Spam

  • Fabian Sinner
  • January 18, 2024

Table of content

    Spam

    Spam refers to unwanted communication, usually in the form of emails sent in bulk, that often contain advertising, phishing attempts, or malware. These messages are typically sent without the consent of the recipient and can also appear in social networks, forums or as text messages.

    Spam consumes a lot of resources and can be annoying and potentially lead to security risks. Spam filters and legal regulations attempt to control the occurrence of spam and protect users.

    Where does the name spam come from?

    The name “spam” for unsolicited emails and messages has its origins in a sketch by the British comedy group Monty Python. In a sketch, which aired in the 1970s, spam (a brand of canned meat) is served in every dish in a café, regardless of whether the customers want it or not.

    This excess and intrusiveness in the sketch was metaphorically applied to the flood of unsolicited emails that recipients often receive without having requested them.

    Types of spam

    Spam is not just limited to emails; there are many other types:

    • Email spam: This is the most widespread form of spam. It includes unsolicited emails sent in bulk, often containing advertisements for products or services, but can also include fraudulent content such as phishing attempts.
    • Social media spam: This type of spam occurs on social networks and can take the form of unsolicited messages, comments, posts or friend requests. It is often aimed at redirecting users to certain websites or advertising fake products.
    • SMS spam: Unsolicited or mass text messages, often containing advertising or fraudulent offers. These can be particularly annoying, as they are sent directly to the recipient’s personal cell phone.
    • Spam in forums and comment sections: These are unwanted posts in online forums, blogs, or comment sections of websites. These can consist of advertising, links to dubious websites, or irrelevant content.
    • Search engine spam: This technique is used to artificially boost the search engine rankings of certain websites. It includes methods such as keyword stuffing, hidden text, and manipulated backlinks.
    • Instant messaging spam (IM spam): Similar to SMS spam, but via instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Facebook Messenger. It includes unwanted advertising, fraud attempts, or phishing links.
    • Spam calls: Automated phone calls that play a pre-recorded message. These calls are often used for advertising purposes or fraud attempts.

    How do I recognize unwanted messages?

    If you are not sure whether a message is spam, you can look out for a few signs that often indicate its true nature:

    • Unknown sender: The email comes from an unknown address or company.
    • Misleading subject lines: The subject line seems irrelevant or alarming and is meant to entice you to open the email.
    • Poor spelling and grammar: Many spam emails contain grammatical and spelling errors.
    • Unsolicited offers: The email contains offers for products or services that are not relevant to the recipient.
    • Leverage: The message attempts to convey a sense of urgency, e.g., by threatening to close the account if immediate action is not taken.
    • Attachments or links: The email contains attachments or links that appear suspicious or unrelated to the text.
    • Requests for personal information: The email asks the recipient to disclose personal or financial information.

    Effects of spam

    The effects of spam can be diverse and affect both individuals and organizations. Searching through and deleting those unwnated messages can take a lot of time. This can lead to a significant loss of productivity, especially in professional environments.

    Spam can also contain dangerous content such as malware, viruses, or phishing links. Opening such messages or clicking on links in spam emails can lead to data theft, fraud, or the infection of computer systems.

    Spam consumes storage space in email inboxes and can put a strain on network bandwidth, which can be particularly problematic for companies with limited resources. Companies that unintentionally send spam or whose names are misused in spam messages can also lose credibility and trust with customers.

    Many countries have strict laws against sending spam. Companies that violate these laws can face fines or other legal consequences. In extreme cases, a large amount of spam can affect the functionality of email servers or networks by slowing them down or even crashing them.

    How can spam be avoided?

    Most email services offer integrated spam filters that automatically recognize unwanted emails and move them to a separate folder. The spam filter should be activated and adapted to individual needs. With the help of email filter rules, suspicious emails can be automatically recognized and sorted.

    However, spam folders should be checked regularly to ensure that no important emails have been incorrectly marked as spam. The antivirus software and firewall should also always be up to date to provide protection against harmful content in spam messages.

    You should always be careful when giving out your email address. You should avoid sharing your email address publicly, e.g., on websites or social media. Personal information should never be provided on questionable websites. A separate email address can be used for online registrations or services where spam is expected.

    There are also services for temporary email addresses that are automatically deleted after a short time. Importantly, you should be skeptical of emails from unknown senders, especially if they contain unexpected attachments or links. You should never reply to spam emails, not even to unsubscribe, as this only confirms to the spam senders that your address is active.

    What is the difference to Phishing?

    The main purpose of spam is often to market products or services. In some cases, spam can also be used for fraudulent purposes, but not every spam message has a fraudulent intent. It is sent in large quantities, often to a broad and indeterminate audience, without regard to the interests or wishes of the recipients.

    Phishing is a more specific type of cyberattack in which the sender attempts to obtain confidential information such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, or other sensitive data. The main goal of phishing is to obtain the recipient’s personal or financial information through deception. This information is then used for fraudulent purposes such as identity theft or financial fraud.

    Phishing messages are often designed to appear to come from trusted sources such as banks, social networks, businesses or even friends. They often contain calls to action, such as clicking on a link or entering personal information on a fake website.

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