It is a daily occurrence for many; spam. Unfortunately, it is a widespread problem and a very lucrative way for attackers and marketers to reach people. But what exactly is spam and is it safe to open? In this article, we answer those questions.

What is spam?

The answer to the question: What is Spam? is easy. Spam is defined as any unwanted, unsolicited digital communication sent in large quantities. Although e-mail is the most typical form, spam can also be transmitted via text messages or social media for example. It often includes advertisements, scams, phishing attempts, or other malicious content. Here are some common forms of spam:

  1. Email spam: This is perhaps the most well-known form of spam. It involves the mass distribution of unwanted emails, often containing promotional messages, dubious offers, or malicious links and attachments.
  2. SMS spam: Spam sent via text messages is becoming increasingly prevalent. Users may receive unsolicited marketing messages, contest alerts, or fraudulent offers, typically sent en masse.
  3. Social media spam: Social media platforms are not immune to spam. Users may encounter fake accounts, comments, misleading links, or unsolicited messages promoting products or services.

The negative impact

Spam poses numerous challenges and negative consequences for both individuals and businesses:

  1. Loss of productivity: Spam wastes valuable time and resources, as individuals and employees must sift through an influx of unwanted messages to find legitimate ones.
  2. Privacy invasion: Spam often seeks to collect personal information for malicious purposes, posing risks to individuals’ privacy and security.
  3. Financial scams: Many of these messages attempt to deceive individuals into disclosing sensitive financial information, leading to potential identity theft, fraud, or financial loss.
  4. Reputation damage: Businesses that unknowingly distribute spam or fall victim to spam-related attacks may suffer reputational damage, undermining customer trust and brand credibility.
  5. Network congestion: The sheer volume of spam can strain email servers, networks, and communication platforms, affecting their overall performance and reliability.

Why is spam being sent?

By understanding the nature of spam, its different forms, and the motivations behind it, individuals and businesses can better protect themselves and develop effective strategies to combat this pervasive issue. Various percentages are mentioned but it looks like 85% of all email traffic is spam. Only 15% are legitimate communications. Despite the fact that there seems to be a decrease, the percentage remains extremely high.

Although spammers can buy legitimate mailing lists, they are more likely to search the Internet for publicly available e-mail addresses. They can also create their own contact lists by combining names and domains, for example [email protected] or [email protected]. Spam is being sent because of various reasons, the main reasons are listed below:

  1. Financial gain: Many spammers engage in illicit activities to generate profits through fraudulent schemes, deceptive advertising, or the distribution of malware.
  2. Information theft: Some spammers aim to collect personal and financial information that they can exploit for identity theft or sold on the black market.
  3. Malicious intent: Certain spammers seek to spread malware, viruses, or other malicious software that can compromise systems or steal sensitive data.
  4. Marketing and promotion: Some individuals or organizations resort to spamming as a means to reach a large audience with unsolicited marketing messages, often bypassing legal and ethical boundaries.

A new form of spam

With the rise of social media, we as a society have encountered a ‘new type’ of harassment: social media spam. Social media platforms have become fertile ground for spammers seeking to exploit user engagement. Here are some common types of social media spam:

  • Fake Accounts: Spammers create fake accounts, often using stolen identities or automated bots, to distribute spam messages, engage in fraudulent activities, or spread misinformation.
  • Spam Comments: Social media posts and comments are prime targets for spammers seeking to promote products, services, or links. These comments may contain misleading information or fraudulent offers.
  • Misleading Content: Spammers share content on social media platforms that is designed to mislead or deceive users. This includes clickbait headlines, false news stories, or sensationalized information meant to attract attention and generate traffic.

Frequently asked questions

Is spam the same as phishing?

Because spammers rely on volume, they produce and send the same message to everyone in their contact list, hoping someone will click on it. The content of spam e-mails is often an advertisement for a product or service with the recipient’s contact information to make a purchase. This may be for a legitimate product or service, but when it is not, it may be a phishing attack. So a spam message is not necessarily a phishing attack. On the other hand, phishing is a form of spam, but with malicious intent.

How does spam affect me?

Spam is a disaster. Some 62 billion spam e-mails are sent out every day. It is boring and clogs up inboxes. In addition consumes bandwidth, causes delays on servers, and uses up space on hard drives and in memory. And it is safe to say that it has become an inevitable part of everyday life. It also reduces employee productivity because employees have to read, evaluate and delete messages. Spam e-mails can be dangerous because opening them, clicking on links, or downloading files can infect your device with a virus or other types of malware.
Companies face higher risks and higher costs due to increasingly complex email delivery tactics. Separating spam from unsolicited bulk mail is increasingly difficult and poses the same problems. Receiving, processing, categorising, and deleting spam and unwanted e-mail exhausts system and human resources and reduces the quality of service.

Is it safe?

E-mail is one of the simplest and most practical methods of exchanging information and data. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to receive material or e-mails with potentially dangerous attachments or dubious comments.
While some spam e-mails can be useful, such as e-mails sent for commercial purposes, others are dangerous and try to harm you.
Opening spam is not necessarily unsafe. E-mails are essentially text or HTML-based documents (web pages). Opening an e-mail should be safe in that respect. Even if you click on a link or react, there is not necessarily anything wrong. It depends purely on what the aim of the attacker is. If he wants to get hold of your login data, he will probably send you to a phishing website. If you click on a link but do not enter any data, there is no problem. However, if you click on a link and download a file, this can cause problems.

Train your employees in recognising spam and phishing emails through cybersecurity awareness training.