We could start a new jingle this holiday season – something like “Deck the halls with lots of junk mail” might be warranted. As the stores start packing their shelves with holiday merchandise, SPAM mailers are already celebrating the end of the harvest season with unsolicited emails tailored to the holidays.
This year, the amount of SPAM delivered to your inbox could reach numbers that are, according to spam-busting companies, unprecedented. MessageLabs, an antispam specialist, has stated that 90% of our emails in November and December are likely to be unsolicited SPAM. It’s a big problem, with everyone willing to click unexpected emails thinking they’re a holiday greeting or a receipt for an online gift purchase. Spammers are using this against us this season.
Internet service providers like AOL, email providers like Yahoo!, and antispam companies have been working hard to fight the onslaught of SPAM, but it’s like a game of cat-and-mouse … and so far, the spammers are the cat. “The antispam vendors are struggling,” Natalie Lambert, an analyst at Forrester Research stated. “The best vendors are able to stop about 98% of spam.” That still leaves 2% to get through – which is a lot when you look at the current, increasing numbers of SPAM mails hitting our inboxes.
To make matters even worse this holiday season, spammers are using new tactics to get you to click their message. We shop online a lot more during the holidays, so we are naturally attracted to emails that might look like a good gift idea. We are expecting receipts from online purchases, and all of us expect at least a few electronic greeting cards. Spammers are now happily sending fake order confirmations and e-cards, getting that all-important click.
If companies are doing so much to help us weed out the nasties, why are we still facing an absolute bombardment of SPAM? Experts say that spammers have a lot going for them right now – a perfect storm of sorts. Not only have spammers found new ways to get around junk mail filters, but they’ve also started using new tools to relay messages on compromised PC’s (meaning your PC could be infected and a good portion of those nasty unsolicited emails being sent appear to be coming from your own computer!).
A lot of the holiday’s unsolicited emails will be delivered using a new Trojan horse, a virus called “SpamThru”. It infects a computer when you visit a malicious website, or click an email attachment for something neat like a screensaver. It can also explot a security hole and creep right onto your computer without you doing a thing to cause it.
Two years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted that the SPAM problem would be fixed by now. The continued increase of unsolicited emails says that, in short, he was wrong.
Companies like Barracuda Networks, IronPort, and MessageLabs have been working hard to strengthen their junk mail filters. Working right alongside them are email service providers like Yahoo! who are trying to keep inboxes clean using initiatives like Sender ID and DomainKeys Identified Mail.
You can also do your part to keep your holidays hassle free.
The best way to avoid SPAM is to avoid getting on spammers’ lists in the first place. If you already get SPAM, though, you don’t really have that option. Instead, make sure that you install a SPAM filter to protect your computer. eXpurgate is a great – and free – program that helps filter your emails and protect you from viruses that you can download at http://spamfence.net/en/products/expurgate/private/.
After you’ve started using a filter, start taking steps to keep yourself from having more problems. The quickest way to get on a spammer’s list is to use your email address online – anywhere. Instead, give your “real” email address to your friends and family, and use a disposable email address for your online needs. A disposable email address is simply a free email account from a provider like Yahoo! or Hotmail that you can check when you need to (using your filters, of course) and close when you start getting way too much SPAM.
And when you’re doing all that holiday shopping – or signing up for your disposable email address – beware of checkboxes! Often, there’s a checkbox that says “I would like to receive news and updates from…” which gives the list owner the right to give your email address to their affiliates – and once that’s done, those affiliates can do whatever they want with them, including selling the address to spammers.