Written on April 23, 2004 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde
Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine
Does the volume of SPAM, the electronic equivalent of junk mail, in your
in-box seem to be increasing? A recent study determined that spam represents 32%
of all e-mails sent in North America every day. The amount of spam has doubled
since 2001, and some experts believe it is increasing exponentially, not
Fighting spam is now a costly undertaking. Spam costs everyone in lost
productivity, as people try to sort out their legitimate e-mails from the junk.
Spam ties up traffic on networks, servers, and in-boxes. Your company and your
Internet Service Provider (ISP) must either purchase additional resources to
handle the increased traffic or suffer with slow response times. Anyone who
manages a computer system will tell you they spend significant amounts of money
and time trying to protect their systems so their users can benefit from the
legitimate use of the Internet.
Viruses are often imbedded in the spam messages, making security an important
issue. Keeping your anti-virus software up to date is now almost a full-time
job. Most experts recommend updating your software every day, and even more
often during major attacks. In some large companies, updating every hour isn't
often enough to stop incoming attacks!
What can you do to protect your computer and spend less time dealing with
Update regularly - Step 1. Your anti-virus software needs to be
able to identify threats and block them before they take over your computer and
spread to other users. When you purchase anti-virus software, you get a free
subscription to all the updates for a year. After that, you pay a small fee for
the update service. If you manage your own computer, download the updates for
your system as soon as they become available. If your computer is not set up to
detect updates automatically, make sure you check regularly and frequently for
updates and install them.
Update regularly - Step 2. Microsoft supplies security patches
and other updates to its operating systems, free of charge, for as long as the
operating system is supported. At the moment, all operating systems since
Windows 98 are supported. On newer computers, you will be advised automatically
that updates are available (a globe will appear in your Icon tray by the clock
in the lower right corner of your screen). On older computers, on the Start menu
there will be an option "Windows Update" (it should be near the top).
Click on this item and follow the instructions. Make sure to install all updates
indicated as "critical". Microsoft updates should be installed at
least once per month.
Refuse to download unknown programs. Games, screensavers, and
free programs from unknown sources are frequently sources of viruses. Just say
Delete suspicious e-mail messages. If you don't recognize the
sender's name, delete the e-mail. Don't even open it. If there is an attachment,
don't open that either. Just delete the e-mail. If it is important, the person
will try to contact you by other means.
Keep it simple. Fancy e-mail scripts, embedded images, and
other unusual formats make it hard for spam filters to recognize spam and detect
Use common sense. If you are sending an e-mail to a large list
of contacts, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) feature rather than listing
everyone in the "To" field. Spammers can intercept your message; copy
the e-mail addresses of your contacts, and then sell those addresses to other
spammers. The BCC option conceals their e-mail addresses.
Ignore "unsubscribe" options. You would think that
this would be a legitimate way to remove yourself from spam lists. It should be,
but it isn't. All it does is confirm that yours is a valid, active e-mail
address that is read. Spammers get paid more money for supplying known active
addresses; so all you do when you "unsubscribe" is help put yourself
on more lists!
Refuse to buy products or services sold by spam. If a product
or service catches your eye, find another way to contact the company and make
your purchase. If possible, find the same product or service from another firm
that doesn't market by spam. Be warned: many offers sent by spam are fraudulent
schemes to part you from your money.
Avoid banner ads. Don't click or go near banner ads. Spammers
get paid if you do!
Use a separate address. If you like to enter on-line contests,
fill out surveys, or complete web registration forms, set up a separate e-mail
address (use a free one like HotMail) to use in these situations. Then the spam
will go to your secondary address, keeping your main address relatively
Use Anti-Spam filters. Many security programs, such as Norton
Anti-Virus, have spam filters. Any e-mail received from someone not in your
e-mail contact list will be put in a separate folder marked Spam. You can then
review the Spam folder, delete the unknown messages and move the legitimate
messages to the correct folder. The software attempts to learn what is Spam and
what isn't. You may find this feature makes receiving your messages incredibly
slow if your computer is an older model, so you may want to turn this feature
In recent weeks, there has been a crackdown against spammers. In the US, a
new law (CAN-Spam) became effective January 1, 2004 that regulates how marketers
can send spam. In Canada, two spammers from Kitchener were arrested - it is
alleged they were responsible for a huge volume of spam traffic. Despite these
efforts, it is unlikely that legislation will eliminate or control spam.
Spammers will move to countries that don't have strong laws or strong
enforcement and continue their profitable activities.
So, it is up to each of us to do our part to stop the spread of spam. Good