Spam – Is All of it Created Equally?

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Even though e-mail has been one of the most common routes for virus infection for the past 10 years many plenty of people are still opening attachments from people they don’t now. Seconds later a virus is installed and then the trouble really begins.

If the infection that can come from some of these e-mails were to stop at your just your computer, the overall damage would be minimal but unfortunately many viruses are designed to spread over the Internet without any further action on your part and this can infect other computers, which is a much larger problem.

One of the most popular ways for Internet service providers or e-mail service providers to block certain messages is to tell the e-mail client which e-mails are spam and which are not. This is easy enough to do by clicking the “this is junk mail (or SPAM)” button on your e-mail client.

While this makes it easy for you to inform your ISP or ESP that an e-mail is spam, there also some disadvantages to this method. For example, many people use this method to try and unsubscribe from lists that they previously subscribed to. By tagging these e-mails as spam it unfairly tags the sender as a spammer, which is not accurate since you signed up for the e-mails to begin with.

It’s easy to identify about 80% of the emails that come into our email boxes. We can easily identify which are SPAM and which are real. The problem is deciding about the remaining 20% of the e-mails. Whether these emails are wanted, or whether they represent spam, is a much more difficult proposition. You might not want a particular email message, but that hardly makes it spam. You may not want to receive political cartoons from your uncle, but receiving them hardly constitutes spam and reporting these e-mails as spam would be unfair.

You can use something called “authentication” which is really nothing more than getting someone to tag the message as being from a trusted or desired source. If you know the source is not going to spam you, you’re much more likely to open the e-mail that you receive and much less likely therefore to get a virus or other infection. One method of authentication that you might have seen is ‘sender ID’. This requires that every e-mail have a sender ID attached to it so you know immediately if an email comes from a trusted source or whether it does not.

Email postage is another method of authentication. You’ve probably responded to these e-mails in the past when you’ve signed up for an e-mail list or to receive e-mails from a particular website; once you do, you immediately receive an e-mail asking you to confirm before you’re placed on their email list. This allows you to confirm that you did ask for e-mail from the site and that you will want and welcome the e-mail that you receive.

Some researchers have estimated that as many as 70% of the e-mails we receive are spam while others argue that it’s less than 50%. Regardless of what the percentage is, the reality is that most of us receive a number of e-mails every day that we don’t want, that are not desirable to us and that in some cases can be dangerous. Whatever method ends up being used most successfully in the future will hopefully be the one to decrease these unwanted e-mails.

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