ITS Service Desk

What does Gmail do to help recognize bad emails?

It's a fact of life. Most emails that we receive are junk. Just look at your Spam folder and see how much of that junk Gmail is filtering out for you. But sometimes bad messages make it through to your Inbox. And sometimes good messages make it through to your Inbox, even though they might be suspicious.

In this series of articles, we'll address several kinds of unwanted email. And in this article specifically, we'll talk about how Google helps us identify bad emails.

Spam | Spoofing | Phishing | Spear Phishing | Gmail Warnings

How Does Google Help?

For all of the email messages that land in our Inbox (not filtered out as spam), Gmail still looks at the contents to see if they feel they should give us some kind of warning. The warnings they provide are usually in the form of a message at the top of the email against a color background. Perhaps you'll recognize these examples:







Suffice it to say that there are a number of warnings that Gmail may insert into your message, each depending on the characteristics of the message.

What To Do As A Recipient

When you receive a message like this, the best thing you can do is take it at face value. Read the warning message and consider exactly what it says. For example, when they say, "many people marked similar messages as phishing scams", they're not saying that this is a phishing scam; they're just saying that similar messages have been marked as such; it's just a warning. When they say, "avoid clicking links unless you're confident that this email is legitimate", they're not saying "don't click on links"; if you're confident that the email is legit, then go ahead and click links.

And that may bring up the most difficult part of this. How do you know? How do you know if you should trust the sender. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question. If the email seems normal and the content seems to make sense for the person who sent it, then perhaps it's okay. If it's an email that you were expecting, then perhaps it's okay. To be sure, you can always just call the sender and ask them if they actually sent it. Realizing that this isn't always practical, you're always going to be left to your own good judgement. If you have any doubts, just delete the email.

Also realize that what one recipient sees as legitimate, another recipient might not. Suffice it to say that it's normal to see these types of warnings, even in email messages that you feel are legitimate.

What To Do As A Sender

If an email you've sent has been tagged with these warning messages, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to prevent it. The short answer is that Google does not offer any specific reason for each of the warning messages.* And even if you just do your own search for answers, you'll see that there aren't any clear solutions. So we can't just tell you to make a specific change and you'll be all set.

But, we strongly suggest that you follow the suggestions in this article:

All of that said, if you'd still like to have someone at the ITS Service Desk take a look at an email you sent, we'd be happy to do so. Even though we can't guarantee a simple black and white solution, we can offer advice on the content based on our experiences.

* If Google did disclose the specific reasons for each warning message, then spammers would use that information to get around spam rules, making the situation worse. So the fact that they keep it a secret is a good thing.

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