Spam vs. phishing — While the terms “spam” and “phishing” are sometimes used interchangeably, the two terms have similar but distinct meanings. They’re both metaphors for annoying, unsolicited emails that aim to persuade recipients to do something. This may involve divulging personal information, login credentials, or clicking on a malicious connection or file.
But what exactly is spam, and what exactly is phishing? In this post, we’ll go over the distinctions between spam and phishing. In terms of email, phone calls, and text messages, we’ll also look at the distinctions between spam and phishing.
The Origins and Meanings of the Words “Spam” and “Phishing”
What Is Spam?
Spam is described as any unsolicited or unwanted commercial message. According to Digital Trends, the word “spam” is believed to have originated in the 1980s, when it was used in a Monty Python skit about canned meat Spam. According to Brad Templeton (the founder of the world’s first internet-based business), the word “spam” refers to “something that keeps repeating itself to the point of annoyance.”
Spam’s aim is to reach as many people as possible with advertisements that advertise and sell goods and services. It’s actually the digital equivalent of all those junk mail envelopes and postcards sent to your mailbox by the mailman. Spam is a numbers game, according to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2020 report: “With ample amount, even a small success rate is enough to generate value for threat actors.”
In other words, if you send out enough emails, someone, somewhere will inevitably fall for the con. This is why spam messages aren’t targeted and end up in the hands of the general public. Spam is widely used by scammers in three ways:
- Email messages,
- Phone calls (telemarketing and robocalls), and
- SMS phishing messages are all examples of phishing messages (text messages).
While spam isn’t as dangerous as phishing, users should still be careful when receiving these messages. They regularly try to elicit personal information from you in order to use it in potential spam attempts. They can also be malicious in nature (though this is less common than phishing emails).
What Exactly Is Phishing?
Scammers and cybercriminals use phishing to impersonate a legal entity or use other means to defraud their victims. Phishing messages are more dangerous than spam because they are designed to appear genuine but are intended to injure, deceive, or trick people into doing something they wouldn’t or shouldn’t normally do. As a consequence, when we speak about spam vs. phishing, the distinction is between the sender’s intentions and the contents of the messages.
Phishing emails are designed to trick users into sharing personal information, clicking on links, or opening malicious attachments. They’ll use the links to try to steal your credentials or trick you into installing malicious software. They’ll try to trick you into downloading malware by giving you attachments. It’s bad news for you in any case.
The most popular forms of phishing are the following:
- Email phishing (including whale phishing and spear phishing),
- phone calls (vishing), SMS (smishing),
- Wi-Fi port phishing (evil twin),
- HTTPS phishing, and
- Angler phishing are all examples of phishing (cloning social media posts and profiles).
Spam vs Phishing in Emails
The most commonly used spamming and phishing tools are emails. That’s why we’re going to talk about how to tell the difference between spam and phishing emails.
What Is Spam in the Context of Email?
Spam is defined as any electronic message sent for the purpose of commercial advertising or promotion of a product, service, or website material. The Regulating the Attack of Non-Solicited Pornography and Advertisement Act of 2003, also known as the CAN-SPAM act, allows email spamming a legal practise.
The following are some important CAN-SPAM laws that the sender must follow:
- Unsubscribe links or buttons must be active and available in emails. The sender has ten days to respond to the unfollow request and stop sending emails to the receiver.
- The email address of the sender must be right. The message’s “from” line should not be deceptive, and the message’s topic should be important to the message’s body.
- The physical address of the sender must be included. The sender’s physical address (or P.O. Box number) must be included in the email (company, individual sender, advertiser, or third-party marketing agency).
- If the email contains adult content, recipients must be informed. The material must be classified as “SEXUALLY EXPLICIT” if it is of an adult nature.
- Emails should be sent from different email addresses by the sender. Spam messages from separate email addresses should not be sent to the same recipient.
- Malware must not be present in emails: Malware (viruses, worms, trojan horses, and so on) must not be present in the spam messages, and they must not direct users to malicious websites.
Companies do not consider emails sent to existing customers or company leads (people who have asked about products/services) to be spam when they are used for follow-up, reviews, suggestions, or some other form of contact. CAN-SPAM classifies these messages as relationship messages. Political and religious emails are also exempt from the SMAP’s CAN-SPAM concept.
Spam emails are not inherently harmful. They’re basically unwanted and take up space in your inbox. However, SPAM emails are notorious for exploiting security flaws, which hackers may use to gain access to the recipient’s email client and spread malware or phishing emails. According to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2020 study, CVEs 2017-0199 and 2017-11882 have accounted for “nearly 90% of the vulnerabilities hackers attempted to exploit via spam campaigns.”
It’s just about the numbers when it comes to spam. Also low success rates pay off in the long run when you send enough spam messages to enough people.
Most email clients detect spam emails automatically and file them in the spam/junk folder. In such an email, all attachments and photos are also blocked. However, if you continue to receive unwanted spam emails in your inbox, you can unsubscribe. (However, double-check the unsubscribe connection to make sure it’s not a phishing or malicious link.) You can also transfer emails to the spam folder by right-clicking on them in your inbox. You may also put a stop to the sender.
