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Unlike the canned meat, which has both its supporters and detractors, spam email is loved by no one – except perhaps cybercriminals. While spam emails have been around for decades, they remain all too prevalent today. But, there are some easy ways to keep spam out of any inbox.
The message that is considered the very first spam email was sent in 1978 to ARPANET users. In the intervening 38 years, spam has become more common and more problematic.
“Over 56 percent of all email traffic is spam.”
If spam is so old and usually easy to spot – after all, most of us know that the offers to buy prescriptions or invest in a Nigerian prince are fraudulent – then why is it still so commonplace? For one, email is one of the easiest ways still to reach a large audience. According to The Radicati Group, there were around 2.6 billion people around the globe using email in 2015, and this number is set to grow even further. By 2019, around 33 percent of all people on Earth will have an email account. Plus, with an estimated 205 million emails being sent and received daily, email is still a highly relevant mode of communication for so many people.
In addition, not only is email an ideal way to reach lots of people at once, but spam in particular has remained surprisingly lucrative for cybercriminals. Considering that spammers only need a 0.2 percent response rate from their missives to see a return on investment, it is easy enough to make a profit from such mass mailings.
“[Y]ou can foist your message on millions of people, whether they like it or not, at essentially no cost, and that as long as a tiny proportion of them respond, you’ll make a profit,” wrote Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian.
For example, some email spam networks have netted close to $7,000 a day, while Facebook spammers have pulled in around $200 million annually just by posting links on the social media site. On a individual basis, one person in the Czech Republic lost $600,000 to spammers, while a man in the U.S. forked over more than $5 million after he fell for a con.
“It costs $3,000 to rent a botnet and send out 100 million messages,” said Brad Taylor, Gmail’s former spam czar, according to Wired. “It takes only 30 Viagra orders to pay for that.”
Spammers send out mass emails not only to directly net money from unsuspecting users, but also to install malware on a computer or network. All it takes is one person at one company clicking on the wrong link for an entire organization’s network to be compromised. From May 23 through June 23, more than 172 million malware-laden emails were sent out, according to numbers from SenderBase.
While email spam remains a global problem, it is luckily one that is fairly easy to mitigate. For starters, a spam filter at the gateway either as a standalone point solution, or as part of a next-generation firewall or unified threat management solution, plus a robust anti-spam email client will keep the vast majority of spam out of the inbox. A good system should be able to keep out at least 99 percent of all spam missives.
But, since spam is unlikely to dissipate or disappear anytime soon, some diligence will always be required on the part of the end user. Just knowing that all emails that seem off or contain funky spellings shouldn’t be opened, and that only trusted URLs should be clicked on, is the best defense for ensuring that what little spam does enter the inbox does not become a threat.