Spam, Phishing and What Never to Do

In my last article I talked about poor password hygiene being my second-biggest technology pet peeve. 

So, what’s No. 1 on my list? The abysmal habits surrounding spam and phishing emails.

I cannot tell you how many times in my career someone has said these words to me: “I got an email from FedEx about a delivery. I wasn’t expecting anything, and never deal with FedEx, but I opened it and clicked on the file anyway. Is this bad?” 

Yes! Unequivocally!

I don’t think I will ever understand what makes someone open an email they know they shouldn’t have received. Or even what makes someone open an email he’s suspicious about. And the worst to me is a person who receives a suspicious email, opens it, something “weird” happens to his computer, and then he sends it to a co-worker to see if the same “weird” thing happens to him. 

It’s insanity!

Because this topic is so important, so broad, and mostly visual, we’re breaking it down across multiple articles as well as showcasing more information online. Go to Avrem.com/spam for a deeper look at what we’re talking about, including images and screenshots.

So what is spam? The term spam as it relates to email comes from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch in which chanting of the word Spam (as in the food product) overrides the other dialogue, becoming unrelenting noise. Today it’s used colloquially for any type of unwanted email.

But not all spam is created equal and for the purposes of this and future articles, we’re going to break spam down into three main categories. Understanding the different types goes hand in hand with how you should deal with it.

The first category is what we’ll call “bulk email.” Store ads, newsletters, coupons – it’s all stuff you may have, at one point, signed up for (knowingly or unknowingly) that comes from a legitimate source.  That last part is key. 

Good spam filtering products do have the capability to filter this stuff out but because it’s coming from known good sources and the contents of the email are benign; they slip through even when bulk-mail filtering features are turned on. 

Plus we, as IT consultants, usually assume you want mail like this.  Our focus is on keeping the bad stuff out. Filtering out your weekly store ad crosses a line into censorship and I personally don’t feel comfortable making these kinds of decisions on behalf of our clients. 

We recommend dealing with this by going directly to the source and unsubscribing, whether through a link at the bottom of the page or contacting the vendor directly.

If you’re being inundated regularly, this can be tedious and time consuming but it does solve the root of the problem and once under control, it’s easy to maintain going forward. 

The second I receive any kind of bulk email that doesn’t provide any value to me, I unsubscribe from it and that goes a long way to keeping my email accounts clutter free. 

There are laws to follow when it comes to sending these types of emails and responsible corporations follow those laws by giving you the option to easily unsubscribe (although some make it easier than others). 

At the end of the day, if you’re on a list and simply can’t get removed from it, I’ve found a quick FTC complaint usually takes care of the issue.  You can do that by going to FTCComplaintAssistant.gov.

Next issue, we’ll get into “true spam” and how to deal with it.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.