In the distant 1978, the world witnessed an extraordinary event – the birth of the first spam email. If you already knew that, I’m impressed. If you didn’t and you’re quite shocked, I’m with you. Although it wasn’t referred to as spam at first, the email was sent by Gary Thuerk, a marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation, to several hundred users presenting information about open houses where people could check out or purchase the computers. And now, forty years later, our inboxes are heavily bombarded with spam emails promising great holiday offers, informing you that you’ve won the lottery or simply asking you to “click here”. However, far from being a rather innocent, email marketing tool, spam emails have transitioned into a dangerous attack vector for cyber criminals, aiming to hijack your device and extort money, information or sensitive data.
The Evolution of Spam Emails
Spam hardly needs an introduction. It encompasses everything from ads for products or services, money scams, malware, phishing and so on. Nowadays, everyone who owns a smartphone or computer has experienced the frustration of receiving one of these random, sleazy and quite often weird emails. However, even though spam emails have been around for so long, they still seem to work. Spammer techniques have evolved to avoid new spam filters and thus, those messages still reach hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, many of whom fall for the them.
With the growth of the Internet and online platforms, spam has evolved from email messages to mobile texts and social media spam. Indeed, back in the day, email addresses were easy to harvest from website subscriptions and people were more willing to give them away. Eventually people got sick of irrelevant messages. And as email filters became more and more sophisticated, spammers had to find new targets and creative ways to get their messages across. Moving on to texts messages, spammers plagued mobile phones with unwanted ads or texts – the last one I got was about collecting my tax refund. What’s yours?
Nowadays, it harder than ever to obtain someone’s email or mobile number (unless they willingly give it, of course), so the prime targets for spam are social media accounts. Many of us have been followed by a fake account – a fake online identity used for purposes of deception – which send us texts and automatically comments on our posts (e.g. “Nice photo. Please check out X by following this link [link] or Please check you DM when you can).
How to Handle Suspicious Messages
Spam is cheap to send and it still works, so cyber criminals will continue to use it. Therefore, it’s important to understand how to recognize a suspicious email/message and approach it with caution. Here are some of our tips:
- DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINKS (unless you’re 100% sure they are legit)
- Use caution when opening any email attachments (attachments are often used as part of phishing scams).
- Avoid downloading any programs/software on your computer
- If the email is from someone you know (e.g. colleague or friend), but it still looks suspicious, make sure you double-check they actually sent it (by giving them a call).
- Make sure you turn on the privacy mode on your social media accounts, so you can control who’s following you. This can help to shield you from fake accounts and their dodgy messages.
By Elizabeth Nikolova