Spam — not simply emails, but messages received on instant messaging services, social networks and SMS — often flood people’s inboxes en masse with information they wouldn’t ordinarily wish to see. Considered by many as an inconvenience rather than anything serious, these annoying, unsolicited messages may harbour something far more damaging, like executable programs that allow your computer to be taken over — and internet users may be inadvertently putting themselves at risk.
“Once upon a time, most spam was easy to spot – largely because they offered recipients products and services they had no interest in obtaining,” commented Nick FitzGerald , Senior Research Fellow at ESET Asia Pacific . “The level of sophistication today however has grown. Many messages appear legitimate, with authentic, relevant and interesting content, designed to bait clicks from the user.”
The problem is, when a user receives a spam message and follows a link — intentional or otherwise — spammers receive information that can make the user vulnerable to any number of dangers. This can range from receiving greater volumes of spam, being scammed by criminals who make money from the tiny proportion of users that actually respond, to being the unhappy recipient of any number of different types of malware, including ransomware.
“Cybercriminals have a lot to gain from these activities. It’s not just the objectives behind spamming that have evolved, but also their delivery methods. With the increasing adoption of connected devices in Asia-Pacific and the world — particularly in Singapore where smartphone penetration is the highest across the globe — we are seeing more spammers targeting social channels in addition to traditional spam emails,” added FitzGerald. “As we increasingly conduct our lives on-the-go, using multiple internet-enabled platforms at any one time, it also means spammers have all the more opportunities and avenues to send unwanted messages.”
However, ESET points out that defending yourself against security issues caused by spam does not have to be a difficult job – proactive measures are vital in reducing exposure to such threats. ESET’s top tips on protecting yourself include:
•Not publishing your email address on the internet, if possible
•Only sharing your email address with trusted individuals
•Not replying to spam messages that have already made it to your inbox
•Being cautious when filing out Internet forms. Be especially wary of checkboxes that request opt-ins such as “Yes, I want to receive information about xx.”
•Be suspicious of links from people who don’t usually post links
•Not authorizing anything on apps you’re not 100% sure about
•Keeping a clean machine. Update your computer or handheld device with the latest operating system, software, web browsers, and apps to provide the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats that may be caused by spam messages.
•Being wary of the information given to apps (does an app that lets you edit photos really need to know every single thing about you?)
•And of course, not forgetting the golden rule – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!
“It’s important that we remain vigilant as consumers, and not forgo security for convenience. Apps, for example, often request permissions from us that we commonly authorise without much thought on the possible implications. Be wary of the information you receive and sign up to, and wherever possible, also give yourself added peace of mind and security with the appropriate anti-spam technology,” concluded FitzGerald.