Spam's a problem. In fact, it's a BIG problem for everyone. Research by SpamLaws.com shows that as much as 45% of all mail traffic is actually spam. That's almost half of all email sent!
And spam doesn't just include unsolicited marketing offers, it extends to malicious email too. According to cybersecurity giant, Symantec, the average user receives 16 malicious emails each month (source).
These malicious emails are much different than ordinary spam as they contain malware and ransomware variants designed to cripple email users and extort money from them by locking your files until a ransom is paid.
For businesses, spam has become an expensive threat. Research shows that spam could grow to cost businesses as much as $257 billion by the year 2020.
So, how do you take a stand against spam in your personal and business Gmail accounts? And how effective are your options?
In this post we'll show a few ways that you can protect your inbox from unwanted email. First we'll explore Gmail's basic features for blocking spam as well as other solutions (like Block Sender!), how it works, and why it works so effectively.
But before we dig into each option, you need to understand why some of the spam you receive continues to find it's way into your inbox, despite the measures you take.
Spam, Spammers, Spoofing, and Phishing
Spammers are smart and cunning individuals. While their methods may differ, their goals are all related to economic gain. They want to get their hands on your money.
To do this, spammers have resorted to tactics like phishing and spoofing.
While these sound like weird terms, they've been coined in the cybersecurity industry to describe very serious and effective criminal activities that leave victims devastated.
Spoofing is when cybercriminals create almost perfect copies of corporate emails. The goal is to trick business owners, employees, and other stakeholders into performing certain actions, such as opening an unknown file that appears to be from a trusted source.
The file, however, contains malware that could be designed to do anything, from installing itself on the user's computer to track keystrokes, steal intellectual property, or encrypt access to the user's computer, holding it ransom for a fee.
Phishing is a kind of spoofing. Like spoofing, spammers create convincing lookalikes of emails and email addresses. Unlike spoofing, phishing scams are designed to lead unwitting victims to websites that look trustworthy to enter sensitive information, such as social security numbers, credit cards, or online banking credentials.
Phishing and spoofing aside, keeping up with what's spam and what isn't can be a challenge - especially for someone with busy days. This is why spam folders, filters, and other helpful features were built into email clients and providers.
Blocking Emails with Gmail Filters
Filters were created to help Gmail users easily sort and manage their inboxes. The idea is that you're able to use filters to send email to a label, archive, delete, spam, star or automatically forward it to another email address.
If you'd like to create filters to manage your spam or general email, here's how to set up a filter in Gmail.
Step 1: From within your Gmail account, in the search bar, click the down arrow.
Step 2: Enter your search criteria.
To confirm that your search was successful, scan the emails that show up by clicking "Search".
Step 3: At the bottom of the search window, click "Create filter".
Step 4: Choose what action you'd like your new filter to perform.
Step 5: Click "Create filter".
When you create a filter to forward messages, the filter will apply to all new messages received. However, when creating the filter, you can optionally apply it to existing messages in your inbox by checking the box next to "Also apply filter to matching conversations". This can significantly help prevent you from manually handling large numbers of existing emails.
Now when someone replies to a message you've already filtered, their reply will only be filtered if it meets the same search criteria.
You can also create unique filters for specific messages. To do this, click on an email you don't want to receive anymore, for example:
Next, click on the more button (with three vertical dots).
Select the "Filter messages like these" option.
Enter or edit your filter criteria.
Click "Create filter".
Use the checkboxes to assign an action for your new filter. Click "Create filter" again.
Are Filters the Answer?
Knowing how to use filters effectively can save a lot of time for legitimate email. But when it comes to spam, filters don't tend to work so well. There are a number of reasons, one of which is the amount of clicks needed to create a simple filter. Here's our breakdown of why this is the case when using labels, archiving, deleting, and the spam button.
A Gmail label is a tag that you can add to any email you receive or send (including drafts). Designed to keep your inbox organized, labels act like the folders you'd have in Outlook or any other email application.
Labels are, however, a little more flexible than folders as you can assign more than one label to an email, where you can only place an email in one folder with other email providers.
While labels were designed to help organize your inbox, they aren't the best option when it comes to managing spam. You'd still be receiving emails that could contain malicious content. You're also collecting them in bucket loads, taking up your limited Gmail storage.
