Virus and Spyware Removal and Prevention
Spam was once just clutter in your inbox; today, it is a commonly used vehicle for fraud, electronic crime and even corporate espionage.
What is Spam?
Spam, also called junk email, is generally defined in the Internet industry as unsolicited commercial email (UCE). It is email that is sent out in bulk to a huge number of recipients who did not request it. The contents of spam range from benign advertising to malicious programs that can literally hijack your computer system and do grave damage.
The most common commercial spam advertises pyramid schemes, pornographic web sites, mortgage loans, chain letters, credit repair, fraudulent pharmaceuticals and illegally pirated software.
The more dangerous spam will often contain viruses that can infect your computer, hijack your email program and use it to send out spam to your friends and family, and phishing scams that attempt to get your personal and financial information.
"Spammer" is the term used to refer to those responsible for spam. Those who will get your email addresses by any means possible and use it for criminal or malicious purposes and have zero regard for the law.
Spammers range from the lone, individual to multi-million dollar companies with several employees. Most of the spam companies are increasingly relocating to offshore locations to evade US laws and law enforcement.
Where do the Spammers Get your Email Address From?
Spammers get their victim's email addresses from just about anywhere you can imagine. Primarily, they use Newsgroup harvesters and Spambots, which are automated programs designed to "harvest" (extract) email addresses from online sites. Newsgroup harvesters target newsgroup postings and other unprotected web-based forums, which tend to have low security. Spambots troll the Internet, scanning websites and "harvesting" (extracting) email addresses. It typically searches for the "@" sign that denotes an email address.
The average spambot can harvest over 30,000 email addresses in just one hour. And this goes on 24/7, year and year out.
There are also companies that sell CDs that are packed with valid email addresses. These can sell for as little as $25, and they are a goldmine for any spammer.
Why do Spammers Spam?
In a word? Money. Spammers literally make millions from their illicit trade. Studies show that for every million junk emails sent out, a spammer will average about 100 sales. Add to this the fact that they make $50-$100 in commission for each sale, and you can see how the numbers add up to incomes in excess of $100,000 a year! What's more, spamming can cost next to nothing.
But why does spamming continue despite its cost in time, effort and money? Because there are people out there who respond to spam. Even with a minimal response rate of one sale from every 10,000 emails, it can be highly profitable. If no one responded to spam, the spammer's cash cow would starve and the practice would end. It is these few who keep the spammers in business. They make the cost of spamming worthwhile.
In the early days of the Internet, spam was little more than an irritating nuisance. However, like every other aspect of the Internet, spam has evolved to become something far more nefarious in nature.
To understand just how big a problem spam has become, it will help to realize the sheer volume of unsolicited junk mail is sent out every day. More than 50% of all the trillions of email that is mailed out is spam. This spam clogs up and wastes bandwidth, especially with the recent advent of image-based spam. It places a huge strain on servers and wastes a huge amount of time and money to deliver millions upon millions of unsolicited emails to the inboxes of recipients.
Mass Mailing Viruses
Aside from constantly inundating your inbox with unwanted email, spammers now also pose grave threats to the health of your computer
One of these new dangerous aspects of spam are that illicit senders can now manipulate your email addresses, and make it seem to the rest of the world that the spam that is sent is coming from your personal computer or domain. This may result in your service provider blocking your Internet connection, or terminating your account. And all of it can be done without any knowledge on your part. It can easily be made to seem that you are an actor in a malicious mail campaign when in fact you are an unwitting actor at best.
Email is the most common vehicle of choice for spreading viruses, and for hackers to get into your computer system. There is an increasing amount of this type of spam being mailed out of late. These small programs can be used in myriad harmful ways, including crashing your own system, crashing that of the parties you email or keystroke logging to gather your personal information.
Another insidious tactic that the spammers employ is called "Phishing." It involves the spammer sending out junk email that is specifically designed to look like it is from a reputable, legitimate source such as a reputable company like ebay or paypal. This spam utilizes the company's logo and official graphics.
The purpose of this type of spam is to get your personal and financial information. Often it will fraudulently send you to web sites where this information regarding email, finances, bank accounts or other personal info is gathered and used in illegal ways. Very often, the spammers will combine methods, spamming their victims with virus-laden software, phishing and other schemes that take spam to a whole new level of illicit, criminal activity.
A 2006 study by Consumer Reports estimated that in two years, Americans spent more than $7 billion on repairs and parts replacement resulting from viruses, malware and spyware. This does not take into account the cost to the Internet Providers who have to pay for all the bandwidth taken up by the spammers junk, or the cost in time, money and productivity to businesses that have to sort through all the spam.
Spam is no longer harmless, silly, or simply annoying. It is increasingly harmful and we need to protect against it.
The volume of spam that is sent out every minute of the day has reached pandemic proportions. The simple reason for this is because the cost to a spammer ranges from zero to negligible. In fact, anyone with a list of email addresses and Internet access can spam thousands, even millions of people with a single click of the mouse. The cost of spam, however, now runs in the millions.
Spam takes up valuable Internet bandwidth that would otherwise be used for legitimate business and personal use. Bandwidth refers to rate at which data is transmitted; it is the amount of data that can be transmitted within a fixed amount of time. The lower the bandwidth, the slower the transmission.
When spam uses up valuable bandwidth, and clogs up the system, it causes costly delays in the transmission of important, legitimate information. It forces the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to increase bandwidth just to handle the increased volume. This costs money, and this cost is passed on to the consumer.
Viruses, Worms and Malware
It is becoming an increasingly common menace. Spammers will attach viruses to the email they send out for purely criminal or malicious purposes. Some viruses, for example, are programmed to self-install and give the spammer access to all the vital information stored on your computer. This information is often be used for identity theft purposes.
Other viruses simply do great harm to computers the world over. A Consuner Reports study estimates that the cost of repairs and replacement parts for damage done to computer systems by viruses was over 8 billion over the past two years. This does ot take into account the billions spent on anti-spam and anti-virus software.
Spam is not only annoying, it also takes up valuable time just to go through it and figure out sort out the spam from the valid mail. For businesses that receives hundreds of emails a day, the cost in time and productivity really adds up.
The "cost of spam calculator" that is available at cmsconnect.com estimates the that spam costs almost $1000 per employee each year, with over 50 hours of lost productivity for each one.
Lost Messages and Data
As we try to battle the spammers by installing spam filters and blockers, these programs often weed out legitimate businesss correspondence. Lost correspondence from a client or supplier can easily cost businesses money, clients and goodwill
The phenomenon of phishing has become more prevalent as spammers think up new ways to make a buck at your expense. Phishing involves the use of email that is designed to look like a legitimate company has sent it. It is sent out to millions of people in the hope of scamming them into revealing personal information that the scammer can use for identity theft. The cost of Phishing and identity theft to their victims now also runs in the billions.
The cost of spam is a financial drain on the economy. We pay a high price for the spammer to scam his victims. The spammer pays nothing.