‘Tis the Season to Be Spam-Aware

Black Friday – the official beginning of the holiday shopping season – has passed, and that means there’s a feeding frenzy of money-hungry retailers who would step over their own grandmothers to pilfer your pockets. Unfortunately, shoppers are no better as they salivate over the chance to save fifty bucks on an HDTV. An anthropologist’s dream, these shoppers revert to a pack mentality that leaves us wondering if the act of coming down from the trees 80,000 years ago was nothing more than a symbolic gesture. We’ve already seen signs of the madness throughout the US, but it’s safe to say that many parts of the world will be prime targets over the next several weeks for a summary divorce between you and your money.

Unfortunately, while retailers crawl over each other in an attempt to empty the contents of your left pockets, spammers are silently lining up to take what’s left from your right pockets. It’s long been known that spam is a seasonal business – those wily scam artists target events and fragile psychologies, seemingly better than anyone – and no season is bigger in the Western world than Christmas, thanks to money-driven organizations that rely on a small, six week window to make or break their bottom lines. That makes this time of the year incredibly dangerous, not just for our credit card bills, but for the ever-increasing risks of identity theft, email scams, and malicious software designed to silently soak up every piece of information that the enterprising spammer needs to have a merry Christmas indeed.

Here are a few considerations you should make, this and every holiday season, to protect yourself from a visit from the spam elf:

Stressors

Christmas is stressful. There’s plenty of research to suggest that Christmas is not only incredibly stressful, in fact it’s downright deadly. Massive stresses on the wallet are exacerbated by the pressures to deal with family. To make matters worse, in this part of the world, the icy blasts of arctic air shoot through you like a million tiny icicles. The days become very short, with most people waking in darkness, and dealing with it again when they arrive home for supper. The phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder is so pervasive in modern society that it’s generated its own business in light therapy devices. The holiday season is stressful, plain and simple, and when people become stressed out, they become fatigued, and they don’t think so clearly. It’s a prime opportunity for spammers to slip one past you as you sift through the unending glut of email that bombards inboxes this time of year.

Smarter spammers

Spammers aren’t nearly as dumb as they appear to be. We’ve been seeing more and better phishing attempts, and it appears that the phishers are very successful, pulling down a cool $687 million in the first half of this year. In fact, the spam business as a whole is a $20 billion business, and as long as it’s making that kind of coin, we can expect spam purveyors to do everything it takes to keep their solid gold pools in working condition. That makes the minefield even more treacherous, because spammers will do whatever it takes to prey on innocent users. People are far more vulnerable when they’re tired and stressed, and there’s no stress like holiday stress.

Malware under the Christmas tree

2012 has seen an interesting and disturbing shift in the state of spam. While overall numbers of email spam continue to decline, the amount of dangerous spam is on the rise.  Some criminals have even made a business out of equipping other wannabe criminals, with 2012 seeing the release of Blackhole 2.0. Spam emails are laden with malicious links and images (an attempt at getting around spam filters), and a single click could be devastating. Kaspersky Labs are reporting that, while spam levels continue to dip, spam messages with malicious attachments are on an alarming rise.

Making it personal

Spam is getting more personal, and there’s a simple explanation. The mass-blast method of sending ridiculous messages from Nigerian princes and widowed old ladies has some appeal, because, incredulously, it works with a certain portion of the masses. But cyber criminals seem to be finding more traction with personal attacks, or at least more well-crafted ones.

Be wary

Be wary this holiday season.  Let your users know that their stress can add to the danger. And here’s hoping you don’t mortgage your house in an attempt to line your Christmas tree with gifts, or worse, the spammers’.

Written by Malcolm James

6 Comments

  1. Sharon · November 30, 2012

    Spell scary, but the article is actually right! Dangerous spam is everywhere! What makes things even worse is the fact that it may not be that long before they gain their entrance to mobile strategies, such as mobile e-mailing or banking. In fact, this has already been proven before. Remember the more than 40 apps that were actually malware? That’s actually a huge number, which could mean thousands of potentially infected mobile phones. And as companies take advantage of BYOD, the phones become more vulnerable since they contain more confidential corporate data.

  2. Kim Parker · November 30, 2012

    If retailers announced discounts on their sites, not only via email, this will be a huge blow against spammers. Now, even if we know not to fall for links in emails but go straight to the site, this is useless because some really hot discount is nowhere to be seen there and can be found only by following a link. This is the trap!

  3. Isabel Foster · December 1, 2012

    Yes, indeed! In fact, I’ve been receiving almost all types of spam since August. That early! But maybe spammers are working double time since it’s the holiday season. But I would also like to remind everyone here that we should also not be spammers. I know that we love to greet our friends or perhaps sell some of our goodies (if you’re into business or something), but please learn to respect other people’s space. I should say this because a good friend of mine just decided to e-mail me about “fun Christmas gift ideas” more than 5 times the past 2 weeks.

  4. Steven · December 2, 2012

    Honestly, every day should be a time to be aware of spam, as a lot of them are beginning to sound like regular e-mails. One time, I received a lengthy e-mail about a supposed job offer in Los Angeles, a city I’ve been secretly dreaming to live in. The content was fantastic, the salary was awesome, and the benefits are to die for. However, I decided not to answer back when, at the end of the e-mail, it requested me to input my personal information in a website that was so suspicious looking. I really felt frustrated. In fact, I still do.

  5. Alfred · December 3, 2012

    What makes spam more difficult to deal with is the fact they’re sounding very close to legitimate mails. I once received a supposed Christmas card from a long-distant relative. To view it, I needed to click on the link. As expected in any spam, it eventually led to a pharmacy website selling drugs I have never heard of in my entire life. I still don’t know if there are other consequences to my action (like their system has recorded my e-mail address or whatever). I may find out in the next few days. But again, it was truly a foolish decision.

  6. Malcolm James · December 7, 2012

    All great comments, folks. Just remember to beef up your spam security and get your Christmas shopping done before the 25th.

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