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What is spam?

What is spam?


Spam (junk e-mail) is a general term for unwanted, annoying e-mails that are sent to many recipients. Spam can be simple advertising mails or hoaxes, but it can also include phishing attempts and e-mails containing malware. It is possible for several of these terms to be applicable for a single e-mail.

Most spam to RWTH e-mail addresses is filtered automatically. The spam detection software used at the IT Centre recognises over 90% of incoming spam.

  • Most spam arriving from outside is blocked directly and does not reach the recipient.
  • The spam detection software used at the IT Centre marks detected spam and e-mails containing malware:
  • The beginning of the subject line of spam is supplemented with "*****SPAM*****".
    • The beginning of the subject line of e-mails containing malware is supplemented with "***** VIRUS REMOVED / ENTFERNT *****".
    • Depending on the chosen settings, e-mail clients move e-mails to a spam folder.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to detect all spam. It is also particularly difficult to filter some types of malicious e-mails, such as targeted phishing attempts.



The term phishing refers to attempts to impersonate a trusted communication partner in an electronic communication via fake websites, e-mails or short messages. Unfortunately, it is easy to imitate a legitimate sender or the sender's real account may have been compromised.

These e-mails will often try to acquire the login credentials for accounts so that these can be hijacked. Phishing attacks can also set out to gather more general information, in order to prepare targeted future phishing attacks. These e-mails can also attempt to trick people into making payments or running malware.


Malware is a programme, such as a computer virus, that performs unwanted functions on a device. Among other things, Malware can directly cause damage (e.g. ransomware), steal information or compromise security software to prepare further attacks. A common method of spreading malware is as an attachment to an e-mail, but links to websites that contain viruses also pose a major risk. After an initial device has been infected, malware can spread across networks to other devices.


Hoaxes are a malicious form of spam that attempts to manipulate the recipient into certain actions through social engineering. Frequently this includes spreading the hoax to other recipients. Hoaxes are often a malicious prank that does not pose a technological threat in itself, but spreading this false information is still annoying. The term includes false warnings that aim to be spread as widely as possible, e-mails from supposed princes who need help transferring funds, but also more credible phishing e-mails that aim to gain legitimacy through being spread by legitimate recipients.


Further information about spam:

last changed on 08/30/2022

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