Question: Why do I get an Email accusing me of sending viruses/spam?
Author: Joseph Tam
Date: April 4, 2007
It is confusing when you get an Email, either as an automated mailout
from anti-virus software or from someone you know, that accuses you of
sending spam or a virus. However, most of these cases are baseless.
It is more likely that you have been "spoofed". In less jargonmatic
terms, someone has forged your Email address as the sender.
Email easily lend themselves to forgery -- it's very hard to check
whether the sender is really who they claim to be (or even if they
exists). Spammers and viruses frequently take advantage of this.
A dead giveaway that you have been spoofed is that the Email purported
from you rarely contains your full name because there's no way to infer
that from just your Email address. So for example, you'll get
From: Jsmith <email@example.com>
From: Peter Jones <firstname.lastname@example.org>
but almost never your full name
From: John Q. Smith <email@example.com>
To find the real source of the Email, the full header header of the
offending Email must be inspected, and even then, must be carefully
interpreted since some of the audit trail may also be faked. Bad Email
usually traces back to a workstation taken over by a mail virus
(infected computer) or spammer (i.e. "spambot"), or back to a real
Email account stolen and used by someone else.
There's not much we can do about this -- the offenders are not
under our administrative control and operate anonymously, sometimes
outside the country. You can reply to complaints if you are the victim
of spoofing by explaining the situation or sending them to this page.
If it is an automated notice from an anti-virus scanner, you can Email
the administrator(s) of that site to squelch their auto-reply messages,
as their automated notices are rarely helpful. The IT staff can help
if you need it.