Yes, the title of this month’s post may make you think of that old Monty Python bit about Spam and eggs however, sorry to say, that won’t be the case. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks a huge increase in the amount of Spam showing up in my junk mailbox. By now most people know how to responsibly deal with Spam, but I thought a bit of a refresher couldn’t hurt. But first, where does Spam originate?
Three Main Sources of Spam
The spam today typically comes from one of three places. The worst culprit is email. A malicious programmer creates nasty code, puts it in an email and starts sending the junk mail out to any mail server that accepts it. An unwitting victim opens the email and voilà, their mail client is now infected and starts sending the bad email to others in their contact list and the process just keeps on repeating.
Another source for spam is from web sites that have been hacked. In this scenario, a hacker will look for a site where either the password to the site is easily discovered or the site has software running that has a known weakness where someone can gain access to the site file system. They then upload malicious code to the site so that unwitting web surfers will get infected just by visiting. As in the previous scenario, their mail clients are then typically used to send malicious email to all their contacts. Sometimes the code can operate like a mail client by itself and can actually be used to run what is called a dictionary attack (using every word in the dictionary found on the infected PC, appended as an email address and sent).
The third source of spam is through file sharing. Someone shares a disc with you that contains a virus and suddenly your computer is bogged down trying to send emails to the entire world. Interestingly, this type of infection has been on the decline probably because most people no longer share discs, but share files across the Internet. As a result there seems to be fewer viruses being passed from computer to computer, likely because the files are passing through antivirus software protection on their way across the web.
How to Protect Yourself From Spam
So then, what can you do to protect yourself and your PC? Quite a bit, actually. When trying to prevent Spam (and viruses for that matter), simply follow these steps and you should be safe: Firewall, Antivirus, Filter and Hide message content.
Firewall: Make sure you have a good hardware firewall router protecting your network. Make sure access to that firewall is protected by a strong, safe password. If your firewall has built-in tools for Spam and virus protection, use them. If your firewall has WIFI built in make sure the password is extra strong. Use the best encryption available on the router as well.
Antivirus: This one is kind of a no brainer. If you do not already have an antivirus solution, do you homework to find the best software to meet your needs. Not all antivirus solutions are created equal. So take the time — it will pay off for you in the long run. Some Internet Service Providers like Skyway West offer antivirus and anti-Spam solutions that attack unwanted mail content at the mail server level. Information on Skyway Anti-Spam services can be found here; and Skyway Anti-virus info here.
Filter: Filtering is a good idea not only for your email but for your web browser as well. For those of you that use Chrome or Firefox you should have installed the Ad-Block applet. This applet helps keep malicious code from getting to your PC as it will not only block advertising but other pop-ups as well. When it comes to your email, filtering is good practice to maintain as it will help minimize the time wasted on manually moving Spam to your Deleted folder. There are also software options out there that will actively scan your email and tag messages as Spam before they even get to your Inbox.
Hiding Message content: If I could provide only one piece of advice to anyone to help keep them safe online it would be to never open an email from someone they don’t know. That is where hiding the message content comes in. Most people have their mail clients set up with a box to show the list of their mailboxes, a box to show the list of messages inside the highlighted box and one box to show the contents of the current message. My recommendation would be to remove the third box from your mail client’s display and only open messages from people you know. Most mail clients, if not all, will let you easily turn off message view – in most cases under the view options.
So there you have it, a quick review of how to protect yourself from Spam (and viruses). It may seem like a lot of work but it is better to protect yourself than have your computer down and in the shop being repaired or worse, compromising all your data. For further reading please to check out Skyway West’s Spam resource page.
Got a question or an idea for a topic you would like to see covered in one of my upcoming blog posts? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and sound off. I’ll do what I can to address your questions or concerns either personally in a reply email or on the blog. Until next month, take care.