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Technology

SPAM

Hello friends. In this age of internet, everyone has been crying hoarse about spam or to be precise – about having to put up with spam (both email and SMS). For me, this problem dates back to 1998 – that’s when I created my email accounts on Yahoo and Hotmail (now called Outlook.com). I always wondered why anyone would send me emails about Cialis and Viagra – I was just 22 and nowhere within the range of E.D. (go figure!). Maybe sending me emails about Endura Mass or Protein Supplements would have been useful since I was a bag of bones then (tipping the scales at just 56 Kg for a 6’1” frame). It never occurred to me where these unscrupulous fellows got my email address.

Cut to scene 2 – this is the year 2004. That’s when I got my first mobile phone – a humble Nokia 3120. It was a small phone with a 128×128 colour screen, had no internet, no Bluetooth and no 3.5mm jack. Those were the days of the SMS. Days when message count was a major concern – more messages would clog the inbox and you’d have to periodically delete unwanted ones. Even in this case I started receiving spam. Again I was clueless where the spammers got my mobile number from – I never gave out my number to strangers.

It took me a good while to realise where I went wrong – most of us are guilty of this too. I’ll break it down for you. To a very good extent we INVITE spam with our full consent (and full imprudence or shall I call it ignorance).

 

SMS SPAM:

I’m sure you have received Quiz SMS that ask inarguably simple questions like “What’s the name of Amitabh Bachchan’s son” or “Who is the President of the US”. We need to type 1/2/3 or a/b/c as the answer and send it to a 5-6 digit short code. We are promised a surprise gift or that coveted iPhone or The Galaxy S8 or S9 as the case may be. Gullible as most of us are – we impulsively press a few keys and send the ANSWER in fond hopes of getting that prize. What we actually did was send a CONFIRMATION to the spammer that they sent the message to a valid mobile number. The spammer got what he wanted.

This is not limited to quizzes. It could also be messages that tell you your future (horoscope) or help you cope with stress at work/home or even foretell the results of a cricket/football match (so you can win that bet). Most of us instantly fall for it and thereby reveal our mobile numbers to the spammers. These days – we reveal lot more than just our mobile numbers, though.

There’s another class of semi-educated people who think they are smart. They send STOP messages as a response to such messages. This works ONLY if the SMS came from reliable/reputed companies e.g. your Email service provider or any other paid subscriptions that you have. In all the other cases – you AGAIN reveal you mobile number to spammers.

 

Email Spam:

Now let’s shift our focus to emails. Again you’re probably thinking how these spammers get your email address. Now try to remember all those “free app/subscription” websites that you visited – they always asked for your Name and Email address – no credit/debit card details required. You readily entered your email address and thought it’s just this one website. How do you think this website pays their employees who made that ‘free’ software for you? Simple – they sell your data (Name and Email address) to several such data-hungry spammers.

The semi-educated class again thought they were smart and clicked the “Unsubscribe” button in those emails – thereby confirming to the spammers that it was indeed a valid email address they sent that spam to. Think for a moment – why would someone let you “Unsubscribe” from something you never “Subscribed” to? They just sent that email to you randomly – never realizing that it was a real/valid email address. Any sort or response just tells them that it is a valid email address.

Yet another class of bird-brained people clicked “Reply” and hurled the choicest abuses at the spammers. And the spammer was in tears – is that what you think? The spammer laughed at his success – he just got a confirmation about the validity of your email address (who’s your daddy now?).

Shopping:

This is a trap that most of us fall into, invariably. Remember when you decide to check out and approach the clerk – he meekly asks you if you have their membership/loyalty card. While some of you have one – a vast majority does not have one – they say that we don’t have it. The clerk then offers you one – says that you just need to fill your name and mobile number – he will take care of the rest. While some still refuse – other gullible ones agree – and ignorantly fill their names and mobile numbers on the enrolment form.

And then we ask – HOW did the spammers get my mobile number?

This brings us to the million dollar question – What do I do to protect myself from spam? Sadly, the answer is “Not much”. There are a few things though. For starters, you can mark those emails as spam as and when they arrive. Some email apps offer you the option to “Report spam and block”. The others just let you “Report spam/Mark as spam”. There is an organisation called SPAMHAUS (https://www.spamhaus.org/). Their job is to keep track of spammers and get them blacklisted. They provide a list of confirmed spammers to ISPs and they in turn are required to block such spammers on their respective networks. How much they can help us – I don’t know yet. I’m still waiting to find out.

For the time being all I can say is:

  1. Do not provide your mobile numbers/email address(es) to salesmen in the malls for “Lucky Draws” – nobody ever gets any prize/deal. You just compromise your privacy.
  2. Do not click on links in unsolicited emails. They practically reveal you IP address and location to those websites.
  3. Never fall for hoaxes that say “click here and see that happens next” or “click here to win (some highly priced gadget)” or the more common “Spin the wheel and …” emails/links on WhatsApp.
  4. Once marked spam – do not open those emails – no matter how enticing the subject line is.
  5. Click on the delete button next to the spam folder every now and then. Yahoo users beware – some important emails may find their way to the spam folder – so, be careful.
  6. Remember – you are not legally compelled to provide your mobile number and/or other personal details at shopping malls especially at the cash/payment counters. ALWAYS REFUSE!!!
  7. Abstain from downloading free software by providing your email address. There are other smart* ways to download them (*you already know it – others: don’t ask – I won’t tell).
  8. Practise Address Munging (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address_munging) – simply put – ‘disguise’ your email address when you HAVE to provide it on public forums.
  9. Since you know the pain of handling spam – have a conscience – be responsible and avoid spamming.

There are some necessary evils too – Shopping/Banking/Job Portals/Government service websites – you cannot REFUSE to provide your personal details. So, live with it. While the above steps do not guarantee 100% spam protection – they help minimize the menace.

Till I find a cure for spam (I doubt that) – have a good day.

By Kottayi Amith

A teacher, a father, an agreeable (do I have a choice?) husband - I love to play with words. I spin the yarn - and she maintains the (cob)webs. As different as chalk and cheese - we get along very well on this one topic - My Website. Welcome to our world of words and ways of word-smithy. I hope you do not regret your visit here, to say the least.

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