Spam is a term for unsolicited messages—mainly in the form of emails—distributed to a large number of recipients. The number of unwanted communications can flood mail servers, drowning out the important messages that are relevant to users.
Spamming is generally unethical but many organizations still use it. Commercial spam email is prevalent, given how businesses can send bulk emails at a low cost regularly. And while spam can just be a nuisance, some of these messages are used for illegal activities, such as gaining access to computers or mining confidential user information.
What Are the Forms of Spam?
Here are the different ways spam is sent to unsuspecting people every day:
This is the most common form of spam. Spam e-mails flood your inbox and take your attention from important or relevant messages. A large percent of this spam is trivial.
This exploits search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to boost the spammer's website search ranks. The practice is generally known as spamdexing.
There are two types of spam SEO: content spam and link spam. Content spamming is stuffing content with keywords that aren't relevant to the website. Some spammers also modify current data to make their pages appear more comprehensive. Meanwhile, link spamming is the usage of irrelevant links in blog posts and forum postings. The spammer uses an SEO practice to draw attention to their page.
- Social Media
Spammers exploit the socialization of the internet by creating fake throwaway profiles on major social networking sites.
Some spammers utilize push notifications and text messages to lure you in.
- Instant Message Spam
Spammers use messaging apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and Snapchat to send spam faster.
- Virus Warning
Ironically, antivirus notifications are a common spam tactic. These messages warn you of a computer virus invasion and offer a simple fix—usually an antivirus scan—to remove it. Clicking the link might lead to downloading malware or giving hackers access to your system.
What Tactics Do Spammers Use?
There are now anti-spam methods designed to prevent and sort spam transmissions. However, spammers have devised new ways to deliver emails without being detected. Here are some of the tactics spammers apply:
- Collecting email addresses through internet searches
- Using subject lines that start with “Hi” or “Re:” to bait you into clicking links or downloading attachments
- Using Open Relay—a computer that allows anyone to send emails anonymously
How Can You Avoid Spam?
These practices can help you block or minimize spam emails:
- Using spam-reporting features
Most email providers feature a spam button. This allows you to “train” your email to recognize spam better. Emails detected as spam are automatically filtered and routed to your spam folder, bypassing your inbox. Change your mail server if it doesn't automatically identify spam and phishing emails.
- Notifying your mail server of non-spam emails
Regularly check your spam folder. If you find something that doesn't belong there, move it to your inbox. This tells your spam filter which emails aren’t classified as spam.
Many online services and eCommerce platforms demand an email address. Don't use your primary email address to join non-essential services like gaming apps. Sign up for these using a bogus email.
- Not responding
This is true for all types of spam. Do not open messages, click on hyperlinks or download attachments. Never send a reply. If you do, they may believe you are a responsive target, resulting in increased spam.
- Keeping your contact details private
Spammers scour the internet for any contact details. Keep your internet identity as confidential as possible.
- Notifying contacts whose accounts have been used for spam
If you received spam from a trustworthy contact, notify them immediately. Warn them that their account has been hacked. This way, they can fix the issue and regain control of their account.
- Updating your computer’s security settings
Keep your system updated to prevent spammers from seeking vulnerabilities. Use Captcha on login pages, comment sections, and other interactive channels.