Spam emails are a massive problem in terms of the annoyance that they cause but more importantly in terms of the viruses and malware that they often contain.
The people and companies behind these spam emails are very clever and are using quite a few different tactics in order to try and fool the recipient into opening the email – often with the ultimate aim of infecting the recipients machine with a nasty virus.
First of all it is important to define a spam email. For the purposes of this article a spam email is an email that is completely unsolicited and comes with some ulterior motive. Whilst marketing emails are often considered to be spam that is generally not the case. All legitimate marketing emails will have an unsubscribe link bear the bottom allowing you to opt out of receiving any more emails from the same company. The omission of this unsubscribe option indicates that an email is unsolicited spam.
How to recognise a malicious spam email
Now that we have a clear definition of a spam email we need to know how to recognise them when they arrive. This is the part where a lot of people get caught out. The attachments and links contained in spam emails have to be opened in order for the system to become compromised. The senders of these spam emails know this and work very hard to try and trick the recipient into thinking that the email is safe to open.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when dealing with emails in order to determine which ones are spam and should therefore be deleted rather than opened.
Make sure you know the sender
One of the most basic tricks a spammer will use is to spoof the sender of the email. In light of this fact it is important to take a note of the “from” name on an email can easily be falsified. Just because an email appears to be from someone you know it doesn’t mean that it is safe. It isn’t as easy to spoof the “from” email address though and hovering over the “from” name on any email should reveal the email address which will often highlight a spoofing attempt.
Spam emails, especially malicious ones, tend to have no content or suspicious content. When opening emails always look out for spelling mistakes or incorrect information as this is a clear sign that the email is suspicious.
Be wary of attachments
Attachments are the most common way in which viruses and malware are spread via email so you should always be extremely wary of them. Firstly you should only open attachments in emails when you are certain that you know the sender, you are expecting the email from them and you are expecting the attachment.
Some of the most common attachment types used for transmitting viruses include zip, word, excel and html files. If you receive any of these types of files then you should be especially careful in deciding whether or not to open them.
Many spammers will send emails that appear to be from reputable companies such as PayPal, the Tax office or well-known courier companies. In reality it is quite rare for companies to send out attachments unless there is a personal communication channel has already been started between an employee and a customer. For this reason any attachments received from generic company email addresses should be treated as suspicious by default.
Always be careful when following links in emails
Another common way of infecting a recipient’s computer is to send an email that looks like it is from a reputable company such as PayPal and then inserting a link to malicious website. These links are often masked to show a fake address. These suspicious links can often be unmasked simply by hovering over the link and looking at the real destination url.
Following all of these tips should keep you safe from malicious content in spam emails and remember it is always best to be over cautious than under cautious because spam emails are one of the most common ways in which viruses and malware are spread.