The main email threats are phishing and scams, which rely on sending 'spam' emails to thousands of addresses on the premise that a small percentage of recipients will respond to the email and fall for the scam.

Most modern email systems have reasonably effective spam filters to prevent spam appearing in your inbox.

Spam emails should be deleted without opening them, but be aware that spam filters often provide 'false positives', meaning some legitimate emails may end up with the spam in the junk mail folder. You should check the email senders and subject lines before deleting spam to make sure you don't accidentally delete legitimate messages.

Be wary of messages which, even though they may appear to come from a legitimate source (for example your bank or a friend), may be fraudulent or harmful and should be deleted.

Scams are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to identify so vigilance is your best defence.

Manage and reduce spam

Spam can clog up your email inbox, use up your monthly download allowance and hide viruses that infect your computer.

Most spam advertises fraudulent, offensive or poor quality goods, or is trying to con you using get-rich-quick offers, fake prize or lottery wins or imitation requests from what appear to be real businesses in order to steal your banking or personal details.

Reduce spam by being careful who you give your email address to.

  • Don't give your email address out without really needing to.
  • Before using your email address online, read the website privacy policy – it will tell you how they will use the personal information you provide.
  • When you sign up for an online account or service be aware of default options to receive additional email about other products and services.

If you use your email address online, consider a secondary email account for subscribing to public mailing lists, social networking sites, blogs, and web forums. If this account starts to fill up with spam, get rid of it and open a different one.

Use privacy settings on social networking sites

Social networking sites typically allow you to choose who has access to see your personal details. Consider hiding your email account or changing the settings so that only people that you trust are able to see your details.

Use spam filters

  • Activate any spam filtering function provided by the email program you use or that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers.
  • Check their website, or install a separate spam filter.
  • You will find spam filters through your preferred search engine, or your ISP may list effective spam filters on its website.

Dealing with the spam you receive

  • Always delete spam without opening it. This means never replying to spam, including clicking on any unsubscribe links in emails that you don't recall subscribing to.
  • Don't reply to or forward long chain letters that you receive by email.
  • Don't open attachments in any messages if the source of the message is unknown or is suspicious.
  • Add the spam address to 'junk senders'. Most email programs have the ability to add them to a 'junk senders' list which blocks them next time they try send email to you.

If the source seems genuine, and the message appears to promote a legitimate Australian business, contact the business directly via phone or by searching for their website online, and asking them to take you off their mailing list.

What is 'malware'?

Malware (short for 'malicious software') is the term used to refer to any type of malicious code or program that is used for monitoring and collecting your personal information (spyware) or disrupting or damaging your computer (viruses and worms).

Malware type What it does
Spyware Collects personal information or interferes with control of your computer, such as installing additional software or redirecting your web browser.
Keyloggers Logs every keystroke you make and then sends that information, including passwords, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers, to scammers for fraudulent use.
Trojans Damages your operating system and may install a 'backdoor' through which to send your personal information to another computer for fraudulent purposes.
Viruses and worms Self-replicate and hijack your operating system. They can be used to send out spam or perform other malicious activities and you may not even know it. They can cause your computer to freeze or crash and will use shared files and email address books to spread viruses to other computers from yours.

Safely installing applications

Viruses and spyware (malware) often look like legitimate applications to trick people into installing them. Ironically, they may look like antivirus or security products. Popular legitimate applications can also be hijacked to include malware before being offered for download on illegitimate websites.

Don't Do
  • Don't use online ads or email links to access or download applications.
  • Don't download and install applications from peer to peer (for example BitTorrent) or pirate sources.
  • Don't download applications from third party download sites.
  • Don't rely on unsolicited recommendations such as pop-ups.
  • Don't use app stores that are not part of a well-known brand. Apple, Google, Amazon or your device vendor are reliable sources of information.
  • Use reviews from reputable sites to find the best apps for your needs.
  • Use popular search engines to find and download from the app vendor's own website.
  • Use popular search engines to see if an app has been linked to malware before visiting its website or downloading.
  • Always do your research before installing anything. Ask friends about their experiences or use the internet to read online reviews.
  • Turn on 'safe search' filters in your search engine.

Never rely on only one online review, there is often no way of knowing if they are legitimate. Read several reviews and compare their results before making your decision.

Prevent spyware from getting onto your computer

Develop good security practices. You need to have internet security measures in place and have a good understanding of how your computer works.

  • Install anti-spyware and anti-virus software and set it to automatically check the product website for updates.
  • Install a firewall. This will limit unauthorised access to your computer and the installation of spyware on it.
  • Always scan USB sticks for viruses or other malware before accessing any of its content. You should also disable the autorun function, which is commonly enabled on the Microsoft Windows operating system.
  • Keep yourself informed about the latest security threats and solutions by subscribing to the free Stay Smart Online Alert Service.
  • Don't open emails from unknown or suspicious sources and never open email attachments or click on hyperlinks in these emails.
  • Install spam filters to minimise the amount of spam you receive and set your anti-virus software and anti-spyware software to automatically scan incoming email.
  • Only download files and software from reputable websites. Read the licence agreement and terms of use before you download software and don't download it if you don't understand or trust the terms and conditions.
  • Be wary when exchanging files even with colleagues or friends. Scan the files before you install them or run them on your computer.
  • Never click on an 'Agree', 'Ok' or 'No' button to close a window on a suspicious website or pop-up. This can launch spyware onto your computer. Instead, click the red 'X' in the corner of the window to close the window.
  • Don't use accounts with administrator access for everyday activities – create guest accounts that cannot install software for added security.

Some scammers distribute malware disguised as anti-spyware products in unexpected pop-up messages or emails. These messages aim to trick you into believing your computer is already infected, and that purchasing the software will help get rid of it.

Is your computer infected?

The following signs may indicate that spyware is on your computer:

  • your web browser starts on a different homepage than normal
  • your computer's performance is slower than normal
  • random error messages appear, or
  • new toolbars and icons have been installed.

To check if your computer is infected with a virus, run a full scan using your anti-virus software and follow the instructions to remove it. You should run your anti-virus software at least once a week.

Where to get help

Issue Contact
You suspect your device has been infected with a virus or malware and running an anti-virus scan has not fixed the problem
  • your local computer repairer
  • your local computer retailer.
You are experiencing difficulties with your email service
  • your email provider's website
  • Whirlpool or other discussion forums.
Information on recent threats Sign up to the free Stay Smart Online Alert Service

A full list of useful contacts can be found on the Contact us page.

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