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How to reduce SPAM on your website and in your mailbox

SPAM can be time-consuming and frustrating, and can lead to additional problems on your website and in your email. It becomes increasingly frustrating when it seems to grow like uncontrollable mold. To prevent SPAM, it is important to know how it is defined, how it comes about and finally, how to reduce SPAM or stop it altogether.

What is SPAM?

Spam can be defined as:

Posts and links that go to a spammer website

Inappropriate messages sent to a large number of people

Electronic “junk mail”

Mass commercial advertising

How does SPAM happen?

“Spammers harvest recipient addresses from publicly accessible sources, use programs to collect addresses on the web, and simply use dictionaries to make automated guesses at common usernames at a given domain.” SOURCE: Reducing Spam

Limit the damage spam can cause

  1. Because SPAM is one way to carry a virus, using a good anti-virus is important for all internet and e-mail users. Because SPAM can come from a known domain, and because they are becoming more sophisticated in obtaining e-mail address, it is important to know the sender and even verify the information before opening suspicious links. Most mail systems already filter email, but those that are aware of your ‘safe senders’ are more accurate and effective in reducing spam email.
  2. Use strong passwords to protect your accounts from being forged. A strong password typically includes a mix of 8 or more characters including upper and lower case letters, number and special characters. Change your passwords regularly to prevent hacking. Once your email address is compromised, it can be used to send out SPAM to your entire contact list, and those messages will be coming from a legitimate source – you!
  3. If you get an attachment from an unexpected sender, or you weren’t expecting an attachment from a known sender, chances are good it’s malware. Don’t open it!
  4. Hover over links and analyse the “from” address before clicking any links to see where they will be directing you. Also, be aware of changes to your accounts and always call if there is a question. For example, if Chase Bank sends an email telling you of an issue with your account, they will have you login to your Chase account or ask you to contact a representative. They will not ask you to respond to the email with sensitive information such as your name, birthdate or social security number.  If I’m interested in the product, I’ll type the URL rather than risk clicking the link with the trackers embedded.
  5. Keep a web filter running to prevent the unaware user from clicking the phishing link and being taken to the wrong site.

How to Reduce SPAM: Tools and Tricks

  1. In addition to an anti-virus programs, use an anti-spam filter. These filters will look for certain known “tricks” spammers will use including phishing schemes. Phishing scams are when the request is being made for personal or private information.
  2. Use throw-away email addresses.  If you need to use your email address to post or publish online, use an email address specifically for that purpose, but keeping your ‘real’ email address safe and secure. To reduce spam email, be careful when using your email address to sign up for items online, making sure to uncheck any boxes giving authorization to third parties to contact you and that there is a “won’t sell your email” policy.
  3. Don’t publish your email address online, including on your website. If you do, disguise it in a way that human readers will understand but programs trolling for email addresses won’t, such at “example at”.  Some use a graphic to show an email address, and not HTML text that’s easily harvested, effectively reducing spam email.
  4. Disabling user generated content is another way to prevent SPAM on websites. These are automatically created comments that are usually submitted to blog pages. The negative side of this is when an actual customer or potential client is interested in offering feedback, they can’t immediately post. Having them complete a contact form is a better way of getting information from them than having them leave a comment.  If you need them to post live content, post-process the data to ensure it’s not spam or worse!
  5. Use a CAPTCHA form to cause someone to enter information to prove they are indeed human and not automated. These are images with text that is unreadable by computers, thus limiting what can be submitted.
  6. One user reported having great results with reducing spam on their website by creating a form with a field invisible to human readers, but that automated systems couldn’t resist. When this invisible field was populated with an answer, it was automatically discarded as spam.

See SANS for a sample email policy here


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