filters on your email account and in your Internet browser to help ensure you avoid receiving spam in the first place.
- Most reputable email service providers will have spam filters that you can turn on, some of which allow very granular policies to be set.
- Report spam that does slip through the net to your email service provider or your company, as applicable.
- This will add the sender to their spam filters, identify whether spam filter policies need to be updated and will block future spam from that sender appearing in your inbox again. Reporting spam can also result in the spammer being identified and criminally prosecuted.
Keep Anti-Virus Software Updated
- Ensure your anti-virus software is kept up to date and download the latest signatures on a daily basis.
- A lot of malware is designed to access your email contacts and send spam or malware to them from your email account without you even realising.
If it all gets too much…
- Finally, if the amount of spam becomes too much to control, you may simply have to start again and obtain a new email address.
- Monitor the old email account in parallel to ensure that all legitimate contacts have your new email address, then delete the old one.