Can Junk Mail be Dangerous to your Security?

December 14, 2017
EMAIL AND TECHNOLOGY

Everyone can agree that junk emails are a nuisance; however, on top of being bothersome, could such messages actually be dangerous?

The short answer is yes — though there are a number of steps email users can take to protect themselves.

Choosing a secure email provider should be the first step in that plan. Such services operate very stringent regulations for filtering out junk email messages; though some may still make their way into your inbox, that number is likely much higher for those who use non-private accounts, which usually have less-strict filters.

Junk mail can take many forms but is largely categorized as unsolicited messages. Some may be commercial in nature, such as advertisements from stores and retailers eager for your business. Others, often referred to as spam, are more sinister in nature.

Spam messages can include attachments that carry malware that, when activated, allows the sender to spy on the user; such tactics have been used to great success in identity-theft and fraud cases. According to a report by Verizon, about two-thirds of malware was installed through email attachments. More than half appeared as JavaScript attachments, while about a quarter surfaced within Microsoft Office documents.

Spam emails can also be part of a “phishing” scam, which is an effort to extract sensitive information from a user, such as credit card and bank account numbers. Senders mask their emails to appear that they’re coming from legitimate sources — they may change a letter in the name of popular company and model the format of the email after actual messages the company typically sends — to encourage the receiver to open it and follow prompts. A user may be asked to input contact information, passwords or financial data and, because this may appear to be from a trusted source, he or she may not even think twice.

As email scams become more sophisticated, email users need to also evolve in how they use online communications. Private and secure email providers are the front line of defense against dangerous junk mail. Choose the strongest level of filtering for sending questionable messages to a “Junk” folder. Empty such folders en masse, without clicking on the messages. If an email does pop up in your inbox from an unknown sender, do not open it and, if you accidentally click on it, do not open any attachments. If you’re unsure of whether something is junk or not, err on the side of caution and delete — if it’s legitimate, the sender can always follow up.

When it comes to online safety, you can never be too careful.

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