"Don't click the spam... Don't click the spam..." -- perhaps that should become a mantra for internet users in the U.S. and Canada. A new study (PDF) showed appallingly that one in six users responded to an email posing as spam.
The study was conducted by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, an anti-spam trade organization, and shows just how gullible many everyday users are. It surveyed 800 people and found that many responded to the clearly questionable emails. Its conclusion is that with spam comprising an estimated 85 to 90 percent of email traffic, these kinds of users are helping to sustain "a booming spam-driven underground economy."
The study found that many believe themselves to be internet experts, but few really are. Two-third of those surveyed said they were “very” or “somewhat” experienced with Internet security. However, only one third avoided posting their email address online -- an easy entry for spammers, and only one in four used a different email address for submissions that might be shared with spammers.
Two-thirds believed they could identify spam based on the sender’s name, forty-five percent by the subject line, and 22 percent said "visual indicators" clued them into whether an email was spam. A mere 3 percent looked at the time the email was sent -- one easy way to identify spam.
Those clicking on the study's Cialis or Michael Jackson emails made a variety of excuses for their behavior. Approximately 17 percent claimed it was a mistake. Another 12 percent said the subject or service interested them. The responses become more humorous from there with 13 percent unable to explain what compelled them to click and respond and 6 percent saying they "wanted to see what would happen."
Of those who said they were "very" or "somewhat" experienced, 12 percent opened spam and loaded its images before deleting it -- sometimes enough to infect your computer -- compared to only 11 percent among those who admitted inexperience. Amusingly, 14 percent of users -- perhaps some of them Apple buyers -- insisted that they would never be victim of a virus.
Research firm Ferris Research said in comments included with the MAAWG report says these people are mistaken. It states, "You might assume that the more technically savvy you are, the less likely you are to be hit by a virus, but that is not true. Our previous research indicates that the more you use computers, the more likely you are to get hit by a virus."
The survey shows that as one might predict, many think they know much more than they really do. And that's happy news to spammers.