Archiving emails is a quick and easy way to clean out your inbox, but unfortunately using the archive functionality doesn't deal with the spam effectively. You'll still receive it along with malicious content it includes.
If it's not in your inbox, does it matter that it's in your archive?
As most Gmail users know, Gmail sometimes doesn't structure email correspondence in the order it is received. This can lead to you having to go into your All Mail folder to see if you can remember or spot the email you're looking for.
As you'd imagine, this is where your spam will show up. The same applies to using labels to manage your spam.
Additionally, if you search for an email then all of your archived spam emails could also show up in the search results, thus continuing to clutter your email account. Why keep it if you don't want it in the first place?
Deleting spam when it arrives seems like a quick and effective solution, and in all honesty, it's likely the most effective way. The only challenge is that you'll constantly be creating filters to delete all kinds of emails.
Marking Email as Spam
Marking email as spam is useful as it helps teach Gmail what emails you consider spam, however, this feature applies a filter that removes all future emails based on the sender email address.
What if your sender uses a different email address from the same domain? Google says it will automatically block similar emails as spam, however, many inevitably get through with this method as it's difficult for Google to truly identify similar emails.
Another challenge with this feature is that it could assign legitimate emails to your spam folder. It's not uncommon to want emails from your sales rep or account manager, but not their newsletter, for example. And despite your numerous attempts and requests to be removed from their list, they continue to send the newsletter.
While not a Gmail feature per se, manually unsubscribing from emails can work in certain cases. But when it comes to malicious spam, the option is ineffective. The probability that you'll continue to receive spam will remain high, especially considering that this will confirm with the spammer that your email address is active. In many cases, it will actually result in more spam being sent to your email due to this.
Blocking Emails with Block Sender
Block Sender was developed to make the process of removing and keeping spam out of your inbox as simple and streamlined as possible. In fact, setting up a block takes less than a minute and only a few clicks.
As a Chrome browser extension, Block Sender works within Gmail and inserts a Block button directly below the Gmail search bar, next to your filter checkbox.
As a solution to blocking spam, Block Sender allows you to block spam in 8 ways (and more to come!). You can block unwanted emails associated with:
- Email addresses
- Websites and domains
- Domain extensions
- IP address
Depending on the criteria you select, you'll be given the option to enter a string associated with the criteria. For example, if you want to block a name, you'll need to enter the sender's name in the field below your block criteria.
Once you've entered the string, you can choose where your blocked email should go.
Currently we offer three options:
- Trash: Sends spam email directly to your trash
- Archive: While Block Sender was designed to block spam, including the ability to archive emails helps when handling legitimate email
- Delete (skip trash): Automatically deletes unwanted email without sending it to trash
The last step in creating your block is deciding whether to create a bounce-back email. Bounce-back emails are a smart and effective way of limiting the amount of future unwanted email you could receive from harassing persons or other nuisances who continue to send you unwanted emails.
Block Sender users have a choice of two canned reply emails, with more to come:
- Fake Bounce Back: Bounces back spam messages with our authentic-looking error messages.
- Blocked by Block Sender: Let the spammer know that they've been blocked and that they can't get through to you.
- Custom Canned Reply: Create your own canned replies to be sent to blocked addresses (coming soon!)
Block Sender users can also manage blocks from direclty within Gmail.
Using the "Manage Your Blocks" feature, you can do the following without ever leaving your inbox:
- Create new blocks: Assign criteria and set up a new block
- Edit blocks: Change the block criteria
- Pause blocking: Halt blocking for a specific block
- Delete: Remove a block permanently
Unlike Gmail's filters, you can easily search through your blocks with the browser extension, allowing you to properly manage them when needed.
Another major problem with existing blocking solutions is that you have to manually create your blocks/filters for every email address you use. This issue can be compounded when someone is harrassing you across all of your various email accounts. With Block Sender, you can create a block once and that person will be blocked across all of your accounts, saving you a huge amount of time.
There are many ways to try and prevent spam from making its way into your inbox, but most options are time-consuming and just not as effective. If you're looking for control over what you allow into your inbox, consider a tool like Block Sender. It's easy to use and has all the functionality you need to block what you don't want.