What is Spam: The Guide to Detecting and Preventing Spam

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Spam often seems to be an inseparable part of our online experience and we accept it as normal - but it doesn't have to be. Here's what spam is, how it works, how to recognize it, and how to reduce the amount of spam you receive.

What is spam?

Spam is digital junk mail and unsolicited messages sent en masse via an electronic messaging system. Unwanted, annoying and mostly promotional spam messages are intended to flood as many inboxes as possible. Traditionally, spam messages are sent via email, but also SMS and social media messages.

This article contains:

  1. What is spam?
  2. Why is it called spam?
  3. What are the types of spam?
  4. How to recognize spam
  5. Spamming vs. phishing
  6. Why am I being spammed?
  7. How to prevent spam
  8. Stay protected with best-in-class antivirus protection

If the definition of spam is that it is unsolicited messages, usually sent en masse, then spamming is the act of sending those messages. And the person sending the messages is a spammer. Often spamming is commercial in nature, and although the spam is annoying, it is not necessarily malicious or fraudulent (although it can be).

Why is it called spam?

The use of the term "spam" for this type of invasive, blanket messaging is a reference to a Monty Python skit. In it, a group of guests (dressed in Viking costumes) loudly and repeatedly proclaim that everyone must eat spam, whether they like it or not. It's kind of like when an email spammer floods your inbox with unsolicited messages.

When you write "spam" with a capital S, it refers to the canned pork that the aforementioned Vikings love. If you write "spam" with a lowercase S, it means the endless stream of emails and other messages you never asked for.

What are the types of spam?

Here's a short list of what you can expect in the wide world of spam:

  1. Email spam: The usual spam. It clogs up your inbox and distracts you from the emails you actually want to read. You can be sure that you can ignore them all.
  1. SEO Spam: Also known as spamdexing, this is the misuse of methods of Search engine optimization (SEO) to improve the search ranking of the spammer's website. We can divide SEO spam into two broad categories:
  1. Content spam: Spammers stuff their pages with popular keywords that usually have nothing to do with their website to try to get their website ranked higher in searches for those keywords. Others rewrite existing content to make their own pages appear more substantial and unique.
  2. Link spam: If you come across a blog comment or forum post that is full of irrelevant links, you are dealing with link spam. The spammer tries to use an SEO method called "Backlinking" to exploit the Traffic to his side.
  1. Spam in social networks: As the Internet becomes more social, spammers are taking advantage and spreading their spam via fake "throwaway" accounts on popular social networking platforms.
  2. Mobile spam: This is spam in the form of SMS. Besides spammy text messages, some spammers also use push notifications to make you aware of their offers.
  1. Messaging spam: Like email spam, but faster. Spammers send their messages via instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, and Snapchat.

How to recognize spam

Regardless of how it reaches you - as email spam, social media spam, or any of the other forms - most spam falls into one of a few "genres." Once you have an idea of what spam looks like, it's easy to recognize it when it reaches you.

If someone gains control of your email account, you may be flooded with spam. Use our handy hack check tool to find out if one of your passwords has been leaked.

Learn how to spot spam by paying attention to the following types of messages, all illustrated with actual examples from my personal email account. Because my email service automatically blocks some elements of spam emails, many images in the emails are not visible.

As you read this section, pay close attention to the email addresses in the examples. Notice that they are all very long and consist mostly of random letters and numbers. This is a deliberate act of the spammer, which helps to disguise his identity.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of the most common types of spam emails.

  1. Health and medical services: Miracle cures, shortcuts to losing weight, dietary supplements of dubious repute, hair loss therapien, anti-aging solutions, alternative medicines - all this and more is often touted by spammers. The vast majority of these products are nothing more than empty promises.
  1. Dating and adult content: This category also covers a wide spectrum, ranging from online dating services and dating agencies to adult websites and bedroom performance enhancements.
  1. Computers, Internet and technology: Spammers try to take advantage of the fact that many people are not computer experts. Do not be fooled with software or hardware offers, Internet or mobile services, or general electronics advertising.
  1. Service provider: Here, the spammer tries to convince you to sign up for a long-term service. Educational programs and various types of insurance are a common choice. Notice how the sample email uses urgency as a social engineering tool to push the reader to make a quick decision.
  1. Financial services and awards: Such spam emails promise to help you alleviate your money worries with low-interest loans, debt help or cash prizes. Don't get involved!

Again, these examples are not meant to show all possible paths a spammer can take, but only some of the most common ones.

Spamming vs. phishing

The difference between spamming and Phishing is the intention of the spammer (or phisher). Spammers are annoying, but usually not out to harm you. They have something to sell and have decided that spamming is an effective way to promote their product, offer or service. (Of course, these products and services may be inferior or fraudulent).

Phishers, on the other hand, are cyber criminals who target your sensitive personal information, either by deception or by using malware. Like spam, phishing scams are often sent in bulk, but with more nefarious goals, such as fraud, theft, and even industrial espionage.

The email shown below is an example of the most notorious -phishing scams, which involves financial theft. A Browser with anti-phishing technology can protect you from this kind of fraud.

