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SPAM - Unsolicited Commercial Email, Junk and Phishing (Part 1)

Daniel Moisyeyev
Daniel Moisyeyev

SPAM is an ubiquitous term. It is often thrown around to refer to unwanted email. However, is all unwanted and unsolicited email the same? Are there good and bad types? And, how can we stop the bad kind of unsolicited emails without damage to genuine businesses that send out email campaigns that promote their products and services? Part I of this article will identify the different kinds of unsolicited messages encountered, while Part II will go into detail in regard to how to limit forged email being sent from your domain name to preserve the good name of your business.

Types of SPAM
Are you performing the same ritual every morning where you go through your mailbox, label some emails as junk and then go through your junk folder and look for important emails that may have inadvertently ended up there? You are not alone. Here are some of the emails you may encounter.

Genuine Australian B2B and B2C Marketing Emails
Emails blasts are an effective and affordable marketing method. Chances are that you have been, at some point, subscribed to a company newsletter after meeting with a prospective client or a supplier, leaving your business cards laying around in an accessible place, joining a business network, etc. The key distinction between this and other types of unsolicited emails is that there is almost always a genuine offer in an email that is at least somehow relevant to you or your business, an unsubscribe link or facility, and contact details for the business that is promoting the product or service. Stopping these types of messages is as simple as using unsubscribe facilities provided by the sender – if you have no need for the products and services offered, that is. When receiving these types of messages, try not to be offended – using email to reach perspective clients is just one of many types of marketing tools in use today and it isn't going away any time soon.

How are these sent out? These types of emails are usually sent out in bulk through dedicated email marketing platforms. These platforms double as metric facilities to evaluate effectiveness of campaigns, provide unsubscribe facilities for recipients and remove dead emails from campaign lists.

Has your email been stolen? Not quite. You will not get an increased amount the more malicious types of unsolicited messages because an Australian supplier added your email to their marketing database.

How do I stop and prevent this in the future? Use the unsubscribe facility provided. The link will usually be at the very bottom of the email. Keep in mind that if you meet enough people, you will end up subscribed to something new every week.

Overseas Marketing Emails
Regulation that governs unsolicited email differs across countries and in many cases remains unenforced. As a consequence some overseas firms end up marketing their products and services worldwide to email addresses that are harvested online or acquired by purchasing databases with email lists.

These emails usually come from overseas domains and often do not have legit unsubscribe facilities. The product or service advertised will likely be something unrelated that you, or your business will never need.

Has your email been stolen? The worst thing about getting these emails is the fact that there is now a good chance that your email address is in some big database that is making the rounds.

How do I stop and prevent this in the future? Use the unsubscribe facility if available. Otherwise, upgrade your email software to one with a good SPAM filter. Make sure your email address is not published online in plain text.

These emails are usually short, text-only and come from random domain names (often forged).  The offers most often are for certain types of drugs or some kind of dating services. In many cases the text is garbled and there are deliberate misspellings in subjects to evade spam filters.

Similar emails contain an attachment, with a claim that it is an important document e.g. “Invoice”. This is generally a virus.

How are these sent out? There isn't actually a person sitting behind email marketing software sending these emails out. These messages are sent out by mail servers infected with malicious software that runs non-stop 24/7 until the system administrator of the infected server catches on and puts a halt to the process. Mail servers that are used to send out these types of messages are quickly blacklisted in special databases used by server-side SPAM filtering software.

Has your email been stolen? Yes, your email is now in a database that gets replicated from one infected email server to another. If you are getting this type of unsolicited emails, it's time to scrap your email address and get a new one. Once your email is on these lists, it usually doesn't stop.

How do I stop and prevent this in the future? Your email server should have SPAM filtering software installed that handles this type of emails. Most cloud email hosting providers already do a good job of filtering these messages before they get to you. However to completely get rid of these messages, changing your email address is the best.

Phishing emails are a special case that deserve a separate mention.

You may have seen emails that pretend to be from a legitimate source and attempt to collect your bank/PayPal login details, personal information, convince you to pay a fine, etc. This practice is referring to as “Phishing”. Some of these emails are designed well enough to trick people with limited technical expertise.

How do I protect myself?  The easiest way to check for legitimacy is to verify the origin domain name and the links provided in the email. Beware if it differs from the real domain of the company it claims to represent. As a general guide, Australian companies in the financial services sector (i.e. banks, insurance) and utilities do not send out random emails asking for your personal information.

Stay put for Part II on tips on how to protect your business domain from forgery and more.

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