Wednesday, 15 June 2016 14:30

Spam’s not just annoying, it can be dangerous: ESET

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Although many would already be well aware that today’s spam can be far more dangerous that just a dodgy Viagra pill and could infect your computer, ESET has issued a new warning.

Spam, says the Internet security firm, is "not simply emails, but messages received on instant messaging services, social networks and SMS", and they "often flood people's inboxes en masse with information they wouldn't ordinarily wish to see".

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll clearly agree with ESET’s statement that spam is "considered by many as an inconvenience rather than anything serious, these annoying, unsolicited messages may harbour something far more damaging, like executable programs that allow your computer to be taken over – and Internet users may be inadvertently putting themselves at risk".

Nick FitzGerald, senior research fellow at ESET Asia Pacific, said: “Once upon a time, most spam was easy to spot, largely because they offered recipients products and services they had no interest in obtaining.

"The level of sophistication today, however, has grown. Many messages appear legitimate, with authentic, relevant and interesting content, designed to bait clicks from the user."

"The problem is," says ESET, "when a user receives a spam message and follows a link — intentional or otherwise  spammers receive information that can make the user vulnerable to any number of dangers."

We’re told that "this can range from receiving greater volumes of spam, being scammed by criminals who make money from the tiny proportion of users that actually respond, to being the unhappy recipient of any number of different types of malware, including ransomware".

For many, this is only too well known, either from years of being cyber street smart, or from having been bitten by the dreaded ransomware bug.

FitzGerald added: “Cybercriminals have a lot to gain from these activities. It's not just the objectives behind spamming that have evolved, but also their delivery methods. With the increasing adoption of connected devices in Asia-Pacific and the world  particularly in Singapore where smartphone penetration is the highest across the globe  we are seeing more spammers targeting social channels in addition to traditional spam emails.

"As we increasingly conduct our lives on-the-go, using multiple internet-enabled platforms at any one time, it also means spammers have all the more opportunities and avenues to send unwanted messages."

Naturally, ESET points out that "defending yourself against security issues caused by spam does not have to be a difficult job. Proactive measures are vital in reducing exposure to such threats".

ESET's top tips on protecting yourself include:

  • Not publishing your email address on the Internet, if possible;
  • Only sharing your email address with trusted individuals;
  • Not replying to spam messages that have already made it to your inbox;
  • Being cautious when filing out Internet forms. Be especially wary of checkboxes that request opt-ins such as "Yes, I want to receive information about xx.";
  • Be suspicious of links from people who don't usually post links;
  • Not authorising anything on apps you're not 100% sure about;
  • Keeping a clean machine. Update your computer or handheld device with the latest operating system, software, web browsers, and apps to provide the best defences against viruses, malware, and other online threats that may be caused by spam messages;
  • Being wary of the information given to apps (does an app that lets you edit photos really need to know every single thing about you?); and
  • Not forgetting the golden rule – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Fitzgerald concluded: ”It's important that we remain vigilant as consumers, and not forgo security for convenience. Apps, for example, often request permissions from us that we commonly authorise without much thought on the possible implications. Be wary of the information you receive and sign up to, and wherever possible, also give yourself added peace of mind and security with the appropriate anti-spam technology.”

More below, please read on. 

ESET spam

Of course, ESET "legitimately spammed" the email inboxes of technology journalists to deliver its message and to secure a bit of free publicity, but I’m happy to acknowledge that’s precisely what ESET has done and to publish its message, which at least to me, is already very familiar.

Even so, one can never be warned enough about such matters – humans are the weakest link in the security chain, after all, and it only takes a moment of distraction to click on something that shouldn’t be clicked om, which could easily lead to ransomware and your computer effectively bricked!

So take heed of ESET’s advice, and be damned careful out there, for a mis-click could brick your PC and leave you with the short end of the stick  and nobody wants that!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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