Am I a Spammer?


Am I a Spammer?

For most of internet users a spammer is a villain who is at least flooding people's e-mail boxes with unwanted, annoying and absolutely useless advertisements and in worst case sending various harmful programs like viruses or trojans. In some countries spamming is officially considered as a crime. There are specialized police units focusing on this kind of crime and those brought to court are heavily fined or even given prison sentences.

However, things can be quite complicated. Nowadays, with the current state of internet and computer technology almost everyone who regularly uses internet can become a spammer. In fact, such person can have absolutely no idea about being a spammer until some of his victims complains. It is actually quite simple because contemporary operation systems and programs are able to connect to Internet without the user being aware. Of course, the user can restrict this activity but to do that he has to be more or less familiar with the system settings.

On the other hand there exist operation systems that are different in this sense. For example, almost in every modification of OS Linux any independent network activity of the system and all the applications is impossible by default and the user has to customize the system manually. However, currently the majority of computer users prefer Windows operation system, which doesn't require the user to have any special knowledge or skills and in order to make user's life easier almost all necessary settings in this system are made by default. Bad thing about this is that the default settings very often make the computer vulnerable to the activity of various intruders.

In order to get access to somebody's computer criminals usually use various types of viruses, very often these are trojans or exploits. By general definition, a trojan is a harmful application that gets to the user's computer pretending to be a useful program or together with a useful program and an exploit is a malicious piece of code usually written in some network oriented programming language (very often Java), which is embedded into the code of a web page.

In fact, recently the difference between exploits, trojans and other types of viruses has been vanishing. For example, an exploit embedded into a web page code can itself download a trojan program from some server to the user's computer while the user is visiting an "infected" page. This means that simply surfing internet and visiting a site you can get a virus on your computer and you won't be able to notice anything (unless you have a reliable anti-virus software). And this virus can cause you many troubles.

When a trojan is downloaded to your computer it can, for example, steal the login name and the password of your e-mail account and start to send spam letters from your address. For that it can use the resources of your computer and even your mail server if it is not securely protected. The worst thing for you and your reputation is that in the "From:" field of the spam letters there will be your e-mail address. So, for the people receiving those unwanted letters the spammer will be the owner of the address, which means you.

If you have your own web site then there is a possibility that a trojan program will obtain your login information for the FTP access (FTP is an internet protocol which is usually used for uploading/downloading files to/from a server). Using this information the trojan can either place some spam advertisements on your site or even add some malicious code to the pages of the site - for example, the same exploit that will try to download trojans on the computers of those who have visited your site. The site will be working as usual and you won't ever notice that something wrong is happening until someone who visited your site and detected a virus attack from it complains to you. It will be lucky if it is you and not your hosting company who is first to be informed about a virus on your site because the hosting company would immediately block all your web pages without any advance notice.

You can have even more problems if you have an online account in some internet payment system and the virus on your computer managed to get access to the login information. In fact, loosing all your money on the account could be only part of the problem. The worse that can happen is if your stolen account is used as an intermediate link to transfer some money from another stolen account to the account of criminals. Trying to make the situation more complicated criminals sometimes use long chains of stolen accounts. Unfortunately, you can be involved into a police investigation. It is even possible that you will be charged with internet fraud (for example, if you are first in the chain) and you will have to prove yourself innocent. During the investigation your account will be probably blocked and as a result you can lose both your account in the payment system and all the money you had on it.

Even in less serious situations, when the problem is not related to money but just to sending spam letters from your e-mail address you can still be in trouble. For example, your e-mail account can be blocked because of spamming and it will be very difficult to prove it was not your fault. For the same reason your e-mail address can be blacklisted in some anti-spam programs or get into personal spam blacklists of some users and your messages will not be able to reach them anymore.

Moreover, if your personal computer is sending out tons of spam using your e-mail account then your e-mail provider can simply terminate the contract with you and it is completely up to him if he is going to listen to you and discuss your problems with viruses. Caring about their reputation some companies do not tolerate any spam-related activity and if there is any reason to believe that spam letters are being sent by some of the users they will immediately close the account.

Unfortunately, today's internet provides plenty of opportunities for various types of criminals. And as a user you have to be aware of possible dangers and be careful when surfing internet. There are several simple rules that could help you to avoid most of the problems mentioned above:

  • Never run any programs attached to letters received from an unknown person. For viruses this is the main way to get to your computer.
  • Always use a reliable web browser when you surfing internet. Some experts advise to avoid using Internet Explorer and recommend such browsers as Mozilla Firefox and Opera that are better protected against virus attacks. However, not everyone agrees and there are many people that still prefer IE. If you are among those then you should better have the latest version of the browser because the later the version the more protected it is.
  • If you are using Windows XP then never neglect to install those updates that are automatically downloaded to your computer. These updates are correcting errors and weaknesses of the system that can be used by criminals to get access to the data on your computer. Every update makes your system more protected and reliable.
  • Always keep your anti-virus program active. Unfortunately, when surfing web pages in internet you never know if on the next site you will be attacked by an exploit downloading a trojan program to your computer that triggers a horrible chain reaction. Reliable anti-virus program with resident protection can detect such dangerous activity and protect you against it. The choice of anti-virus software is yours. Many Russian users prefer to use Kaspersky Lab software, some others like NOD 32, also Norton anti-virus and McAfee solutions are among popular choices. In any case, resident anti-virus program with up-to-date virus data bases has to be continuously active while you are working on the computer.
  • If you find out that somehow you have become a spammer then you have to take immediate action to stop this. First of all, install the latest version of a reliable anti-virus program and check the whole computer to get rid of all the dangerous files. If your web site is also "infected" then you have to replace all the files on the server (so, you need to keep a complete archive of the site source files). When somebody is complaining about the spam received from your address while you are absolutely unaware of this you should contact the person and explain the situation. If you receive complaints from your hosting company or provider then you should better immediately reply with a detailed description of the problem you have encountered. So you better inform them that you know about the problem and dealing with it rather then "play innocent".

But first of all - be careful. The sooner you find the problem the more chances you have to solve it quickly and without consequences. And remember, being careless when using internet will cost you. Criminals are always there, they are constantly improving their tactics to be able to sneak through security systems. This is why it is crucially important to use the latest versions of computer security software and regularly update key files of the system and anti-virus data bases. Only keeping the protection of your computer up-to-date you can be pretty much safe from security threats.

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About the Author: Mike Grunch, Tech Writer at LuxContinent.
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