Earlier this month, I was summoned to San Francisco for business meetings. Wanting to share the experience of California with my family, we all flew out to California together for a few days.  In keeping with a tradition that my mom still follows and has passed on to my wife and me, the preparations for any trip include a thorough cleaning of our entire home.  We vacuum, dust, change sheets, wash and put-away laundry, etc., so that everything is clean upon arrival back home.  (Try this—it’s awesome to walk in to a house that is impeccable after being away!)  Are we alone in this practice (just checking!)?  Anyhow, no one enjoys coming home to a clean house more than my wife, and you can just see the joy on her face when everything is cleaned and put away, including the trip laundry.  While I admit that I, too, enjoy a clean house, my joy level in this particular area is not the same as hers.  However, I do find that same happy place after all my emails are completed and my inbox is cleaned up after some time away from the office.  Anyone with me on this (the sweet feeling of a cleaned up inbox)?

A clean inbox is easier said than done.  Have you ever worked relentlessly through all your emails only to hit Send/Receive and get another one hundred emails, most of which are unsolicited spam emails? If you are like me you get tired of the junk advertisement email.  You delete a handful and it seems like you’re dealt another round, many times from similar sources or forged addresses.   The natural tendency eventually is to finally take the time to click through the email, locate the Unsubscribe button and get your email address removed.  And while this seems like a good course of action, I am including some reasons why I highly recommended NOT going the Unsubscribe route. Here’s why…

 

1. Clicking on an Unsubscribe embedded link or Unsubscribe button confirms to the sender that your email address is valid.  Spammers, cybercriminals and other groups who desire to exploit your email addresses usually collect or purchase this information by the hundreds of thousands not knowing which addresses are in use.  They even go as far as create programs that randomly generate (best guess) email addresses hoping to get lucky on a few.  When you click on an Unsubscribe option, you all but confirm that your email address is valid and that you activity monitor it. You also let them know that you were intrigued enough to click on the email in the first place. You can then expect a heavy dosage of more targeted spam advertisements.

2. Clicking on an Unsubscribe embedded link or Unsubscribe button can relay critical information about your Email Security (or lack thereof).  Many Unsubscribe options request that you reply back to the sender or a particular email address with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.  By following through with this request, you can be inadvertently supplying a spammer with additional information about what email software you use, if your emails are being tagged as actively filtered by an antivirus security solution, etc., and these details give them a better understanding on what in their malicious arsenal may be best effective against you.  There are even cases where clicking on the Unsubscribe link will open a new web browser, where from this new browser a hacker may be able to retrieve your ip address and geographical location.

3.  Clicking on an Unsubscribe embedded link or Unsubscribe button may result in malware getting downloaded to your system.  Think about it.  Spoofed links and images are part of the definition of phishing schemes. Socially engineered email attachments are still a top method for getting users to download and install malware (ie. CryptoLocker).  Attackers are routinely using the Unsubscribe option to trick users into clicking it.  Just like I’ve suggested in the past about not blindly clicking on embedded links within the body of an email, I say again- don’t blindly click on the Unsubscribe options.  Many times you can rollover the link or button and see they redirect to some rogue website.

Given all the above, what should you do when you receive these types of email.

1. Use common sense.  If you recently signed up for an email newsletter from your local pizza shop to take advantage of a free large pizza for joining and then get inundated with emails from them in the days following, it is likely safe to Unsubscribe from their listing.  I am consistently amazed at the ability of our Nation’s big-box retailers to flood our Inboxes.

2. Mark the email message as Spam or Junk.  Many of the leading free and web-based email providers like (Hotmail, Google, etc.) allow you to report the spam that made it through their initial filters.  By marking these messages as spam, the greater likelihood that similar messages will be caught and removed automatically.

3. Choose to Delete the email.  Simple enough.  Don’t open it.  Don’t view it.  Report it as Spam and then simply delete it without even viewing the message.  Again, most email providers will provide you a checkbox option in front of the message in the Inbox.

4. Install Security Software.  If you are using a client-based email software such as Microsoft Outlook or similar, consider installing security software.  Thirtyseven4 Endpoint Security comes equipped with a cutting edge Email Security module that not only filters emails for viruses, worms and malware but actively blocks emails that contain known email-based vulnerabilities and incorporates a Cloud-based, powerful AntiSpam engine to deal with all your unwanted spam issues.  And for those readers managing the IT infrastructure in network environments, Thirtyseven4 also offers an industry leading Thirtyseven4 for MS Exchange Solution as well.

Will we ever truly win the battle against spam? I am not sure it’s possible, but we can certainly make some offensive plays.  Junk emails are a nuisance to all of us, and we can do a number of things to affect the volume of them that fill our inboxes daily.

But we also have options about how we complete any task.  I have received less-than-favorable feedback from my wife when I have “cleaned up” a room/counter/area by simply scooping up the mess and placing it in a pile somewhere else.  The kitchen may look “good”, but the dining room table is a mess.

These days, clicking “unsubscribe” can often lead you into a bigger hassle than a full Inbox.  I recommend taking a moment to do the job correctly the first time and 1) Think!  (Use common sense), 2.) Mark the email message as spam or junk, which identifies it to your email provider as such, 3.) Delete the email, and 4.) Install aggressive security protection.  It’s worth our time and effort to be savvy, because the cybercriminals are spending a great deal of both time and effort to compromise our security and information.  There are solid products available to maintain your security and peace of mind–I of course recommend Thirtyseven4!

 

Whether it is a clean house or a clean email Inbox, it’s a great feeling to have things in order and in order by having done things the correct way.

And how was San Francisco?  If you have been there you know.  I agree with Rev. Billy Graham:
“The Bay Area is so beautiful; I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here. “.