Spam is Down, But You Still Need to Protect Yourself

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eHow Tech Blog

You know the drill: Every time you open your email program, you need to wade through a dozen spam messages for every useful, important, or personal email. Wait – that certainly used to be true, but are we still being overrun with spam?

My personal experience tells me no. In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a significant drop in unwanted mail. There was a time when I might have had more than a dozen pieces of spam waiting for me each morning when I first turned on my PC, and more would flow in throughout the day. This morning I had just one piece of electronic junk mail. And that’s pretty typical.

Apparently it’s not just me. Security company Kaspersky recently published its 2012 Spam Report, and their surprising conclusion is that spam has hit a five year low.

Why on earth would the volume of spam be going down, not up? After all, a few years ago analysts predicted that by 2012, people would be able to fill Olympic-sized swimming pools with the spam they got every morning. What happened?

There are a few reasons that spam is declining, at least in the short run. First of all, spam is down because there’s less payoff in sending it. Anti-spam protection is virtually ubiquitous now, with pretty much every email app and webmail service using spam filtering to block the majority of junk mail before it even reaches you.

Moreover, Kaspersky contends that spammers are moving from annoying you with unsolicited email to taking advantage of inexpensive advertising – banner ads, context-based advertising, and social media ads, just to name a few.  In fact, travel and tourism spam has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth, replaced by electronic coupon services.

All that said, spam isn’t gone completely – if nothing else, we all still get spam for illegal products, phishing mail, and other fraud. In other words, illegal stuff will continue to be sent via spam. Or, as my tautologically inclined daughter would say, “illegal stuff is illegal.”  So how can you protect yourself from spam and minimize the amount of junk piling up in your inbox?

For starters, be sure that you are indeed using a spam filter. In most cases it’ll be on by default, but some programs and webmail sites require you to throw a switch to enable automatic filtering.

Take care of your bacon. A lot of mail that you might think of as spam isn’t unsolicited at all – it might be newsletters you’ve signed up for or mail from a store you have an existing relationship with. That kind of mail is sometimes called bacon, and it’s easy to deal with. You can unsubscribe by following the link at the bottom of the message, and that’ll get it out of your life quickly and easily.

Never respond to unsolicited email in any way, shape, or form. If you get mail for a store or site you don’t already have a relationship with, don’t follow a link or try to buy something. Just throw it away. And remember that it might be a phishing attempt. So my usual advice holds: If you get mail from your bank asking you to log in, don’t click a link in the message. Instead, type the bank’s address into your browser manually.

Run some sort of anti-malware software. Whether it’s a free program like Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG Internet Security, or a commercial app like Kaspersky Internet Security or Norton Antivirus, this is your last line of defense if you accidentally trigger malware in spam.

What’s your current experience with spam? Do you see a decline, like me, or do you have more than ever? Let me know here in the comments or ping me on Twitter — I’d love to hear from you.

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