Email of a spam website

Why am I being spammed?

"If I don't sign up for spam, how can spammers find me?" The disappointing truth is that many companies make money by selling your email address and other contact information to third parties. This problem has gotten so bad that in 2018, the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of rules designed to limit what companies can do with your personal information.

Spammers use spam because it's cheap. It costs a spammer almost nothing to send emails to everyone he can find. If only a handful of recipients respond positively to the campaign, the spammer's investment pays off quickly.

Since most spammers hide their identity from recipients and ISPs, it is difficult to hold them accountable for their actions. The low risks and costs make spam an attractive option for less scrupulous advertisers and marketers.

How to prevent spam

Spam doesn't have to be a visible part of your daily digital life. With a few simple tips and tricks, you can learn how to stop spam emails and also reduce the amount of general spam sent to you. At the same time, you'll learn how to block spam emails by preventing them from showing up in your inbox.

  • Use the spam reporting function of your e-mail program. Most popular email providers have a handy button that lets you report an email as spam. This way you can train your email program to better recognize spam. Any emails detected this way will go straight to your spam folder, bypassing your inbox entirely. If your email program doesn't automatically detect spam and phishing emails, you should switch to a program that does.
  • Conversely, you should tell your email program which emails are not spam. Take a look at your spam folder from time to time, and if you find something there that doesn't belong, move it to your inbox. This way your spam filter learns which emails it can ignore.
  • Sign up for things with disposable or fake email addresses. Many E-commerce-Platforms and Internet services require an email address to use them. Unless it's absolutely necessary, you shouldn't use your primary email address for throwaway signups like eBook landing pages or game apps. You never know who will sell it to a spammer.
  • Do not engage in spam in any way. This applies to all types of spam, not just email. Don't click on links, don't download attachments, and never reply to a spammer. If you do, it could lead them to believe you're a receptive target - which means they'll send you more spam.
  • Do not publish your contact information. Spammers can and do find contacts online. Make an effort to keep your online presence as private as possible. This includes your phone number and address.
  • If someone you know has sent you spam, tell them. If you have received a spam message from a trusted contact, let them know that their account has been hacked and used for spam. This way, they can take countermeasures and regain control.
  • If you manage a website, use up-to-date software and security measures. Keep your website's software up to date to protect yourself from spammers who want to exploit vulnerabilities. At the same time set the Captcha technology on login pages, comments, and other interactive areas.
  • Use strong security software: As spam and other online risks continue to threaten your security, you need strong antivirus software to protect you in real time from the many threats that are out there.

Stay protected with best-in-class antivirus protection

With billions of spam messages sent every day, even the most secure inbox will leak sooner or later. Make sure you're protected from spam links and attachments that could harm your device.

Spammers send billions of emails every day. Modern email providers intercept most of them, but not all.

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What are spam pages? arrow icon in accordion
Spam pages are websites that are used to send unsolicited or fraudulent emails, advertisements or other messages, especially to a large number of recipients. These messages are not only annoying, but may also contain malware that is harmful for your computer or network.
How can I protect myself from spam pages? arrow icon in accordion
To protect yourself from spam sites, you should use a good anti-spam filter to block unwanted emails. A good virus scanner is also essential to prevent malicious software from getting onto your computer. Also, use a firewall to prevent unknown programs or pages from entering your computer or network.
How can I prevent myself from landing on spam pages? arrow icon in accordion
To avoid accidentally landing on spam sites, you should only visit safe and trustworthy websites and not click on links in emails that you do not trust. You should also be careful when you receive download links or invitations to communities or forums.
What are the consequences if I visit a spam site? arrow icon in accordion
Visiting a spam site may result in malware infection or data loss. Your personal information may also be stolen or published. There is also a risk that your computer may become part of a botnet and be used for malicious activities.
What are the types of spam sites? arrow icon in accordion
There are different types of spam sites, including phishing sites that try to steal sensitive data such as credit card numbers, usernames and passwords. There are also sites that automatically send emails, and sites that offer or distribute malware or other harmful software.
How do I recognize a spam page? arrow icon in accordion
Spam pages are often easy to spot, especially if they contain ads or emails with unusual offers. If you are unsure, you should definitely consult an expert.
How can I protect my computer when I click on a spam page? arrow icon in accordion
To protect your computer, be sure to install and keep up-to-date a current and reliable antivirus software. You should also install a firewall to block unwanted connections.
How can I prevent my email address from being published on spam pages? arrow icon in accordion
To prevent your email address from being published on spam sites, use strong passwords and never provide your email address on unsolicited websites. Also, use different email addresses for different purposes.
Can spam pages infect my smartphone? arrow icon in accordion
Yes, visiting a spam site can also lead to your smartphone getting infected with malware. Therefore, you should also install an antivirus and firewall scanner on your smartphone to protect yourself from viruses and malware.
What penalties do I face if I run a spam site? arrow icon in accordion
If you run a spam site, you can face severe penalties, as spam sites are illegal. In most countries, you may be fined or even imprisoned.

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