Email Defense: How Spam Detectors Work

spam detectors

In 2018, people around the world sent and received over 280 billion emails every dayAnd by 2023, this figure is set to increase to 347.3 billion emails.

This is hardly surprising. Emailing is fast, usually free, and can reach almost anywhere in the world. But not all emails are welcome ones.

49.7% of emails that hit your inbox are spam. They serve very little use to you, take up valuable space, and threaten your cybersecurity. So protecting yourself against spam is very important.

This is where spam detectors come in. Read on to find out all about this handy technology and how it works.

What is Spam?

You’re probably aware of spam, even if you don’t know it by that name.

Spam is another name for those annoying and unnecessary emails that clog up your inbox. You didn’t ask for them and you’re not always sure where they came from or why they’re there.

Nine times out of ten spam will be trying to sell you something. It might be an email about an offer or opportunity that you don’t want to miss. Sometimes it lures you in, but most of the time it just gets in the way.

That’s one of the reasons why the European Union passed anti-spam mail measures. This act is a set of rules on what you can or can’t mass email.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop spam altogether. Any website that you subscribe to or buy from can send you spam emails. They probably already do.

This is because emailing is an important marketing tool for many businesses. So how can you avoid spam?

What Is a Spam Filter?

You can set different filters on your email accounts to help you organize your inbox.

This is great because you won’t have a wall of messages to read through. For example, you might assign work emails to a specific work inbox so you know where to find them.

Your email uses these filters to sort through the emails that come in. This means you don’t have to do it yourself.

This is how spam filters work. They track your email patterns and use them to determine what is junk and what isn’t. Then they’ll send spam emails to your junk mail so you don’t have to wade through them.

Google spam filters use Gmail categories to do this. Microsoft uses filters to offer you a Focused Inbox. Some mailboxes even automatically block spam emails so you don’t waste storage.

While these are often reliable, it’s important to check your junk email every now and then. This means you won’t lose any important emails.

If you start an email correspondence with someone new, you should do a spam filter test with their email. That way you know it’s ending up in the right place.

Different Types of Spam Detectors

There are three different types of spam detectors.

Gateway spam filters are the first line of defense against spam emails. These physical servers sit at the border of any company’s network so that all emails coming into the company network have to pass through them.

However, they work outside the email network. This means they have less detailed email data to use. Therefore they aren’t always the most effective way of blocking spam.

Third party, or hosted, spam filters, on the other hand, can be. These can work at the network gateway and once an email enters the system. They work internally, which means they can use email content and sources to judge what is and isn’t spam.

Hosted spam filters usually work online. Any hosting website that handles your email account should offer hosted spam filters.

Some third-party filters also offer more detailed responses. Depending on the email, they might also automatically block some spam rather than sending it to your junk box.

Finally, desktop spam filters work like hosted spam filters. But they live on your desktop rather than online.

These often offer you even more options to customize your email filters so they can be more accurate at spotting spam when it comes in.

How Spam Systems Work

Spotting a spam email is essentially about spotting an email that shouldn’t be in your inbox.  To do this, spam filters track your emailing patterns.

Your mailbox provider doesn’t only check your incoming email. They also use outgoing emails to see your email trends. This makes sense, as you’re unlikely to email back anyone who is going to spam you.

They use algorithms and advanced heuristics to sort your incoming emails. These algorithms test each email’s criteria and give it a score. The score indicates the likelihood of it being spam.

Spam detectors focus on several different aspects of an email.

They look at the email’s content. Certain elements in the body of the text suggest it is a mass email.

For example not using a personal name to sign on or off can indicate this. Spam emails also tend to repeat a lot of the same words or phrases.

They also look at the subject line and email address of the email. The email address can show a lot about the source of an email.

Some IP addresses can also show the reputation of the email source. These are blacklist filters. Any IP addresses on the blacklist will automatically go in your junk email or get blocked.

It can be difficult to determine spam emails from subscription emails. These are also usually automatic and generic. Your filters tell the difference by looking at your engagement with these emails.

If you don’t open subscription emails these will often start ending up in your junk email.

Finally, you can set specific rules for your filters. You might want to block certain IP addresses or organizations, or you can block specific words or phrases.

Why Do We Need Spam Detectors?

Getting spam email is annoying. It makes it harder to find the emails you need in your inbox and it takes up valuable storage space.

But it can also be dangerous. Some people don’t use spam as a marketing tool. They actually use it to spread malware or phish for your personal details.

Opening a spam email can expose you to virus downloads. Some also mimic email subscriptions you have to steal your personal details. Spam filters can help to protect you against these cyber threats.

When you’re running a business it’s important to secure yourself against online hackers. You can find out more about doing this in this blog.

What to Look For In a Spam Detector

Spam detectors can protect you from cyber threats. This is why it’s important to use one that works properly. When you open a new email account with a hosting site take the time to find out their spam detector policies.

You need to make sure your filter blocks spam. This means it should block all spam. Fortunately, you can check to see if it isn’t working.

Sometimes spam filters become less effective with time. This is because not all filters update to fit the evolving online landscape.

It’s also important to make sure that the emails you want to receive can still reach your inbox. This is why running an email test is a good idea when you first start emailing a new address.

You can also check for legitimate emails in your junk box. Make sure to mark them as not junk to correct any mistakes that your spam detector makes. This will update its algorithms and prevent any repeats.

Using a spam filter that you can edit yourself is a good idea. If this isn’t possible, you need to make sure your hosting site’s administrators can access the filters. They’ll be able to intervene if necessary to make sure that the filters work for you.

Other Ways to Avoid Spam Emails

Spam detectors aren’t the only way to avoid spam emails, although they are the most thorough one.

There are several everyday techniques you can use to avoid spam. These include:

  • Not broadcasting your email – this stops people adding it to spamming lists
  • Using different email accounts for different things
  • Turning off your read receipts and images so spammers can’t tell when they’ve emailed a live account
  • Being careful about who you copy into your emails
  • Not replying to spam emails
  • Using forms on your website rather than your email
  • Using CAPTCHA
  • Securing your site

You should also be wary of ‘unsubscribe’ buttons. These are great if you know the site you’ve subscribed to, but unsubscribing from a spam email only lets the spammer know they’ve reached you. This won’t necessarily stop their emails from coming in.

The Bottom Line

Annoying spam emails don’t have to be the bane of your life. Using spam detectors keeps them out of your inbox and protects your information.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. We’re here to help!