Defining spam is not as easy as it sounds. The Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft and the Direct Marketers Association met and couldn't agree on a definition and neither do most users. After all, one person's annoying pop up is another's ticket to a lower mortgage rate. While the term "spam" has a host of negative connotations it can be important to remember that it isn't all spam for everyone.
WHY AREN'T YOU BLOCKING THIS JUNK?
Believe it or not, just like junk mail you receive at home some people read and or purchase products advertised via e-mail. But there's a larger problem; the blocker programs.
Marking e-mail as spam is not a personal decision. There is no one checking individual messages and deciding what's spam and what isn't. Instead a program is set to "score" messages as they come in by using a rating system. Points are assigned based on various criteria in use in a typical spam message. The program assesses items like whether the sending and receiving addresses match, particular phrases appearing in the message and other header information. When a certain total of "points" is reached, the program places the word "SPAM:" in the message header before it is sent on to the recipient.
Programs aren't intuitive; they interpret lists and conditions literally, which can also block legitimate messages simply because of particular trigger phrases. Imagine blocking every e-mail with the phrase "here is the information you requested" at a university - that could turn into a problem. Instead of blocking, use the marking in the message to filter e-mail to read through later.
Tips for avoiding spam
- Never, ever answer unsolicited e-mail.
By answering you verify that your address is indeed legitimate and that increases the amount of mail you'll receive because spammers and companies share and sell address lists.
- Use multiple e-mail addresses.
While this sounds like a pain, using your work or school (read: owned by your employer or school) address when signing up for mailing lists or purchase information for personal use causes a couple of problems. First, your work or school account becomes clogged with the "junk". When this happens with enough accounts, the costs for maintenance and bandwidth for the hardware can increase as well. (Not to mention trying to find necessary mail amidst all the junk.) The other problem in the case of a work address is that the address and services are in fact owned by the employer. In Wittenberg's case, there is no attempt made to "Big Brother" the messages sent and received. However there are times where the information will be provided to relevant authorities such as an area vice president or government agencies.
- Avoid signing up at sites that promise to reduce the amount of spam you receive.
While that sounds like a nice idea, many of them are just another way to collect e-mail addresses.
- Do not use "services" such as MarketScore.
From www.spywareguide.com: "MarketScore is a proxy service which claims to increase the speed of your internet connection. It runs at startup to ensure all your web connections are routed through MarketScore's proxies. (We did not observe any significant speedup from using the service.) In the small print of the agreement they mention that they can log all your surfing traffic. "
- Do not send chain letters - and tell your friends not to include you when they send them.
Now we've all received them; some of us remember actual paper letters rather than receiving them electronically. We've also learned that dire things don't really happen if we don't forward the message to 10 more people before the end of the week. There's no difference when it comes to electronic chain letters or forwarded messages begging for help, except that now every e-mail address that appears on the message can be picked up for use by spammers. Companies don't give money for chain letters, most of the missing person letters are faked, and there is no one in another country wishing to hide a few million dollars with you. There have also been cases where attachments to these e-mails have contained viruses or URLs to sites that run scripts or programs on your system that can cause more problems than just pop up windows.
- If you need to send e-mail to several people, suppress the list of addresses.
If you use an address list created by the Information Technology Services, only the name of the list appears. These lists can be requested through the myWitt Portal. If you use an address list you've created elsewhere such as in Outlook, the entire list of addresses will appear if you use the To or CC lines. Place the list in the BCC line and the list of addresses won't be readily apparent.
- Avoid making your e-mail address public information on web sites.
This does include work related information, and that's one reason why departments at Wittenberg have a "generic" e-mail address to use on the web. The mail can be directed to a list of people without clogging up personal accounts. Spammers DO use programs called "bots" to cull e-mail addresses from web pages. (These addresses are different from the "whole department" addresses. If you need information please contact the Solution Center.
Of course there are also guides out there for marketers to use - to avoid the filters used by companies to try to cut down on the glut. For example, legitimate companies who use "e-zines" are trying to find ways AROUND spam filters so their readers actually receive information for which they asked.
What's an urban legend? How about a virus hoax? How do I know whether or not its real?
- There are a few places you can check to find out whether or not a message is a known hoax:
Where do we get our information about the latest viruses and their behaviors?
How does my e-mail address keep getting on these lists?
Your email address gets on these lists in a number of ways. Sign up for something legitimately and your address can be sold or shared. Work addresses are easier; even if there is no "publicly" available list, it isn't difficult to start figuring out the naming convention that is used.
Sources used for this article and additional information
This document last reviewed April 26, 2013.