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What is it?

Spam, also known as Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE), is unwanted and questionable mass-emailed advertisements. At its peak, spam accounted for 92% of all email traffic, although most of the spam was non-malicious.

Spammers may purchase legitimate mailing lists, but more likely, they use web-scraping to collect publicly-posted email addresses across the web. Alternatively, they generate contact lists through permutations of names and domains, like firstnamea@gmail.com or firstnameb@gmail.com. 

Since spam success relies on volume, spammers system-generate and email the same message to the entire contact list they have created, with the expectation that someone will click. Spammers sometimes add randomly generated phrases or words to the message, aiming to make each look different and fool automated email filters.

The email content itself usually promotes a product or service and provides contact details for recipients to place an order.

Why is it a threat?

While spam volumes are not at peak levels, the spammers have become more sophisticated. They now use Traffic Distribution Systems (TDS) to run their campaigns, essentially giving them the ability to use the same campaign to be more effective, serve up different types of spam, and even malware, to different types of machines in different locations. These more sophisticated distribution techniques to send volumes of email increase the risk and costs faced by enterprises. At the same time, for certain users, it’s critical to distinguish between spam, unwanted bulk mail, and wanted bulk mail which creates an interesting challenge for most IT organizations trying to grapple with different user needs and risk.

The receipt, processing, classification, and disposal of spam and unwanted mail consumes system and employee bandwidth, creating a service quality issue. Since typical spam email is very easily identified by most enterprise users when it ultimately reaches there inbox, dealing with spam is perceived to be more frustrating as it’s a more visible nuisance.

How can I protect against it?

The focus of basic spam protection should be on avoiding Denial of Service or service quality issues, and minimizing delivery to reduce user frustration. Look for an email gateway product with ability to protect an organization from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), technology that enables high catch-rate and low false positives when identifying spam based on unique content analysis techniques.

For more sophisticated spam that uses TDS and other techniques to deliver campaign email and malicious threats, ideally use a hybrid cloud or full-cloud email gateway solution that offers unique Big Data analysis features. This typically includes utilization of large datasets such as historicals and velocity tracking to build behavioral models that can catch emerging sophisticated campaigns, regardless of volume and velocity of the email received.