Originally spam emails got their name from a canned meat product, SPAM, as it was referenced in Monty Python, the iconic British comedy show. Despite its comedic origins, spam is no joke.
Spam, also known as junk mail, can take many forms. However, most often spam refers to unsolicited bulk email. In addition to spam emails, similar messages on social media and instant message services are a form of spamming. Spam emails are nowadays so common that most, if not all, internet users have encountered them in one form or another.
Even if most people recognize these messages as spam, it is enough for only a fraction of them to get fooled as cyber criminals can send out spam messages in bulk. As people get better at recognizing messages as spam, criminals also adapt and develop more nuanced methods for deceiving their victims. Not all spam messages are as obviously fake as the so-called Nigerian prince scams. So do not think that only less informed internet users can fall for spam messages.
As spam emails are the most common type of junk mail, let’s focus on the different ways criminals use email communication to prey on their victims. Knowing the different methods of spam allows you to better recognize junk mail and avoid getting fooled by it.
The goal of phishing emails is to get you to download an attachment file, click a link that takes you to a harmful website or reveal sensitive information to the sender. Phishing messages can be disguised as something that the victim might find interesting, and in many cases, the email looks like it’s coming from a reliable sender. Smishing messages, on the other hand, have much of the same goal but use text and instant messages instead of email.
Malware spam or malspam
As the name suggests, malware spam is used to infect the recipient’s device with malware, such as trojans, spyware or ransomware. The viruses hidden in malware spam can be disguised as attachments, including PDFs, text documents and presentations.
In order to trick you, the senders of spam try to make it seem like you have received a message from a trustworthy and legitimate source. By masking the real sender’s identity, cyber criminals can make spam messages look less suspicious to the recipient. Even if it looks like you have received an email from a well-known authority, social media service, the post office or a bank, always make sure that the message is not fake.
IT support scams
Speaking of disguising the message’s sender, a common method is to make it look like the email is coming from IT support. This type of junk mail can be sent in the name of large companies, such as Apple and Microsoft, claiming that there is some technical issue or your account has been compromised. Your account may be locked if you don’t click a link in the message, or so the message claims. This way cyber criminals can combine a legitimate source with a sense of urgency in order to deceive you. The alarm bells should be ringing especially if IT support asks you for sensitive information, such as passwords and online banking credentials.
Spam emails can take the form of ads as well. Many of us have subscribed to different online newsletters and receive legitimate ads via email daily. If the ad’s offer seems too good to be true, it’s most likely a scam.
Subscription traps are a way to mislead consumers and trick them into making long-term subscriptions. The victim of a subscription trap may not even know they subscribed to something until they receive a bill for their supposed order. The terms of such subscriptions are vague or non-existent, and canceling the subscription is made to be as difficult as possible.
Spam is a common issue for both big and small targets, organizations and individuals. No matter how small someone may look as a potential victim, they can receive spam. By using bulk email, cyber criminals can target large quantities of victims with little effort. On top of that, spamming is cheap, considering the potential returns for the perpetrators. So don’t think that you are not interesting enough as a target of online spamming.
Here are some reasons why both individuals and larger targets should take spam and junk email seriously.
Many internet service providers (ISPs) and email services have ways to filter and block spam. However, this may not be enough and other measures are needed as well. Luckily there are some things you can do to direct junk mail into your spam folder instead and recognize spam that has ended up in your inbox.
Spam is far from the only threat online and you need to be prepared for everything cyber criminals may come up with, whether on mobile or desktop. F‑Secure TOTAL offers all you need to stay safe online. Do your online shopping, browse in private, manage all of your passwords and stream content without worry. Try F‑Secure TOTAL for free today!