SPAM

Dear user (family, friend, etc.)

Don’t you just hate all this unsolicited e-mails which fill up your mailbox? Me too, it really annoys me the way they seem to find the way to my mailbox although I’m really careful with spreading my address. What? You’re having the same problems? Ah, well let me explain to you why you’re getting all this spam, and why I’m getting it as well.

How weird is it that they seem to know you’re e-mail address and all of your relatives. Somehow all people from your address book seem to have gotten that same e-mail, you even received from “non delivery reports” from people you haven’t e-mailed in years…

Free
Let me start by saying that nothing comes for free. You know that, in the real world, but on the internet that’s different right? Sure you can win a free LCD TV, camcorder, free tickets, money and even a holiday. All you have to do is to be the 100.00 visitor of a site (how many times have you been that? What are the odds?) and/or leave your e-mail address so they can mail you when you win! Wow, internet is great!

Making money
The secret of spam is that your e-mail address is worth money. Yes, it’s sold to companies who sent unsolicited mail. And guess what, they make money with it! Some people seem to like the message and click to see the product, or even purchase this wonderful machine.

Why me?
All that is necessary to send an e-mail is an address. There is no security in the e-mail protocol, it all depends on trust. And you can’t trust the world, unfortunately.
Somehow you’re e-mail address got on a list. These lists are sold and used, and then again sold. So it’s fair to say that once you’re on a list, you’re pretty much doomed.
Thankfully these lists last only a few years because they get polluted.

Now how did I get on that list?
Well, the biggest chance is that you joined them or you left your e-mail address unprotected somewhere. Please take a look at these examples, they happen every day.

1) The free prices / pop quiz / newsletters
The easiest way to lose your e-mail address is by trading it for a price or a newsletter. Sometimes you even agree on the terms, because you need to check that box in order to continue. Of course you don’t read all these pages, neither would I. But remember the thing from the real world, nothing comes for free.

My advice; read the terms and prevent to even sign up for something you don’t want.

2) FW: FW: FW
Each time you, or a friend/family, forwards an e-mail address they add a list of e-mail address to the e-mail. All these addresses are readable in the mail so anyone can use them, including the one you don’t want. Although most forwarded e-mails are just fine, because you sent them to people you trust, you’re not always in control.
Especially the REALLY IMPORTANT using a lot of CAPITAL words about abused children, animals, war, etc. which you MUST FORWARD IMMIDIATLY. Recognize them? Yes, those e-mails are usually created for one purpose only, to collect a bunch of mail addresses. It might take a few days’, but eventually the message is returned to the SPAM sender, including you’re address.

My advice; don’t forward the messages. If someone forwards to you, ask them to stop doing it. And if you must, use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field instead of the To or CC field. This way you’re address is unreadable.

3) Websites
Each time you look for a something on the internet, you use a search engine like Google. Great how they seem to know everything that’s on the internet. Even pages about your favorite animal, holiday destination and long lost friends. Wow! They able to do this because they can search through the content of all websites, including e-mail addresses… This means indeed that if you’re address is on a website (like the tennis club, forum about cats and dogs, etc.) it’s exposed to smart people, and they will sell your address to send SPAM.

My advice; don’t place you’re e-mail address on any website. Most websites allow you to hide it. If they don’t it a lousy website.

4) Social media
Social media like Facebook, MySpace and Hyves are free to use for all members. Some do have a paid version which include more features, but most are free. Usually these social media sites are paid with advertisements somewhere on the page, which is fine. But smaller social media sites don’t get a lot of income which might make if vulnerable to other sources of income, like selling you’re e-mail address.
I don’t want to accuse one of the above sites of selling you’re e-mail address, but you should know that if you place your address visible on the site it’s easy to use for other purposes than what you put it for.

My advice, think why social media is free and how it’s paid. If it doesn’t make sense to you, why should you trust it.
PS: Read the end user agreement of Facebook, it’s scary.

5) Instant messaging
Using an instant messaging application like Live Messenger (former MSN messenger) requires to login with your credentials (username and password). With these credentials your address book with all your contacts are visible including their state (online, away, etc.).
Think about what other people can do if they have your credentials, you don’t want these personal things to be exposed.

Now what would you do when you get an instant message saying something like this:
Johnd > Hey Jane! If got a great picture of you. Take a look here.
or
JohnD> Hey Jane! I won a great price yesterday. Take a look here.
or
JohnD> Hey Jane! My holiday was great, you should absolutely go there too! Take a look here

Of course “take a look here” direct you to a website which needs you to login with your Live credentials. Of course you supply them and you see, nothing? Strange, ow well. Move on.

Later that day you discover that all of your contacts got an e-mail / instant message with the same question. Weird huh?

My advice, unless you’re signing in at live.com (from Microsoft) you don’t want to sign in anywhere. If someone wants to show you a picture, they can do it with Live or by sending you an e-mail. Think twice before you login and what that potentially might mean.

Conclusion
Because e-mail is unprotected, an unsafe protocol, you have no control what gets send to your email address. This might mean that if someone has your e-mail address it might get abused.
Although the nature of human is to trust one another, which is a good, another nature of people is to abuse this trust.

Besides the chance of receiving loads of spam in your mailbox because you’re not being careful, you might expose your friends and family as well. You can stop this, YOU can.

Ingmar Verheij

Was once an enthusiastic PepperByte employee but is now working at Citrix. His blogs are still valuable to us and we hope to you too.