We have all been prey to spammers, those people that send you unwanted junk e-mail messages trying to sell you things. They range from offers of medicine, to medical procedures, to scams that are designed to get your bank account details.
Spam filters are usually pretty good at filtering out the crud, but it still presents a big problem globally and is a massive drain on resources. Several sources indicate that spam accounts for as much as 90% of all e-mail traffic in the world.
Where does all of this spam come from?
Some spam e-mail does come from the spammers themselves. You can usually tell which accounts are spam accounts, as they tend to have unusual names and domains. If you are ever in any doubt, you can try doing a Google search on a particular address. If it is a known spammer the chances are you will find out. Spammers do try to obfuscate what they are doing and will often ‘spoof’ someone else’s address. Spoofing is where the spammer uses a different reply to address and therefore appears to be someone else sending the e-mail.
Sending out masses of e-mails from one account won’t generally get the determined spammer very far, as they will soon get blocked by ISPs. Therefore, they are always looking for fresh sources to send their messages from.
One tactic spammers use is to high jack your e-mail account and use that to send messages. Another tactic is to use a virus to infect your machine which then sends messages without your knowledge. You may notice yourself receiving failed delivery or out of office notifications for e-mails you haven’t sent, or in a worst case scenario you may find your e-mail account or IP address has been blocked. As well as that, people may contact you asking what such and such funny message was all about.
How can you tell if your account has been hacked, or if you have fallen victim to some malicious software?
Well, the first thing to do is to check your e-mail account online. Have a look in your sent folder for messages you haven’t sent. If your account has been hacked, you may even find the hackers have changed your password and you cannot log in. There are always ways you can contact the e-mail host to get your password reset if you cannot log in. Change your password (and any other e-mail account passwords) as soon as you have determined you have been hacked.
If you use an e-mail client such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird and you find you are unable to send messages, you may have a virus on your computer, or one of the computers at your location. The first thing to do is check the error messages you are getting. They will indicate if your local IP (Internet Protocol) address has been blocked and may even direct you to an external blacklist such as Spamhaus. IP addresses can be removed from blacklists, either by request or by no spam activity for a period of time. Before that can happen you need to identify the source of the spam from your address.
Make sure you have up to date anti virus software on all of your computers and run a full scan on each. If in doubt, seek professional assistance. We recently visited a customer who was unable to send messages using an e-mail client. We ran scans on all four computers at their location. Three were clean, the fourth had over fifty infections. Once that was cleaned we restarted the router (it forces it to obtain a new IP address – this only works if you have a dynamically assigned address though) and since then everything has been fine.
If you believe you have been hacked, or have a virus infection on your computer, you can reach us from our contacts page.