Spam email often seems ridiculous but innocuous. You probably stare sometimes at the bizarre characters and spacing, the gross misspellings, and the “sentences” of utter nonsense and scratch your head. But these odd variations on normal human communication serve a purpose: they help spam bypass spam filters. The characters and misspelled words are examples of “word variance” and the nonsense is called “word salad.”
These and other tricks can fool text-based spam filters that screen for words commonly appearing in spam.
This isn’t the only deceptive aspect of spam, though.
Spam isn’t as harmless as it seems, especially in the workplace. It has costs, and malicious messages pose certain threats to businesses.
Spam Wastes Time, Space, and Money
Employees spend time separating legitimate email from spam messages, then deleting or quarantining the junk. Back in 2004, Nucleus Research estimated spam costs businesses an average of $1,934 in wasted productivity per employee in a year. Quarantined spam also has a tendency to pile up. NetworkWorld estimated that, for a medium-sized company, spam can cost up to about $25,000 in squandered bandwidth and server space annually.
Spam Wants to Make You a Zombie
In 2010, almost 90 percent of all global spam was sent from botnets, or networks of spammer-controlled computers known as zombies, cites the MessageLabs Intelligence 2010 Annual Security Report. Nobody knows exactly how many zombies are in use, but estimates put the number as high as 150 million. And no, spammers don’t own 150 million computers; they use yours.
Despite appearances and common perception, most spam is not intended to sell you anything. Much of it carries malware designed to hijack your email account. If successfully transmitted, the malware surreptitiously uses the account to send forth insane amounts of spam. This can bring email servers to a crawl, hurt your company’s reputation, and get your domain blacklisted with service providers.
Spam Can Spy
Spam commonly carries other forms of malware, too. Worms, directory harvest attacks, keystroke loggers, and other malicious programs compromise private information stored on company computers. Proprietary information, financial data, account or user names, passwords, contact lists, and personal information of your partners, customers, and clients may be obtained by cybercriminals upon successful transmission of malware via spam.
Needless to say, in such instances the cost of spam can be staggering. Your company may directly lose money, suffer irreparable damage to its reputation, lose customers or clients, and be held liable for compromised information of other parties.
What’s a Company to Do?
Nobody gets off spam-free. However, a few practical steps minimize associated costs and threats. Invest in professional-grade spam filtration. This is the single most effective way to limit spam reaching your inboxes and to block malicious programs. Employees invariably have to look through email so no important messages are missed; instruct them to delete obvious spam without opening it. Appoint someone to delete quarantined messages regularly to prevent overstuffed servers and wasted bandwidth. Also, educate employees about the dangers lurking in spam and forbid them from opening attachments or following links in unsolicited email.
You wouldn’t let strangers wander your office to sell your employees stuff they don’t need all day, or let them use your server space and bandwidth, nor would you willingly share sensitive information with them. That’s what spam is doing to your business, whether you know it or not. It’s a real problem that requires real action.
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Neal Lacy works for United Call Center as a professional live receptionist in Lake Havasu City, AZ. He is an expert on professional answering services and writes widely about telemarketing in general.