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What is spam and how you can reduce it - stop spammers, scammers and hackers

Spam Email: What Is It and What Are the Risks

If you are an internet user, which I presume you are given that you’re reading this post.  It is crucial to know what spam emails are and the associated risks to protect yourself online. You can keep your valuable information safe from attackers lurking on the internet through this awareness.

Email spam or junk email is an unwanted and unsolicited email message, usually sent in bulk to many recipients at once. Real humans can send spam, but it is more commonly transmitted by a botnet controlled by a single attacking party. Apart from being annoying for the recipient, spam emails also pose risks of phishing scams, spyware and ransomware, financial frauds, and so much more.

Let’s get into the details of spam email, its risks and how you can protect yourself from it.

What is Spam Email?

Spam emails are the unwanted emails that you often find in your spam folder, usually sent in bulk to a list of recipients. Sometimes they are sent for commercial purposes as a marketing tool even if it is viewed as unethical. However, spam emails pose far greater risks as scammers and fraudsters use them to gain access to sensitive, personal information of the recipient. Usually, they use a botnet, a network of computers infected with malware, controlled by a bot herder to send spam emails. The attackers often use social engineering tools to trap their target.

The most common types of spam email are:

  • Commercial advertisements
  • Antivirus warnings
  • Email spoofing
  • Sweepstakes winners
  • Money scams

What Are the Risks of Spam Emails?

Phishing scams

Phishing is an attempt to obtain classified / confidential information such as your username and password through spam emails by posing as a legitimate source. The attacker will often lure you into providing personal information such as banking information, digital wallet credentials, or mail order site addresses. To spot a phishing scam, take a closer look at the email’s From line to ensure the sender’s email is legitimate.  Even if it looks real, hover over the email address, or link (without clicking it) – often, if its a phishing email it will show another email address, or clearly fake link – something like this:

Example of spam email containing spam email and spam link
Example of spam email containing spam email and spam link

Example screenshot from bscans

If you are ever unsure if an email is genuine, then contact the company to verify the legitimacy of the message.  You should contact them using information you know to be genuine such as the contact page on their website, or paper you know to be genuine.

Stolen identity

Spammers often use spam emails to spread spyware to infiltrate your devices and steal personal information, including social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords which they can later use to create fake profiles. The worst part of spyware is, it may take you months or even years to realise that your device is under attack. Attackers can use spyware to monitor and collect data on your browsing habits and programs that you use. They can use these pieces of information for fraudulent acts or sell them to third party users.

Advance fee frauds

Commonly known as “Nigerian fraud” or the “491 fraud”, they are one of the most common frauds executed by emails. It is a way to prey on people’s goodwill by asking for help in dire circumstances. Scammers often weave stories pretending to be from a foreign country, often Third-world countries, to claim a large sum of money. Other times, similar to the Nigerian price scheme, scammers promise to send you money in exchange for your bank information or a small processing fee. To avoid this type of fraud, avoid sharing personal information online and only send money to people that you know online.

Ransomware

As defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “ransomware is an ever-evolving form of malware designed to encrypt files on a device, rendering any files and the systems that rely on them unusable”. Ransomware attackers then ask for a sum of money as ransom in exchange for decryption. The attacker can attach the ransomware to a downloadable attachment or a link inside the spam email. You can install the malware to your system simply by downloading or clicking on the link. Unlike spyware, you’ll almost instantly realize that your device is under attack as you start to lose access to your files. A ransom note will pop up on the screen or in each of your files when you attempt to open them. It will include an explanation and a ransom request, usually through cryptocurrency. There isn’t much to do once your device is under attack. However, keep in mind that even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that you will retrieve your files. One of the biggest ransomware attacks was on Kaseya in 2021, where the attacker claimed $70 million in Bitcoin as ransom.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are effective ways to protect yourself from spam email and its potential risks. To prevent receiving spam emails, you need to check and remove your email address from the internet. You might be thinking, well, my email address is not on the internet. What you don’t know is, every time you are sharing personal information in an online shop or website, there are chances of spreading your email address to potentially harmful parties. When spammers get access to your email address, they can store it offline and enlist you as a recipient of spam emails.

How can you check to see if your email address is exposed online? Sniff.Email is an online platform that allows you to find out if your email address is exposed on the internet. Click here to find out whether your email address is exposed and mitigate the chances of spam, fraud, identity theft, and other malicious acts.

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