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Keeping down the effects of spam

Cloudmark : 15 October, 2010  (Technical Article)
Cloudmark offers five pieces of advice on spam and how to reduce the consequences of receiving it
Whether you're at work or at home, spam causes headaches and wastes time, forcing you to trawl through your inbox to work out which mail is legitimate and which is spam. It is annoying, time consuming and can often be dangerous.

To help overcome the growing problems associated with spam, Cloudmark, a global leader in messaging security that develops world class anti spam solutions, has published the following handy tips to help consumers reduce, identify and manage spam.

1) Watch out for social networking spam

With the continuing popularity of social networking among the young and the old, the proliferation of social networking spam is increasing every month. Sophisticated social engineering' techniques are making it harder to distinguish between legitimate and fraudulent email. These sophisticated techniques, along with the inherent trust amongst social networking connections, have allowed spammers to gain more private details about their targets and in turn cause greater harm to their victims. Cloudmark's survey revealed that 34% of UK adults reported that they had received spam email that was related to social networks in some way (such as a friend request on Facebook or MySpace which clearly does not belong to a real person or organisation) within the past 12 months. spam pretending to be a message from a popular social network or prominent organisation can be much harder to spot than traditional spam, so make sure you always properly log in to your social networking site to reply to messages and add friends, for example, rather than clicking on links from a suspect message.

As well as sending fake social networking email messages, spammers are also exploiting the social networks directly to send spam messages. Often a rogue account will be set up, and then the spammer will look to acquire many friends before sending spam messages to those sites. As such, make sure you always know the person you 'befriend' on social networks rather than just focussing on increasing your friend count!

2) Know how to respond properly

If you do receive spam messages, be careful not to respond to them. Cloudmark reported that of those consumers who had responded to a spam message, 25% said that they received more spam messages as a result. Instead of responding to the spam message, you can report the message to your anti-spam supplier, usually by clicking on your message and tagging it as a spam message.

It is also a good idea to subscribe to a credit checking agency which will alert you if there appears to be fraudulent activities set up in your name.

3) Don't click on links from emails you can't 100% trust

Sending malicious emails with rogue attachments and links is still one of the primary tools in a fraudster's portfolio. It's very easy for fraudsters to mask the email address they're sending you a message from and also fake the web-link they want you to click on. As such, if you receive a message containing web links from your bank, a shopping site you use or a social networking site, for example, then instead of clicking on the links in the email go directly to the website on your web browser to perform the action the email is requesting. This way you will quickly discover whether it was a legitimate request and you will avoid being sent to a phishing site or a website that downloads malware to your PC. Use this similar caution for messages sent from your friends' email addresses as spammers are becoming even more sophisticated and can sometimes infect a PC which will send spam messages from the user's address book so it looks more legitimate.

4) Keep your computer operating system and security software up to date

Even if you have good security software (including antivirus, antimalware etc) on your PC, it will not protect you if it is out of date - so make sure you enable the software to automatically update from the internet. Most security software now offers regular updates that are designed to address the latest vulnerabilities so if yours doesn't offer you this option consider getting a new one - there are many good free versions for consumers. You should also make sure you have the latest updates to your operating system (XP, Windows 7 etc), applications (especially PDF viewers) and internet browsers (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome).

5) Install a dedicated anti-spam application

Simply having antivirus installed on your PC won't protect you from spam messages, so it is vital that you install a separate anti-spam filter to ensure only legitimate messages arrive in your inbox. Email spam is not just a nuisance but can be a real danger as a significant amount of phishing attacks and viruses originate from emails (such as links to infected sites that are embedded within an email). 44 percent of UK adults who have received spam email feel it is becoming more difficult to distinguish spam from legitimate email. However, worryingly 35% per cent of UK adults reported that they did not have any form of anti-spam protection on the computer where they check their email most frequently.
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