Spam

Spam is unwanted messages that are mostly sent electronically. The delivery takes place without the recipient’s request. Mostly it is advertising content. There are various types of spam, such as email spam or spam on social networks. Those affected can contact the designated contact points and get help.

Spam detection

Spam has many characteristics by which to identify it. Corresponding signs in an email should encourage caution. In order to protect yourself from damage caused by spam, abnormalities in an email should intuitively result in attachments not being opened, for example.

Solution

In spam e-mails, no salutation is usually used, but phrases such as “Dear Customer” or “Dear Sir” are used, since the senders do not have the full names of the recipients. Professional companies, on the other hand, have the customer’s full name and use it to address them. Therefore, the salutation is often sufficient as an indication to recognize spam mail.

Contents

As a rule, the texts of spam messages are written in poor English or they are grammatically incorrect translations created using an online tool. They are very different from real company news. Even English-speaking companies like PayPal or Amazon write their messages to German-speaking customers in good German.

key terms

Especially in the early days of spam, terms of a vulgar nature were often used, or some from the medical field. The best known are advertising emails for Viagra. In order to circumvent spam filters, a corresponding word is also often modified. Alternative spellings would be VIAGRA, V!agra, Vi@gr@ or VIAGRA.

Attachment

Attachments are a danger that spam emails pose. Nowadays, the goal of such emails is, among other things, to cause damage to the recipient. An attachment opened by the recipient may contain malware.

Files like .pif, .exe, .xls, .ppt and .docs are launched with a single click. If an attachment is opened, the malicious program is executed immediately. For example, there is malware that is used to spy on the user and find out passwords. Phishing can also be initiated via attachments.

Spam

Mail-Body

A feature of spam is the fact that spam emails have an entire HTML body. As a result, extremely large fonts or font colours can be used. The entire mail is much more colourful and eye-catching than “normal” mail.

Sender and reply address

If the sender pretends to be a company employee, the sender’s e-mail address should be checked. There are often cryptic sections with common endings such as @aol.com, and @hotmail.de. However, it can also happen that friends have become victims of attacks and their e-mail addresses are misused as senders. Attachments or links from known senders should therefore not be opened if there is even a slight doubt as to the authenticity of the content. Sometimes it should be questioned whether this friend would actually send you an e-mail in this way, with this language style and this salutation etc.

Links

Spam messages usually contain at least one link. Clicking on this shows the sender that the recipient’s address is still being actively used. The result can be increased spam messages. Another task can be to lead the recipient to a customer site. However, the unsolicited sending of such advertising emails is prohibited and punishable by law. The links can also lead to sites where there is a high risk of coming into contact with malware.

Ideally, links should not be clicked on. However, a spam sender also tricks link texts in order to animate the recipient. There may be a difference between the link text and the actual URL. Before a link is clicked, the mouse can be held over it. Depending on the browser setting, the actual URL is then displayed at the bottom. In the case of spam messages, this address is easily recognizable as dubious because it makes little sense and does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about an actual company.

The ending also reveals a lot, because many of these addresses are registered abroad and their address ends with .ru for Russia, for example. Images can also be used as links. The same applies here: check the target URL before you click on it.

types of spam

Spam messages are not only sent via email but can also be sent as personal messages via social networks or Skype. Even with verbal communication on the phone, unwanted messages can appear.

E-Mail-Spam

  • Unsolicited bulk email

This is the most popular type of email spam. These are e-mails that are sent to as many recipients as possible. Most of these messages contain marketing campaigns, but inflammatory and proselytizing spam messages also fall under this category.

  • Unsolicited commercial email

These e-mails consist of commercial content, some of which are only sent to individual recipients. Typical here are dubious, cheap-appearing offers for sex, sexual enhancers or illegal online gambling casinos.

  • Collaterals Spam, Backscatter

In this case, non-delivery notifications are generated and sent to a third, completely uninvolved e-mail address. This is determined in advance by the actual sender as the sender’s address.

Search engine spamming

The attempt is made to positively manipulate the evaluation algorithm of a search engine through targeted entries on third-party or own websites and thus achieve the best possible ranking in the search results.

Phone-Spam

Spam disrupts both communication via the Internet telephone and via mobile phones. If a person concerned picks up the Internet telephone, then audio data is automatically imported. Cell phone spam involves sending unwanted text messages or making phone calls. Another variation is ping calls. These usually only last a few seconds and want to request a callback, which is then very expensive for the caller.

Social networks

Spam in social networks mainly uses the search options of the networks in order to reach specific target groups or individuals. There are also programs that search for public profiles on social networks. A contact request is made to them so that they can then send messages. Fan sites or fan groups are another easy way to send spam messages.

The messages then usually contain a link that redirects to pornographic websites, advertises products or infects the computer of the person concerned. One scam is sending messages in the name of Facebook Security. Here, the accusation is used that the recipient has violated guidelines and he should confirm his profile via a link. The link leads to a phishing site. The requested data does not go to Facebook but to scammers. In addition to name, e-mail address and password, credit card numbers, among other things, are also requested.

Spam via instant messaging

Spam is also used with instant messaging services such as MSN. Account names are often written on the Internet to enable others to contact them. This means that fraudsters can also get the name and contact the person. An example is the message “Sure you did not upload these photos?” followed by a link. The recipient ends up on a phishing page where he is supposed to enter data.

Spreading Spam

Spam messages are not usually sent from spammers’ servers. Infected or remote-controlled servers are used for this. This affects poorly administered workstation computers, but also private computers. Another possibility offered to spammers is sending via providers abroad. In these countries there is a very low risk of prosecution or the operators ignore complaints and have the respective spammer pay them for it.

origin of the data

App Store for Android

Spammers can build apps that are quick to program and make people buy them. Since you have to enter the correct name and e-mail address when buying an app on Google Play, spammers get access to a large database.

Trojan apps on smartphones

Trojan apps, which usually have a good rating, access the entire address list of the mobile phone and forward the data over the Internet. If the phone is synchronized with a computer, the data from the PC is also forwarded.

Social networks

With social networks like Facebook, it is possible that third parties offer apps. Registered app developers can access Facebook users’ data even if they don’t have an app installed. Since it is possible to pose as a developer, the spammers have a huge database of names and email addresses at their disposal. If an app is actually installed, the user must agree to the data transfer.

data leaks

Time and again, data leaks occur at well-known companies, but also at cloud services. At these points, spammers have access to a large part of the database. In addition, internal employees usually have access to the data and sell it to spammers as soon as the financial offer is right.

Avoid spam and help

Spam filters are a very popular and efficient anti-spam measure. Another option is to create a temporary email address that you use whenever a service asks for an email when logging on. In order to protect your contacts from spam, it usually makes sense not to address e-mails that are sent to a large number of contacts to any recipients and to enter the contacts in the BCC field first. This prevents all recipients from seeing all addresses. It is important not to reply to emails that appear suspicious. This confirms the existence and regular use of this email address, which could lead to increased spam. Since January 2007, complaints have been accepted by the Internet complaints office of the Eco association.

Impact of Spam

Spam causes considerable damage to the worldwide communication system. The additional amounts of data result in considerable processing effort. Furthermore, reading and sorting out spam is expensive, spam filters have to be purchased and maintained, and each transmitted byte of spam has its own costs since Internet service providers usually bill their lines according to the amount of data transmitted.

According to a 2009 study, 100 billion hours of work and 33 billion kilowatt hours of energy are used to view and delete 62 trillion spam emails.

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