What Is Phishing in the Context of Email?
Phishing emails are sent by scammers posing as a business or individual that the recipients trust. The essence of these emails is misleading. Phishing emails are designed to look like they came from your bank, an ecommerce site, a university, the government, your employer, family, or coworkers. According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), email is used in 96 percent of phishing attacks.
Malware-infected attachments, malicious links, or redirects to spammy websites may all be found in these emails. The attackers will often try to evoke an emotional response from the recipients by exchanging personal information such as:
- Payment card numbers,
- Phone numbers,
- Physical address,
- Social security number (SSN),
- Tax-related information, and
- Health information
The general motives behind phishing emails include:
- Financial fraud,
- Identity theft,
- Login credentials theft,
- Spreading malware (worms, viruses, trojans, rootkits, adware, etc.), and
- Redirecting recipients to malicious websites.
Many U.S. states have different laws for phishing. There is no federal law that directly criminalizes phishing, but the federal criminal laws apply to financial fraud and identity theft crimes done via phishing.
If you have become the victim of a phishing email, you can register your complaint to the www.ic3.gov, ftc.gov/complaint or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Difference Between Spam and Phishing Emails
To help you better understand the difference between spam and phishing, we thought it might be useful to see them laid out side by side in table.
|Purpose||To promote and market products and services||To defraud recipients|
|Nature||Unwanted commercial emails that are typically benign in nature but can sometimes be malicious||Misleading messages that appear to come from legit entities but are designed to be malicious in nature.|
|Contain||Product/service advertisements, coupon codes, deals, discounts, inquiry or survey forms||Malware-loaded attachments, infected links, links that redirect to spammy websites, deceptive messages that make recipients share their PII/financial information|
|Legislation||The U.S. Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 For other countries: Anti-Spam laws||Various state laws, the U.S. federal criminal law|
Spam vs Phishing: Voice Messages and Phone Calls
Phone calls are used by perpetrators to spam and phish targets.
Spam calls are when you receive an unsolicited phone call for marketing purposes, particularly from a company you’ve never worked with before. It’s difficult to say the difference between advertisement and spam calls.
For example, if you get a phone call asking you to apply for a credit card from a company you’ve never worked with before, that’s a spam call. However, if anyone calls you to give you a new card or insurance policies from a bank for which you already have an account, it’s just a marketing call to sell you more items. Spam calls and telemarketing messages are banned in the United States under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Voice Phishing (Vishing)
Voice phishing or vishing occurs when criminals make phone calls pretending to be someone else in order to defraud you. For example, a thief might call you and impersonate a bank manager, asking for the last four digits of your social security number and other personal information in order to give you a new credit card.
Until calling, attackers could use a leaked database or their social engineering skills to do some research on the potential victims. For example, they impersonate a bank employee who manages student loans or a representative from the state/federal student aid department who needs more information about their scholarship application when they call college students. In other words, rather than cold calling random numbers, scammers make a phone call to their target audience to make themselves seem credible to the potential victims.
Spam vs Phishing: Text Messaging
These days, there are websites and tools that allow you to submit bulk text messages for extremely low prices. That’s why spammers and phishing scammers choose text messaging to deliver their messages! You can meet users on their mobile phones no matter where they are.
Spam Text Messages
Spam text messages or spam SMS messages are received when organisations send unsolicited bulk text messages for private, non-malicious purposes. Product information, descriptions of special deals/discounts, offers, schemes, coupon codes, and other information may be included in these communications. They can also provide links to the company’s or service’s website.
Some spam SMS texts are disguised as surveys in order to collect additional information about potential customers. The aim of such text messages may be to sell a product or service, create a brand, or collect more information about the recipients (such as demographics, purchase habits, purchasing power, likes/preferences, and so on). The Telephone Consumer Protection Act also includes email spamming (TCPA).
SMS Phishing (Smishing)
Scammers impersonate legitimate organisations and send text messages. Phishing SMS messages have the same essence and intent as phishing emails, which is to defraud the recipients. The attackers try to convince you to do the following:
- If you’re willing to share your personal or financial details,
- completing financial transactions, completing financial transactions, completing financial transactions,
- completing financial transactions
- Clicking on links in SMS texts that lead to malicious websites or downloading malware-laden attachments.
Wrapping Up on Spam vs Phishing
The distinction between spam and phishing, or the contrast between spam and phishing, may be perplexing. However, we can safely presume that you are aware that spam is a bothersome yet harmless form of post, while phishing encourages cybercrime. However, when a spammer breaches any of CAN-(or SPAM’s your country’s SPAM laws) rules, the line between phishing and spam blurs. The email’s content or sender’s email address, for example, is misleading, or the email/text messages contain malware (or links to malicious websites).
Spam can be so irritating that it makes you want to change your phone number or email address! Phishing, on the other hand, can lead to you being a target of cybercrime. As a result, continue to educate yourself and your staff about phishing scams and how to detect them.