There are plenty of reasons to hate Mondays, but here's another - it's also the busiest day for spammers. Ranging from unsolicited newsletters to phishing scams, spam now accounts for more than two thirds of all emails. This endless torrent of junk mail stifles employee productivity, wastes bandwidth and it's the number-one delivery channel for cyberattacks.
While it might not be possible to stop spam entirely, there are many things you can do to reduce its effects, such as by using a reliable spam filter. Stopping junk mail in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach. Unfortunately, there's no one-click solution, and you cannot expect to fully mitigate the threats posed by email spam by implementing a spam filter alone.
How Spam Email Costs Your Business Money
Virtually everyone now has an email address, and most businesses rely on it as their primary method of communication. After all, it's one of the cheapest, fastest and most reliable ways to keep in touch but, just as it's convenient for businesses, it's also a valuable tool for cybercriminals. Spammers can use email to reach thousands, if not millions, of people quickly, and it costs them next to nothing.
According to the National Technology Readiness Survey, spam costs businesses almost $22 billion per year in lost productivity alone. When junk mail does make it past the spam filter, messages need to be manually reviewed. Administrators also need to spend time managing things like email whitelists and blacklists and manually unsubscribing from semi-legitimate email newsletters. However, lost productivity is by no means the biggest issue with email spam.
As the favorite delivery channel for phishing scams, spam email poses a much more serious threat than reduced productivity alone. In fact, if you peek inside your spam email folder right now, there's a very good chance you'll find at least one phishing scam. Fortunately, most of them are blindingly obvious to anyone who is adequately trained to tell the signs. Nonetheless, some are not so obvious, and they tend to be the ones that the spam filters don't recognize.
Approximately 90% of phishing scams start with email, with the most dangerous ones being those that are sophisticated enough to make it past the filters. Some of these scams are targeted towards specific individuals within a company, such as executives or members of the sales team. These so-called spear-phishing attacks are among the most dangerous of all, and avoiding them requires extensive training of your team to properly identify suspicious emails and other messages.
What to Look for in Spam Filter Software
While a spam filter is by no means a complete solution for managing and mitigating the dangers of spam email, it is one of the most important tools in your cybersecurity arsenal. Although most web-based email services come with spam filters built-in, they're often not adequate for dealing with the relatively vast quantity of emails that a typical business receives.
The main role of a spam filter is to filter out suspicious emails. There's a lot going on under the surface too - spam filters are complex programs that need to be able to tell the difference between legitimate emails and junk. Spam filters themselves should use a multi-leveled approach to preventing junk mail from reaching the inbox while also not confusing junk with legitimate mail. Here are some of the filtering methods such a solution should have:
• Blacklisting and whitelisting capabilities
• Sensitivity settings
• Challenge and response filtering
• Email quarantining
• Community-based filtering based on user reports
Businesses that manage a particularly large flow of email may want to go for a solution that also offers blocking by IP address range, country top-level domain and other criteria.
Enterprise-grade spam filter software should also provide proactive protection against cybersecurity threats. Aside from the ability to protect multiple user accounts, the software should be able to identify malicious software and phishing attempts and alert users to their presence. Finally, any decent spam filter should also provide the user with the capability to create new filtering rules as well as customize existing predefined ones.
What Other Ways Are There to Deal with Spam?
Implementing a reliable spam filter is just the first step in combating this ubiquitous cybersecurity threat and drain on productivity. Fortunately, there are many additional steps you can take to keep unwanted emails out of your inbox and, combined with proper staff training, you can almost make spam a thing of the past. Here are some of the most effective methods for stopping junk mail in its tracks:
• Use a disposable email address - Some service providers allow you to use a unique address for every service or website you sign up for. This lets you keep your real address hidden, while automatically redirecting everything to your main inbox. This allows you to easily identify senders that you don't want to hear and simply disable the disposable email address to block them.
• Secure your email with encryption - encrypting corporate emails provides a great defense against data leaks, email spoofing and spam bots that harvest email addresses. There are many email encryption services out there that work with the popular webmail clients, such as Gmail and Hotmail.
• Hide your email address - one popular, low-tech way to combat spam is to simply disguise it from email-harvesting bots when you need to share it online. One of the easiest solutions is to hide the email address in an imagine or hiding it behind a Captcha test.
• Never download attachments - malicious attachments are extremely common in spam emails. Unless you know the sender and you're expecting an attachment from them, it's usually safer to avoid clicking downloading them.
• Stay alert - human error is almost invariably to blame for cybersecurity disasters, so there's no better way to combat spam and all the threats that come with it by being alert. Learn to identify the pitches that are clearly too good to be true or use desperate attempts to instill a sense of urgency.
How to Identify Spam Emails
As you've seen, filtering software can't be relied on alone for completely preventing spam. There will always be a few junk mails that do make it through, and they also tend to be the most dangerous. While most spam emails are easily recognizable by their appalling English and commonly spammed key words and phrases, the ones that make it past the filters aren't usually so obvious. Paying close attention to the following tips will help you learn to recognize the more sophisticated attacks:
• Spoofed email addresses - smarter spammers spoof their email addresses to dupe victims into thinking that the email comes from a legitimate source. Spoofed addresses are often used in phishing attacks. You can usually identify them by looking out for header information that doesn't match the sender's email address.
• Unfamiliar attachments - malicious email attachments can come in many forms, but you'll want to be particularly wary of any executable files or files that have been archived in the ZIP or RAR format to mask their true file type. Also, be wary of any formats that support macros, such as DOCX, since attackers might use malicious macros to drop your computer's defenses.
• Request for payment or login information - absolutely no legitimate company will ever, under any circumstances, ask you to send payment or login information by email. If any email ever contains such a request, then you can be absolutely sure that it's a social engineering scam, regardless of how legitimate it might otherwise seem.
• Poor English - many spammers are not native English speakers, with a lot of them relying on machine translators to craft their spam messages. This is often the case with phishing scams, in which scammers try to make their messages look like they're coming from a real company, yet can't even string a sentence together.
• Too good to be true - spam email primarily preys upon the gullible by promising the world and instead leaving you with nothing. Anything that looks like a promise of some unbeatable deal or large sum of money is almost sure to be a scam. From fake lottery scams to get-rich-quick schemes - if it's too good to be true, then it most definitely is.
• Sense of urgency - cybercriminals often want to frighten their victims into giving away their personal information as soon as possible, so they build up a sense of urgency by threatening you with things like account closure. Of course, legitimate advertisers also thrive on a sense of urgency, but spammers tend to be much more blatant, leaning more towards instilling fear.
Reliable communication is a key driver for any successful business. That's why you need to do everything in your power to stop spam email. That means training your team to better identify the threats and implementing a multi-layered approach to spam prevention and overall cybersecurity. With the right controls and expertise in place, your company will be better equipped to safeguard its data and keep downtime to a minimum. What is your business doing to combat spam?