Another day, another inbox full of unsolicited emails. Who is sending these messages, and why?
Spam and phishing emails are similar in that both clog up your inbox with unwanted messages, but they have different agendas and pose dramatically different risks to you and your security. Here is everything you need to know about the differences between them and what you need to do to protect yourself.
Spam is probably the more common type of unwanted email you'll find in your inbox. It's the electronic equivalent of getting ads, postcards, and other bulk mailers in your mailbox for businesses or services that you may have no interest in. If you've been unlucky enough to find your way onto a list somewhere, you may even get a dozen (or more!) a day, but as newer lists are distributed they should taper off.
What is the Danger?
Genuine spam is annoying but relatively low risk, especially if you know enough to delete the emails without clicking on anything. The real danger is spam's close cousin, the phishing email.
How to Protect Yourself
Spam may be low risk, but it is annoying. Here are a few ways to keep it to a minimum.
Use the junk mail filters on your webmail or email program. Weaker settings will minimize the chance that you might miss something genuine, while stronger settings will virtually eliminate any spam getting through to your inbox.
Be careful about giving out your email address. It seems like so many sites these days want your email address in exchange for special downloads or even just access to their site. Be mindful in giving yours out, lest it end up on a list somewhere. Read privacy policies very closely to see who will have access to your information.
Protect yourself on social media. Many people don't realize that social media is a spammer's gold mine. For instance, your Facebook page by default may include an anonymized email address view able to non-friends. Be sure to check your privacy settings on all social media accounts.
Whereas spam emails are mainly just hoping to sell something to someone, phishing emails are actually trying to steal sensitive information from you. They often masquerade as messages from friends or businesses you already know and trust. You may even see phishing attempts via social media platforms such as Facebook.
A phishing attempt is intended to look convincing enough to get you to click on a link. You'll be taken to a page that looks like a site you trust, but is actually controlled by the scammer. The page may prompt you to enter sensitive information, such as login information, and/or download malware or viruses onto your computer.
Phishing can represent a serious security risk. Submitting sensitive information such as login credentials can result in anything from account takeover to identity theft. Likewise, malware can gain control of your computer and allow access to anything you have stored on it, from passwords to financial documents.
How to Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself is by never clicking unless you're sure. If it's an email purportedly concerning an account you have, go directly to the website and search for information there. Even social media links should be treated with caution. Hover your mouse over the link to see where it goes, and avoid links to unfamiliar websites. When in doubt, check Google!
Stay Safe Out There
Technology improves constantly, but as it does, so do efforts to exploit it.
Written By Kevin Gray
Hello! I am the Vice President @ EnvisionIT Solutions. | Technology Expert | Author | Speaker | Small & Medium Business IT Support - We founded EnvisionIT Solutions in 2007 to provide IT services and support for business owners/CEOs who value the necessity of technology to drive their success and growth.