Technology Article, Issue IX

TECHNOLOGY MINUTE…I want to further talk on my last article on Spam. If I had to think of a title for this article, it would surely be “Pakistani Spam – Coming of Age”. As a service provider one of the things we tackle with on a daily basis is spam. However, it seems the battle is being fought hard on both ends – the spammers and the end-users. Spammers are benefiting from a myriad of resources from where email addresses can be harvested: visiting cards, newspaper and magazine advertisements, joke emails that are forwarded with tons of emails addresses within them, forums, message boards, websites with email addresses listed on them, communities, directories, etc. Everyday their database is increasing, thanks to automated advances in technology (software / hardware) to efficiently extract email addresses. Some are becoming even more creative, by sending fake queries to companies and from the replies – harvesting the email addresses and then adding them to their database.

Recently various surveys and articles showed that consumers have somehow “come to terms that spam is here to stay” that’s sad! However, not all hope is lost, anti-spam measures are still keeping yet 1000s of emails out of your boxes, the downside is that all anti-spam measures are based on a probability formula, whereby as one increases the “sensitivity” of the anti-spam measure, chances are that genuine emails would be flagged as spam and may never make way to you. Newsletters subscriptions, automated responses from key information systems, research reports, and many other emails find their way into the spam box, because of the fact that the anti-spam measure are not quite up to par. To add salt to the wound, Pakistan is now seeing an economically thriving market for marketers and sales executives who have resorted to using email to send out their “I want to sell” messages out to you. Traditional advertising avenues are out of reach for many people. For example, an advertisement in Money Magazine costs around Rs. 20,000 per issue (or round about). For Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 10,000 one can send email campaigns to over 250,000 people who are regularly glued to their computers and checking emails on a daily basis (if not on a hourly basis). It is no doubt because of this – we’ve resigned and have accepted local (desi) spam in our mail boxes.

However, with spam comes problems, specially crafted messages can now show who viewed the message or not, Spyware and adware can maliciously be inserted into a user’s computer via spam, and not to mention the fraud element is on the rise. Remember the Nigerian 419 Fraud – well we now have our own group of fraudsters on the move. You will see emails from a widow with no legs, claiming she needs money for a much prosthetics, or a child who is in dire need of a kidney transplant needs money, and God knows how many other types of fraud emails are being generated each day. Religion too has taken a front-seat – you will see religion-sect bashing going on via email, coming of Christ emails, even so much as “Meera is sinful” and how to best avoid exposure to her so that your Muslim eyes don’t sin! But these are not the only verticals – a few groups worth mentioning that have jumped onto the bandwagon are: political organizations, NGOs, schools, immigration consultants, the local real-estate agents, stock brokers, travel agents, even job hunters! the list is almost never ending.

So what’s the solution? For starters, implementing a good antivirus, Spyware/adware remover and a firewall on your PC. Secondly, to install an anti-spam software at your end (in addition to it being on your service providers’ end). Never “unsubscribe” to emails that are spam – this will only confirm that your email address is valid and increase the spam traffic ten-fold. Do not enter your email address on websites, forms, message, boards, forums, joke lists, etc. where you are not certain of the “reputation” of the company. If you must, use an email address, temporary usage, get one of those email addresses of Yahoo! Google, Hotmail, etc. You email address is like your telephone number, you don’t go giving that out freely do you? Then why do the same with your email, it will only add to the frustrations of having to deal with spam. For those in the office, keep your professional email separate from your personal email, combining the two might be against company policy, but moreover with the ever increasing chance that Spyware can infect your personal computer, the more emails Spyware will find, the more people it can spam to. One reason contributing to the propagation of spam is because so many PCs are infected with viruses, worms, Spyware/Adware, that all your applications that use email addresses expose themselves to these malicious programs that then extract email addresses and without your knowing and send out spam (whenever you are connected to the Internet).

Having a safe / clean PC makes you win the war against spam, one PC at a time – that spammers cannot get to. Learn to use anti-spam software and specially its filtering mechanisms, it may be slightly challenging for the novices, but once you’ve mastered them, you life will be peaceful without having to worry about all the useless emails filling your email box. I once asked a client of mine what is it that he hates the most about spam, his answer was very interesting – he cited that the thought of taking a vacation was a unbearable, knowing that when he comes back their will be 1000s of messages in his mail box, with most of it spam, but very few genuine messages – the thought of accidentally deleting a genuine message is what ails him. Keep your PC clean (on the inside), and use a bit of common sense, and follow the mantra “when in doubt – don’t!” whenever filling out your email address and hopefully you will help in reducing the spam traffic.

This Article was originally written for Money Magazine

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