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How to protect your business from malicious email threats

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SPAM

Spam has developed into a serious issue for anyone who uses email services. This is generally because distributing spam by email is one of the most cost-efficient ways of getting advertising out there. If even a small portion of the recipients end up buying the advertised item or service, then the spammers make a profit and the spamming issue gets worse.

Spammers employ a number of different strategies in order to efficiently distribute their content, while bypassing regulations and anti-spammer lists. These include:

• Hiding or manipulating the origin of their messages;
• Acquiring email addresses from publicly open sources;
• Using software to create fake email headers and sender addresses; and
• Hijacking real user addresses – for example, false emails claiming to be sent from the email service’s administrators.

Increasingly, viruses are being used to create and distribute spam. Computer systems are compromised and turned into spam-sending ‘drones’ or ‘zombies’, which are then made to send mass spam from legitimate addresses. This is one reason why computer owners need to install and maintain anti-virus software in order to keep their computer from becoming infected.

PHISHING

Phishing consists of fraudulent messages, which seem to be sent from legitimate institutions such as banks. These messages try to trick or convince recipients to ‘verify’ confidential information such as credit card details. It is important to remember that legitimate services rarely, if ever, request sensitive information via an email or web-link. If you’re unsure, make sure to verify the source of the email before following its instructions.

DESKTOP ANTIVIRUS, ANTI-MALWARE AND ANTI-SPYWARE

Desktop and on premise software applications that inhibit the downloading of known viruses, malware and spyware are the most popular forms of network protection. However, dangers arise when the software is not regularly updated, potentially allowing new malicious content to enter and spread through the business network.

CLOUD EMAIL

Cloud email filtering is able to block spam containing malware before it gets into a business network, as the software updates instantly in real time. However, some malware and spam comes from personal email accounts retrieved from the corporate internet, which isn’t safe from business email filtering. This is where web filtering comes in to protect businesses.

THINGS TO DO

• Use spam and virus filters;
• Train your spam filter by consistently correcting it when it classifies an email incorrectly;
• Make sure to always check the sender of suspicious emails;
• Avoid setting up autoreplies unless necessary, as these can verify your email’s existence to spammers;
• Install firewall software to block attacks from malicious people trying to compromise your system to send spam;

THINGS NOT TO DO

• Avoid short, easy or simple usernames, as they are much more susceptible to spam than longer, unusual ones. Underscores, hyphens and periods are highly recommended;
• Do not use valuable email addresses in places where it is visible to people you don’t know;
• Do not open suspicious looking emails or the attachments within them. They may contain malicious viruses that can infect your computer and use it to distribute spam;
• Never purchase items based on spam emails you receive – if everyone has this attitude, the spammers’ economic viability will disintegrate.