Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The spam attraction

What is it about spam that keeps it coming back, time after time?

"Do people really fall for the stuff that comes across their computer screen" is a question I'm asked a lot. Anyone who uses a computer will end up seeing a lot of crap that they didn't ask for and often have no idea why they're getting it.

The simple answer is that no, the people that sent those messages don't really expect anyone to buy their organ enhancer, or the pills that will do miraculous things. They just want to grab your attention for a split second - just long enough to slip a mailicious bit of software into your machine, so they can use it without your knowledge to send other people the same messages.

Those programs are called Trojan Horses (see this Wikipedia article for an explanation) and they're the computer hackers basic building blocks.

But I didn't start this post to tell you about how malicious software might end up on your computer, although it's a fascinating area for study. What I was wondering was whether any of you are starting to see more and more spam appearing on your Skype connections?

I've been using Skype for many years and I rarely had problems with receiving unexpected contacts from people I didn't know. I'd leave the program running in the background on my computer and pretty much forget about it.

But just lately, it seems that I've been spending a lot of time blocking meaningless contact messages from companies and people that I know nothing about. Many of these messages offer to sell me something, or invite me to visit their website to register for something.

I'm not sure what's going on. I suspect that following up on any of these offers would be a bad thing, as it always is in these cases. But every so often, it seems that a spammer somewhere figures out a way to get past the usual filters and starts flooding the Internet with junk. Sooner or later, the blocking software will catch up with them and we won't see any more of that particular piece of spam. But more will take its place.

I'm noticing this increase today because I so rarely see much spam anymore. I run all of my email, both incoming and outgoing, through Google Mail, which seem to have the most efficient spam filters I've ever had the pleasure of using.

I've been using Google as a route for my email for several years now and I've gotten used to never seeing a piece of spam for weeks on end. That doesn't mean I'm not receiving them. It's just that Google's filters are good at weeding them out of my inbox. Just today, I went and checked my Spam folder. I've received over 4100 items in the last 30 days. Today, I appear to have received almost 100 new ones, many of them two or three times.

But here's what's even more impressive. I've been checking my spam folder every day for about a week and I have yet to find a single piece of legitimate mail in there. Whatever kind of magic algorithms Google has cooked up to separate the good from the bad, it's working. And I continue to be impressed.

If you're getting more spam than you'd like, you should give serious consideration to routing your mail through Google's servers. It's a good way to stop spam. And as a bonus, you always have a complete backup copy of every email you've received, sent and deleted for as long as you've been sending that mail through Google. And you can find anything in seconds by using their tremendous search function.

If you'd like to set up your own version of spam-free email but you don't know how to use Gmail, drop me a line. I'd be happy to show you how easy it is to set yourself up.

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