- What is SPAM?
- Unsolicited commercial e-mail, commonly known as spam, fills our e-mail inboxes at an increasing rate. Some estimates are that as many as two out of every three e-mails the average Internet user receives is spam. Most is commercial advertising, often for dubious products, get-rich-quick schemes, or quasi-legal services. Spam costs the sender very little to send… most of the costs are paid for by the recipient or the carriers rather than by the sender.
- How did they find me?
- It’s pretty inevitable, actually. Spammers have computer programs that attempt to send e-mail to every common address at any domain they choose. And “common” is pretty broadly defined when you have a computer doing the work. Others use “robots” or “scrapers” to harvest addresses that are listed on the Internet on Web pages, chat rooms and message boards. Others simply buy CDs loaded with addresses purchased from other companies.
- “Purchased from other companies?” What do you mean?
- Have you ordered anything online? Did you fill your e-mail address into a form so that they could contact you about your order? Guess what? They sold your address to someone else. Have you ever used the “send this article (or cartoon, or cool greeting card) to a friend” link? Some friend… you just offered your friend’s e-mail address to the spammers.
- Obviously, you should never buy anything advertised in spam, or follow any links sent in spam.
- So now you know. The only way to avoid spam is to live in a cave in Kentucky.
- It’s okay. I’ll just hit the “remove me from the list” link.
- Bad idea. Remember that many e-mail addresses used by spammers are either harvested from the Internet or generated by a computer algorithm. Because it’s so inexpensive to send spam, a spammer will send out millions of copies to addresses that may not actually exist, hoping that a few will. If you reply to a spammer’s “remove” link, you’ve simply informed them that “they’ve found a live one,” and you’ll get even more spam. Don’t hit “remove.” There’s no point in letting them know you exist.
- So, what do I do?
- Well, a couple of things might help a little. You should avoid the things mentioned above when you can… don’t give your address out any more than you have to, and don’t post it on a Web site unless you know how to encode it so that the scrapers don’t see it (as this site does).
- The district does do some e-mail filtering before anything even reaches a staff member’s inbox. (That’s where the two-thirds number came from, earlier.) So… if there’s anything about the spam that’s consistent (like that it always comes from the same address, maybe), you can forward it to email@example.com. (Obviously, this is for our staff… it won’t help our patrons.) If we can, we’ll add it to the filter list to be blocked.
- You can set up “filters” or “rules” in your e-mail software on your computer. Or move to that cave in Kentucky. Or just hit “delete.” Whatever.
- Good luck.
Viruses and Hoaxes
- So you’ve received an e-mail describing some dire thing that will or is about to happen to you
 because you most certainly have or will get this new virus that will  delete everything on your hard drive if you don’t  send all your money to some poor man in Nigeria whose niece is in the hospital. But maybe that’s okay, because if you just  forward the e-mail to all of your friends,  Bill Gates will send you $500 per message and  a free computer. (I often think it’s too bad that more people don’t read these articles. Helloooo?)
Anyway, computer users these days are called upon to be more and more discerning as they process the things that land in their inbox. If I had to narrow your focus to a single “what to worry about,” it would be this: identity theft. Period. Protect your personal information. All of those e-mails you get about viruses or someone suffering some great misfortune if you don’t pass on their chain letter… all of that is just noise. If your computer breaks, it can be fixed. If someone empties your bank account because you gave them personal information about yourself, that’s a lot harder to remedy. But I digress. This is an article about how to know what to ignore when it comes to those dire warnings passed on to you by your well-meaning friends (or your less-well-meaning spammers). It comes to this: almost all of it is nonsense and can be ignored.
“…but my husband’s cousin’s hairdresser’s IT guy said that…” Yeah. Nonsense. If you’ve got nothing better to worry about, feel free. BUT, please spare everyone else… don’t forward the message on until you’ve done a bit of homework. Here’s where I can help you look smart, because it takes very little time to spot the hoaxes and break the chain.
There are some typical characteristics of hoaxes that make them easy to spot. The first is a request that you should forward the warning to everyone you know (or some variant of that statement). This should raise a red flag that the warning is probably a hoax. No real warning message from a credible source would tell you to send it to everyone you know.
Next, you’ll notice that the warning often contains some technical jargon. For instance, the Good Times hoax claims to put your computer’s CPU in “an nth-complexity infinite binary loop which can severely damage the processor”. The hoax warns you not to read or download anything with the subject “Good Times” because the message is a virus. The first time you read this, it sounds like it might be something real. Of course, there is no such thing as an nth-complexity infinite binary loop and we know that processors are designed to run loops for weeks at a time without damage.
Here’s what anti-virus company F-Secure has to say about it: “Do not forward hoax messages. Hoax warnings are typically scare alerts started by malicious people – and passed on by innocent individuals that think they are helping the community by spreading the warning. Corporate users can get rid of the hoax problem by simply setting a strict company guideline: End users must not forward virus alarms. Ever. It’s not the job of an end user anyway.” Not bad advice. In any case, if you’re still unsure, contact your building technology coordinator.
Want to learn more? Read the 25 Hottest Urban Legends (updated regularly) from Snopes.com.
So what do you do? Start with this. In the form below, enter some text from the e-mail and hit “search”… like the subject of the e-mail, or the first line or something. That’ll search a website called “Snopes,” which is highly regarded for it’s breadth of information regarding Internet hoaxes. Chances are, you’ll find something there and you’ll be able to delete the (nonsense) e-mail with confidence. Or, just Google part of the message. You’ll find a lot of things clear up pretty quickly.