All about Spam
What is Spam?
It's a rare computer user who hasn't been bothered by Spam at
some stage. By Spam, we mean unsolicited emails that try to sell you
things of a dubious nature that you certainly didn't ask for and, in
all probability, don't need. Everybody hates spam. It can clog up
your email box, threaten the security of your PC, try to trick you
into opening dangerous attachments, and even render the mail box
How do the spammers get hold of my email address?
Spam can come from a wide variety of sources, and the spammers
have many techniques to get hold of your email address. Here's just
> From a web page
If you have ever posted to an online, public forum, and left your
email address on the page, then it will almost certainly end up in
the hands of the spammers. If you have your own website, and include
your email address in plain text, then that will also get stolen by
the spammers. In fact, anywhere on the web where you leave your
email address is a source for the spammers. If you can see it, so
The way they get the address is by something called harvesting.
This is done with a piece of software called a Spider. The sole job
of the Spider is to trawl through website looking for email
addresses. Once the spammer has enough addresses, he/she can
sell them to third parties, and other spammers.
> From an infected PC.
A lot of viruses these days contain code to trawl through your email
address book. These will then be sent to the spammer. If you have
sent an email to somebody who is infected, and that person has you
in his/her address book, then your address will be sent to the
> From YOUR infected PC
If you have a virus, the chances are that it will contain code to
control your email. It will then contact another computer and
receive a list of instructions, and email addresses. These
instruction say something like, "Send the following email to this
list of addresses". Your PC won't be sending out thousands of
emails, but just a few. This is because your PC is just one of many
thousand that are controlled by the same spammer (called a botnet).
If your computer sends out just, say, 100 emails a day, then 100
times 1000 computers that the spammer controls totals 100,000 emails
a day. If the spammer controls 10,000 computers then that's a
million emails a day he can send out!
> Trial and Error
if you have an email address based on your name, and if your name is
quite a common one, then the spammer will simply send out email
trying to guess the first part. For example, suppose the end of your
email address was "smith.co.uk" And you added "John" to the start,
your email address would be easy to guess, and you'd have a very
busy inbox indeed! If it was "john12_KJ876@smith.co.uk", it's
unlikely the spammers could guess the first part.
Worst case scenarios
If your computer is infected, there could be another nasty
side-effect - YOU get banned! Because your computer has been
indentified as sending out spam, you may well receive a message from
your service provider telling you that your account has been
suspended. You then have to go to the trouble of contacting your
service provider, telling them that you're not a spammer, and asking
what to do to get off their "bad books".
A more likely scenario is that your email gets bounced back to
you by someone like SpamCop. The email will identify your IP
address, and let you know that you're on a blacklist. SpamCop will
keep you on the blacklist until it receives no more spam from your
IP address in a 24 hour period. (It may not be your IP address but
the address of your email servers. In which case, there's nothing
you can do about it but notify your service provider. Your service
provider will then totally ignore your call, and heap the blame on
You will also have to spend a lot of time and money
to "clean-up" your computer.
How to Defeat Spam
You can defeat spam (well, most of it). Here's a few ways.
- Don't post your email address on a web page, unless you're
disguising it in some way. As an example, an email address in
this format is very difficult for a Spider to read, but quite
easy for a human:
david @ rhodesaz . com (notice the spaces)
- Be wary of giving your email address to websites. Ask
yourself, is there a privacy statement anywhere on the site?
Can you easily opt-out if they send an email or newsletter to
you? Do you trust them?
- Never reply to a email sent to you by a spammer. If you do,
you're telling the spammer that the email address is live and
active - the very thing that he was looking for! (Remember: the
spammer probably bought his list off someone else, and has no
idea whether an address is active or not.)
- Careful when opening attachments. Save the attachment to
your hard-drive first, scan with your (up-to-date) Anti Virus
software, and only then consider opening it.
- Set your email software to view message as text and NOT as
HTML. In Outlook Express you can do this by clicking Tools >
Options from them menu bar. From the Options dialogue
box, click the Read tab. Put a tick in the box "Read all
messages in plain text". The reason you'd want to do this is
because HTML emails can be very helpful to spammers. They insert
an image that tells them the email has been read, and thus that
it's a live email box.
- Use a "throw away" e-mail address when you need to register
at a website. These throw away e-mail address can be from
Yahoo or Gmail. Both places offer free e-mail service.
- Make certain you have SPAM BLOCKING turned on at your
Internet Service Provider. Years ago, it was automatically
turned on. Now a days, you have to go into the
configurations of your ISP and turn it on. Call your ISP