Spend much time online and you’re likely to come across offers for quality watches at unbeatable prices, tempting offers from lively young ladies or various notes in Chinese that probably aren’t worth the effort to translate. More likely than not, they’re all spam, or unsolicited e-mails, one of the internet’s biggest nuisances.
It’s not uncommon for a person to return from vacation and find his email box 90 per cent full with these messages. Nevertheless, there are some practical steps that can be taken to minimize the volume of spam.
“More than 95 per cent of daily global mail traffic is spam,” says Mr. Sven Karge, an expert with Eco, a German industry association. He recently organized the seventh German anti-spam summit. Thanks to efforts by people like him, only a fraction of the spam messages sent ever find their way into people’s inboxes. “But, in most cases, that’s still enough to annoy,” he said.
BITKOM, another German industry association, recently commissioned a study which showed that 67 per cent of German email users receive at least one spam message a day. Almost a quarter - 24 per cent - reported receiving more than five daily.
Not only does deleting the spam take up valuable time, accidentally opening one of these messages can provide a pathway for dangerous software onto your computer. But what to do about the most troublesome pests of the modern age? “The most practical tip is to not circulate your email address online any more than necessary,” says Jo Bager from c’t, a German computer magazine. For example, a lot of people don’t realize that their email address is on display for the world to see every time they sign up to an online community.
“A lot of these communities offer individualized data security settings,” reports BITKOM. For example, users can dictate that only friends can see their address.
Without such protections robots or crawlers - a special kind of software - can search online, find the address and give it to a spam service’s distributor. If it’s necessary to include an email address online, say in a website’s masthead, include it as a graphic, not text. “That has the advantage that people can read it, but not robots,” said Bager.
Sometimes there’s no way to avoid providing an address to take advantage of a web deal. For instances like that, it’s best to get a second free address, advises the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). If that one gets bogged down with spam, it’s not such a big loss.
Other services allow people to take disposable addresses specifically for testing out new websites. These include sites like www.spamgourmet.com , www.mailexpire.com or www.trash-mail.com.
The only acceptable response to spam is to delete it. If you happen to click one open, never respond to it. A response, says the BSI, signals to a spammer that one of his mails has gone to an active account and serves as a signal to send more.