Email recipients still falling for spam, finds survey

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Despite awareness around spam, half of email recipients are responding in some form to socially engineered mail messages, according to a survey released this week by the nonprofit Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group.

The survey of more than 1,000 users from the United States and 500 from nations abroad found that half of email users are either opening spam, clicking on a link or an attachment contained in the messages, or replying to or forwarding the emails. In many cases, the messages are malicious and interacting with them can result in fraud, phishing, identity theft and malware infection, MAAWG said.

Infection could mean that a victim's computer becomes part of a botnet and is then used to deliver spam to other users, according to MAAWG. Yet, less than half of the respondents viewed themselves "as the entity who should be most responsible for stopping the spread of viruses."

"Consumers need to understand they are not powerless bystanders," Michael O'Reirdan, chairman for MAAWG, said in a statement. "They can play a key role in standing up to spammers by not engaging and just marking their emails as junk."

Not all of the news is grim, however. According to the survey, released Wednesday, roughly half of those who opened spam did so on purpose, usually so they could unsubscribe or complain. But 11 percent of consumers did click on a link in spam and eight percent have opened attachments. In some cases, doing this can lead to an exploit.

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