Q: I have had people tell me that they have been receiving spam email from me. I have changed the password for my account and the spam is still being sent from my account. Do you guys have any ideas as far as what might be causing this? — Andrew
A: The two most likely possibilities are that your e-mail account has been compromised or you are simply the victim of the age old ‘spoofing’ tactic that’s been around since the early e-mail days.
If you are able to change your password, that confirms that your account hasn’t been taken over but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t compromised at some point in the past.
When you get locked out of your own account, you’ll know that someone is engaging in some nefarious activities with your account.
These days, there are a multitude of tactics used by spammers to silently infect your computer just so they can gather your e-mail information and address book. Once they have scraped the information, they don’t use your machine to send out the messages, they simply make it look like it’s coming from you.
Spoofing a return address is pretty simple to do and is commonly done to help increase the chances that a message will make it through spam filters and the recipient will open it, especially if it’s being sent to people that actually know you.
It’s no different than sending a letter via the postal service and listing someone else as the sender; there is little you can do about it once they have acquired your info.
If you’re hearing from a large number of people about the same spam message, your computer might have been compromised at some point or you could still be infected with a silent malware program.
The first thing to do is change your e-mail password from a completely different computer just in case your computer is infected, or the malware tracking program will know what your new password is as well.
The second thing to do is have your computer scanned by a security program that isn’t already installed on your computer as they could also be compromised.
Today’s malware is very sophisticated and is capable of bypassing or even disabling any security program you have running, so using what you have installed to scan your computer is generally a big waste of time.
If they can trick you or anyone that uses your computer (like kids) into clicking on malicious links or inadvertently installing a program that allows them to overtake your computer, your security program will be the first thing that they go after.
Another way they can gain access to your e-mail account is if you access your account from another computer that has been compromised or has a tracking program running silently in the background, which is why it’s never a good idea to access your e-mail from a public terminal.
To properly check your computer, you really need to get ‘a second opinion’ from a completely different program that could not have been compromised in an attack.
Microsoft has a special Safety Scanner (http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner) that can be used as an on-demand scanner if you suspect you are infected.
In our service centers, we take an additional step by booting to a special CD/DVD or flash drive so that any potential malware can’t activate from an infected hard drive.
If the problem is bad enough, you may want to consider getting a new e-mail address and notifying your friends about the change so they can block your old address.