July 2014

Spam Email and Prevention Tips

Email is the number one B2B communication and it comes with a price. Regardless of the email system you use, spam email will follow you. It is very frustrating and time consuming to get rid of it. No one is exempt from spam email. As soon as your email address shows up on the Internet, you can count on getting spam email.

Many international organizations are using various means of email spam reduction. Sadly, while legislation is being passed all over the world, such as the Canadian Anti-Spam Law that went into effect on July 1, 2014, it won’t necessarily reduce your spam email since the spammers ignore such legislation anyway. The primary purpose of the true spammers are to get as many valid email addresses as they can so they can sell their lists to whomever wants to buy them. In most cases, they are using much more sophisticated equipment than you have for your business to create these lists.

The daily amount of span email that is sent around the world greatly varies depending on the source. By very rough estimates, there are 130 billion spam emails sent on a daily basis, representing 70% of the total email sent. That also represents a $13 billion annual loss to businesses based on purchased software used to reduce spam and the man-hours it takes to weed through the spam to identify valid business email. It is said that the U.S. is the top spam email sender with an approximate 20% world-wide share while India is the top spammer for Asia.

In this day and age, small business owners have to react quickly to their customers to avoid losing them to their competition. That means there is little time to slowly review each email to see if it is valid or not. Business owenrs simply do not have time to do that and run their business as well.

There are somethings that you can do to possibly help reduce the amount of spam both coming into your mailbox and leaving it.

Limit Your Replies to Emails

If you want to reply to an email that has attachments and/or links in the email you received, try to avoid replying more than 2 times to the same email. Say for instance there are 3 links embedded in the email you received. If you reply 3 times, you have just sent out an email with 9 identical links included. Many spam filters will identify email with more than 3 links, (and sometimes less), as spam. Result, you might just get automatically marked as a “spammer” and put on one of the many email blacklists. So, take the time to create a new email to the person you are going to continue responding to. It will take much less time than trying to get off a spam blacklist and having incoming/outgoing emails bounce.

Don’t Answer Email Located in Your Junk Box

If you get an email that lands in your junk/spam mailbox, move the email to your Inbox first before you reply. Outlook remembers what email is junk and/or spam as does your antivirus program. If you send out a junk email by replying to it, you could be blacklisted automatically.

Do Not Answer Junk or Spam Email

To repeat, spammers send out millions of emails daily and their sole purpose is to identify valid email addresses. If you respond, you have just validated your email and will get many more spam emails.

Do Not “Unsubscribe” From a Spam Email

Same reason as not answering spam emails. As much as it would be nice to answer with a few choice words as to why you are “unsubscribing”, keep the blood pressure and spam emails down. Do not send an email separately requesting you be unsubscribed from their list as that will also validate your valid email.

Just Say NO to Changing Emails

Lately, through Outlook, emails are arriving that ask you, “The email content has changed. Do you want to save it?” Absolutely click No and delete that email immediately. You have a good chance that email has a bug attached.

It is really a shame that you have to go through these steps and it would be great if there were no spam. There are marketers out there that try very hard to stay within the guidelines and the true spammers only make it harder for them. In some cases, by following these tips, you will likely lose a valid email or two. However, if it is a valid email, the sender will either email you again or call you.

Computer and Data Security

Do you leave your computer on all the time and never shut it off, letting it go into sleep mode? Don’t remember when your antivirus program last did a scan? Then you are always connected to the Internet and should read this.

Without even trying, you hear about hackers, spammers, and computer viruses. Because it has become so commonplace, the time needed to guard your computer files has increased. Even the International Space Station is not exempt from computer viruses. (See Cosmonaut carries computer virus aboard International Space Station).

We have a number of devices we use in our business to check to see what our work looks like on different types of systems. We have various security software installed, updated constantly, and is operating live 24 hours a day every day. We run scans with the programs we have at least twice a week plus anytime it seems we might be having a problem, i.e., the computer slows down, does something strange, etc.

Desktop-Computer-HelpLast year, due to some problems we had somewhere between the computer, our router and our Internet Service Provider (ISP), we came across a program called Microsoft Safety Scanner. It is a program that you download and run with a file named “msert.exe”. It does not run all of the time like your antivirus program does, and Microsoft tells you up front that it is not to be considered as a replacement for your antivirus and/or antimalware programs. After running the program, which is only good for 10 days after you download it, we noticed something odd.

One of the things we found out is that anti-virus programs do not operate as you assume they do. We had always thought that the anti-virus program was checking all of the files on our computer when it scanned the computer. It does not. It only scans those files that are essential, such as Windows 7 operating files, and the computer files that run your computer system.

To check things out, we ran a test scan with our antivirus program. By the reported numbers from each program and using both programs on one computer, the antivirus program scanned 492,530 files. When we ran the Microsoft Safety Scanner on the same computer, it scanned 2,378,403 files. It found four malware files that the antivirus program did not.

Note: Microsoft Safety Scanner can run 2-3 hours, depending on the amount of files you have on your computer. You should not do anything with the computer while it is running. We usually run it at night after we are done with the computer, check the results in the morning and reboot.

To put it into perspective, let me give you a scenario. I like science fiction movies and one of them, Independence Day, is one of my favorites. A scene in the movie has a line that sticks in my mind. The military forces that are in a deeply underground bunker are about to be attacked by aliens with a powerful weapon. One of the main characters asks a military person, “How bad is it going to be?” The person says, “We’re pretty far underground so it should be safe for us.” Then she asks, and this is the key line, “What about them?” while pointing to a screen showing hundreds of people that are above ground and will be wiped out. His stunned expression is priceless.

The point is, with the proliferation of viruses, Trojans, malware and the like, and the fact that computers are coming with larger and larger hard drives with many more files, the bad stuff can be hidden anywhere. Therefore, while the systems files are checked all the time, and your antivirus program is keeping them safe, there are many more files that can have the bad stuff attached. The complete hard drive needs to be scanned periodically just to be sure.

What you have to consider is how much trouble will you have if your hard drive is hacked and no longer functions? How many things on your computer are indispensable?

As I mentioned before, we spend a lot of time making sure the computers are operating safely. You have to spend the time because if you do not, it will take a lot more time to get some of your data back. From experience, you will not get it all back.

Therefore, you want to make sure your antivirus program is installed, updated regularly, and operating in real-time, that your scans are run at a bare minimum of once a week, and periodically, run a scanning program that will look at your entire hard drive, not just the system files.

Oh yes, some additional advice most of which you have heard. Do not open attachments to emails from people you do not know.

Moreover, a new one is coming around in email. If the email system you have asks you about an email you just opened, “The email has been modified. Do you want to save it?” just say NO. You will be glad you did.