Ever wonder why there is so much spam in your inbox?
Ever wonder why there is so much spam in your inbox? avatar

Email InboxDo you ever wonder why there is so much spam in your email inbox? The unfortunate truth is that spam – aka unsolicited or ‘junk’ email –  is an unavoidable fact of life if you actively use email on the Web.

Email spam is a growing problem because it is so inexpensive and easy to generate, and it’s difficult for the authorities to identify and hold spammers accountable for their actions.

The good news is there ARE some steps you can take to reduce the amount of unsolicited email you receive.  Before we get to that, it’s important to understand where spam comes from and how those spammers got your email address in the first place.

It’s easy to imagine spam coming from a sketchy character sitting at a computer in a dark room somewhere, but most spam is distributed by computer software.  In fact, spam is increasingly being generated by home computers and office networks that have been infected with viruses.  Millions of infected computers all over the world are part of this spam network, and the people operating those computers have no idea they are part of the network. 

There are efforts in certain parts of the world to clamp down on individuals and companies responsible for spam distribution, but it’s very easy for these companies to relocate or outsource their business to countries that have no legal enforcement regarding spam.

So the first thing we can all do in order to fight the spread of spam is to install and regularly run good antivirus software on our computers.   It’s also a very good idea to do regular device updates  – ensuring the operating system is running the most up-to-date software.  Last and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re using strong passwords – something we covered in a recent blog post titled “10 Password Safety Tips“.

It’s also crucial to understand how spammers got your email address in the first place:

Source #1: The Web
If I want to find information on the Web, the first place I look is Google or Bing.  Search engines find and record information on the Web by using software programs called robots.  Robots scour the web looking for unique combinations of words and sending that information back home (to Google or Bing).

Spammers do pretty much the same thing by using email harvesting robots.  Email is really easy to harvest because each email address is unique and easy to find…all they have to do is look for the @ symbol.

Source #2: Your Friend’s Address Book
Imagine your friend Sally has stored your email address in her address book.  One day, without her knowledge, her computer (or her webmail account) is compromised by a virus. That virus has been programmed to send all the addresses in Sally’s address book back to the network that generated the virus. 

Your email address has now been added – without your knowledge or consent – to a huge list of spam email addresses.  That list can be used in spam campaigns, and it can be sold to other spammers resulting in your email address being on any number of spam lists.

Ok – I’m being spammed.  What can I do?

The first thing I recommend doing is conducting a quick Google or Bing search for your email address.  If your address comes up in search anywhere other than your website, the chances are very good it’s not encrypted – and wide open to being harvested. 

At Black Cap Design we encrypt our clients’ email address links to prevent spam software from harvesting them.  Encryption turns this: “mailto: ” into a bunch of code that is meaningless to spam harvesting programs.  Google is sophisticated enough to be able to decrypt the code, but spam harvesting robots will simply ignore it.

When I find my email address on a website other than my own, I contact the administrator of that site and ask for the address to be removed and replaced with a link to my website.  It only takes a minute and it can take a big bite out of the amount of incoming spam.

There’s nothing you can do to prevent your friends’ or associates’ address books from being compromised but you CAN exercise caution when sharing your email address with ‘strangers’.  It’s a really good idea to have a ‘disposable’ Gmail account that you can share in these situations, until you know the person or company better.  If the disposable account starts getting spammed, you can always delete it and create a new one.

If the horse is already out of the barn and you’re being flooded with spam, there are a few additional things you can do:

  1. Talk with your email host about creating a spam filter.  If you use an email service like Gmail or Live (formerly Hotmail), they have built-in spam filters you can adjust to stem the flow of unsolicited email.
  2. If you’re using email software to manage your mail (such as MS Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird) you can use ‘smart’ email filtering software like MailWasher to delete and bounce spam messages before they even reach your computer.  I have been using MailWasher for many years and I swear by it.

If you are concerned about the amount of spam arriving in your inbox, and would like to discuss possible methods for stemming the flow, give us a call at 705-927-2308 or contact us at .