A significant percentage of consumers in North America and Europe continue to click on spam emails despite the fact they know that bots and viruses spread through risky email behavior, according to a survey by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG).

About half of the users who responded to the survey said they had either opened spam, clicked on a link in spam, opened a spam attachment, replied or forwarded it. All of these activities could conceivably leave them vulnerable to fraud, phishing, identity theft and infection.

MAAWG says reducing spam is critical for stopping criminal activity on the web because spam is one of the most common vehicles for spreading bots and viruses. The malware is often unknowingly installed on users' computers when they open an attachment in a junk email or click on a link that takes them to a poisoned Web site

Stopping spam and the subsequent criminal activity is made more difficult because, according to MAAWG, almost half of those who opened spam did so intentionally. Many consumers believe its their internet service providers responsibility to stop malware, bots, phishing attacks and not theirs. Less than half of the consumers surveyed saw themselves as the entity who should be most responsible for stopping the spread of viruses.

"Consumers need to understand they are not powerless bystanders. They can play a key role in standing up to spammers by not engaging and just marking their emails as junk," said Michael O'Reirdan, MAAWG chairman.

The following are some of the survey's key findings:
  • Almost half of those who opened spam did so intentionally. Many wanted to unsubscribe or complain to the sender (25%), to see what would happen (18%) or were interested in the product (15%).
  • Overall, 11% of consumers have clicked on a link in spam, 8% have opened attachments, 4% have forwarded it and 4% have replied to spam.
  • On average, 44% of users consider themselves "somewhat experienced" with email security. In Germany, 33% of users see themselves as "expert" or "very experienced," followed by around 20% in Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.A., 16% in Canada and just 8% in France.
  • Men and email users under 35 years, the same demographic groups who tend to consider themselves more experienced with email security, are more likely to open or click on links or forward spam. Among email users under 35 years, 50% report having opened spam compared to 38% of those over 35. Younger users also were more likely to have clicked on a link in spam (13%) compared to less than 10% of older consumers.
  • Consumers are most likely to hold their Internet or email service provider most responsible for stopping viruses and malware. Only 48% see themselves as most responsible, though in France this falls to 30% and 37% in Spain.

The survey was conducted online between January 8 and 21, 2010 among over a thousand email users in the United States and over 500 email users in each of the other five countries. The full report is available at the MAAWG Web site, www.MAAWG.org.

Discuss in Digital Home's World Wide Web Forum .