The Woe of Junk Email

Email

Junk email - or Spam - is a blight on the Internet. It is the unwanted clutter that takes all the joy out of checking your mail. To add insult to injury, spam is often a vector for malicious attacks against individuals and businesses.

More than a personal nuisence, spam negatively affects the entire Internet.

In this article, we will take a closer look at spam, including the research being done to combat it. Also, we will show you how to shield yourself from spam.

All About Spam

Junk email is usually of two types: marketing or manevolent.

Marketing spam is when a business tries to sell you a product or service, and you have not subscribed to their mailing list or given permission to send you email.

Manevolent spam is when a spammer intentionally tries to do you or your computing device harm. This can include, identity theft, disruptive behaviour and attempting to extort money from you by holding your privacy or information hostage.

More than half of world email traffic is spam, according to SecureList[1]. SpamCop, a free service which allows users to report junk email, has received over 100 million reports in the last year[2].

Radicati Group estimates that over 200 billion emails are sent each day[3].

A Picture of Global Spam (Graph)

Email Harvesting

So how do spammers get your email address? There are many ways this can happen:

  • Someone you have sent email is 'hacked' and their address book contents stolen
  • A business with your details shares your information with another business
  • Automated 'robots' are used to find email addresses from Internet forums and publications
  • You are enticed by the prospect of prizes, or by fraud to share your details with the spammer

Research

The scurge of junk email has not gone unnoticed by the tech community. It is an ongoing field of research. A variety of solutions have been proposed.

One of the more creative proposals involves the use of virtual 'stamps'. An idea that appears to have it's origins back in 1992[4], the stamp is not purchased as in a traditional postage system. Rather, the stamp requires a kind of complex puzzle to be solved by the sending computer, for each recipient of the email.

If the sender is already in your address book, no need to check the stamp. Otherwise, you can require that email from unknown senders has the stamp checked.

The time cost of creating the stamp might only be a few seconds. Whilst this is okay for a single email, if you are trying to send junk to thousands of receipients, that few seconds per email could easily add up to hours, days or weeks. Bulk spamming no longer looks so profitable.

Other avenues to stopping the junk include the development of statistical methods, black lists, strengthening the infrastructure that carries email and using the law.

Shield Yourself

There are some simple rules you can follow to help stop spam:

  • Check that your email provider or client software has a spam filter, and that it is turned on.
  • Be careful with whom you share your details and take the time to read their privacy policy.
  • Report spam (for example, using spamcop.net); the more people who take action, the more of an impact we will have as a community.
  • Avoid responding to spam or clicking 'unsubscribe' links - this simply confirms that your email address is a valid target.
  • Don't post your email address in discussion forums or other public places. If you must, disguise it from robots - for example: joe bloggs AT nowhere dot com.
  • Only share your main email with friends and co-workers. Create a dummy account for registrations and subscriptions. If this account starts receiving junk, you can always delete the account and start over.
    There are plenty of free email providers you can use for this purpose.
  • Use a safe password to make your account more difficult to crack.
  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up-to-date with the latest security updates.

Tech savy users can consider using a custom domain name. By having your own domain name, you can create multiple 'alias' email addresses and hand those out instead of your main address.

Final Word

Junk email is at plague proportions and has a substantial cost to the community. Research into junk email has already helped us to stop the scurge.

You can contribute to the fight by following a few simple tips. You might not rid yourself completely of spam, but you can have a big impact.

References

  1. Spam and phishing in Q1 2017 (Securelist.com, 2017)
    https://securelist.com/spam-and-phishing-in-q1-2017/78221/
    accessed 22 June 2017
  2. Statistics on Spam trends (SpamCop.net, 2017)
    https://www.spamcop.net/spamstats.shtml
    accessed 22 June 2017
  3. Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019 (Radicati Group, 2015)
    http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Email-Statistics-Report-2015-2019-Executive-Summary.pdf
    accessed 22 June 2017
  4. Pricing via Processing or Combatting Junk Mail (Dwork, C., Naor, M, 1992)
    http://www.hashcash.org/papers/pvp.pdf
    accessed 22 June 2017

Follow on Twitter Follow on Facebook My YouTube Channel

Copyright © 1999-2017 Joshua Hawcroft, All Rights Reserved.
Social media icons by vecteezy.com.