Introduction Series Part 1: Spam

Martin Brinkmann
May 9, 2006
Updated • Mar 14, 2014

Spam is a big issue these days and there is barely anyone on the Internet who has not encountered spam in one form or the other. While often associated with emails, spam has many forms and can also be encountered in chat rooms, as mobile phone messages, on social networking sites, in computer games and virtually any other location where messages can be exchanged.

There is little that we as Internet users can do about spam. While some programs aim to protect against spam there is none that protects you against 100% of spam you encounter.

Even if you are careful when it comes to handing out your email address, you may receive spam to it eventually. All it takes is a friend's computer that got compromised for example, or a spammer who uses computer algorithms to guess email addresses, or a hacked server where your email address was stored on.

Spam is a numbers game: the more spam gets sent out, the more money is earned. Since there are virtually no operational costs involved, other than those for maintaining the email lists and sending out the messages, it is quite attractive to criminals.

Currently there are no 100% surefire ways of fighting spam. While you can install plugins, extensions and filters to block the majority of spam, there is still a chance that some will slip through.Most programs that you use for that purpose need to be trained before they can block a high percentage of spam effectively. Some implement heuristics in addition, but that often means that legitimate emails land in the spam folder as well from time to time.

Some email providers, Google Mail or Outlook, have become really effective in protecting user inbox's against spam. It is rare that users of these services encounter spam in their inbox, but it does happen nevertheless.

There are certain things that one should do when spam is encountered. The most obvious one is that you should never ever reply to spam messages. The reason here is that replying provides the spammer with information that the email address exists, and that someone is checking that email regularly for new emails. Some spammers try to lure you into doing so by adding unsubscribe links to their emails. Guess what? You won't be unsubscribed if you click on those links but provide the spammer with valuable information.

It is also important to never react in any way to spam messages. Do not follow links that you find in them, and never buy anything that they have to offer even if the offer is more than tempting.

The best course of action is to ignore spam whenever it occurs. While you may have some success reporting it to Internet Service Providers, Government authorities or third parties that fight it actively, it is usually not worth it.

I personally prefer to filter spam email addresses that send recurring spam so that they land directly in the trash folder of my email client.

Take a look at my article "how to fight spam" if you want to know how to fight it.


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