Online sales pitches for home mortgages, human growth hormones, dating services and, in some cases, hard-core pornography are deluging e-mail inboxes. This flood of so-called spam now reportedly accounts for more than half of all e-mail.
According to Microsoft, Spam is more than just frustrating; it can contain computer viruses, worms or other malicious code that is designed to damage computer networks, files and hard drives. Some spam is designed to download programs onto recipients’ computers that track their Internet activity and report the information to online marketers. New anti-spam laws have made it harder for spammers to ply their trade. But these laws can’t stop spam entirely. Luckily, there are high-tech and low-tech ways to complete the job.
New filtering technologies such as those in the MSN Hotmail e-mail service, for example, eliminate billions of pieces of spam each day. This technology, also found in other e-mail programs such as Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, can be continually trained by computer users to pinpoint spam. This enables the filter to evolve with the tactics of spammers.
Computer users who don’t take the time to set up these filters or educate themselves on other ways to help thwart spam may become the next victims of spyware or other malicious software that can be spread via spam. Here are a few ways computer users can help protect themselves:
— Get familiar with filters. Computer users should learn how to use a
spam filter and set it to the level they are comfortable with — high,
to keep out all unfamiliar mail, or low, to receive most or all of what
is sent to them.
— Don’t buy, don’t reply — just delete. No matter how enticing or
interesting the offer, computer users should never respond to spam.
Even offers to remove the recipient’s e-mail address from mailing lists
can be a way for spammers to authenticate active e-mail accounts.
— Get creative, have options. It’s best to include odd words or numbers
in one’s e-mail addresses. This makes it harder for spammers who use
computer programs to generate potential e-mail addresses. Computer
users also may want to maintain two e-mail addresses: one for sending
mail to friends and relatives, and the other for making online
purchases or posting to public sites such as online auctions, chat
rooms and newsgroups.
More tips to help stop spam can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/spam/.
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