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Hi, everyone. I’m Leo Notenboom for askleo.com. One of the, I’ll just call them the “angrier” kinds of comments and questions that I often get relate to spam and why there is so much of it and what are we supposed to do about it and kind of a “get off my lawn” kind of voice is what I hear.
Why can’t we do something about it? Why can’t we track down the spammers? Why can’t we make them stop? It’s a complicated situation and before I get to the answers to some of those questions, I do want to summarize my bottom line recommendation for how you and I and pretty much everybody who’s faced with spam, should be dealing with it.
And that’s actually pretty simple. Never click on links in spam. Never open attachments contained in spam. Never reply to spam and never try to unsubscribe from spam because those aren’t unsubscribe links; those are links that will end up getting you more spam.
Instead, what you should be doing is simply marking spam as spam in your email interface or your email program, letting it move to the spam folder, letting your email program or email interface manage spam for you so that it learns better over time, what is and what is not spam to you and then, honestly, get on with your life. There’s nothing more you can do.
There are folks who believe it is important to forward spam to some kind of reporting address – that there are places that you can report spam. And while there are such places, my opinion is that it’s a total waste of time – for two reasons.
One, as we’ll see in a minutes, stopping spam is really, really hard in the current environment. And second, there’s tons of people already getting spam that are either already forwarding it to those addresses or to be honest, the people behind those addresses and those addresses themselves, they’re getting all the spam already so there’s really no point in sending them more.
So, why is it so hard to stop spam? Well, it’s hard to conceptualize but there are thousands upon thousands of spammers. Hundreds of thousand. Heck, maybe even millions of people out there actively sending spam or causing spam to be sent. Now, there has been action. Every year or two, we hear about some major spam sending organization getting taken down.
What that really means is that the individuals at the head of the organization stopped, maybe some technology is interrupted. Some bot nets are taken down but the bottom line is that some small percentage of the people out there sending spam are indeed caught and are indeed stopped from sending more spam.
The problem? Each of those is a drop in the bucket. There is so much spam coming from so many different places that stopping one, even a semi-large organization sending spam really makes no tangible difference to folks like you and me.
We still end up getting bucket loads of spam. There are two major reasons why spam continues to be such a problem and why spam is so hard to stop. First, you might not realize this but you might be the spammer. And I say that not in any intentional way, like you’re intentionally sending spam, although you can stop forwarding things to me.
Those, I mark as spam because I didn’t ask for them. But if your machine is infected with malware one of the more common pieces of malware turns your machine into a spam sending bot, a machine that is under remote control from any of a number of different places that is causing your machine to be the source of spam.
It’s causing your machine to send spam so that whenever is traced back, it’s traced back to you. And that means that it’s almost impossible to go back any further. Tracing spam in and of itself is not enough. It’s the bot nets, it’s the individuals controlling these bot nets that then end up having to be discovered somehow.
And when there is a large takedown of spam of any sort, it’s typically the bot net controllers, the machines and the individuals behind those controllers that are using your machine and the machines of others to send spam but again there are so many and so many different ways to avoid detection, that it’s almost an impossible task.
Another reason that it is so difficult to stop spam is simply that it’s global, it’s coming from all sorts of different places, different countries and much as we in the United States might like to sort of feel otherwise sometimes, the U.S. is not he world’s police; our laws don’t apply everywhere and that what means is that while spam is absolutely illegal here it may not be in other countries.
On top of that, when the spammers are originating out of some other foreign countries, that means in order for us to try and stop the spam, we have to work with those other countries, those other countries often have other priorities. They don’t have the resources or they simply don’t care about a problem that we’re having over here that while they are, perhaps, the originators of are not seeing themselves.
So, it gets very complicated, very quickly. It’s not to say that there aren’t people actively trying to do things to stop spam it’s just a much more complicated problem, a much more complex infrastructure than I think most people realize. Now, the bottom line for spam, to be honest, is that the reason it exists at all is because it works. And by that I mean, even if one in a million or one in ten million emails causes someone to by a spam advertised product or get infected by a phishing attempt or have their identity compromised because they fell for a phishing attempt, spam has worked.
Sending spam is free. They can send millions of messages at no cost whatsoever so all it takes is for one in a million, one in ten million to actually work and then the entire concept of spamming continues to work. Yes, I know you’d think by now that most people would understand that this is spam and you should not do these things, they don’t.
It’s just that spammers are getting better and not everybody is as aware of the issues as you might think. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this video; one of the reasons I talk about spam a lot on Ask Leo! Because it is a process of continuing education for everybody who’s involved with email.
A bottom line is that it is unrealistic to expect any change any time soon. The fight continues. Like I said, people are looking for spammers and occasionally spammers are getting caught. There are issues with technology that yes, it would be nice if we could change the way email works.
The problem is that to do that we have to change every email provider and every email client on the planet. That’s not something that would ever happen overnight. The current solutions or infrastructure that’s been added to help combat spam, well it has helped to combat spam.
Things would be worse if it were not for some of the techniques that are in place today. The problem is of course they aren’t perfect. They still let spam through especially the spammers get more sophisticated. So like I said, it’s unrealistic to expect anything about spam is going to change any time soon.
The bottom line then for you and me as email users is simply what I said earlier. Never act on spam, always mark spam as spam so that your spam filter learns what is and is not spam to you and get on with your life.
I’d love to hear what you’re fighting with spam. Is it a real problem for you? What kind of techniques are you using to battle spam or are you just giving up? As always, come visit me on askleo.com if you happen to be viewing this video anywhere else. That’s where the moderated comments are. Those are the comments that I read every one of.
Here’s the link. I will see you again next week with another topic. Until then, I’m Leo Notenboom for askleo.com. Have fun, stay safe and of course don’t forget to back up. Take care.