People are receiving more spam and fear that it will impact on their online identity and security.

Research by Cloudmark and conducted online by Harris Interactive, showed that 42 per cent of email users in the US have seen an increase in spam messages over the past year, and are most fearful that spam will lead to viruses and identity theft.

Also, many adults said that they had responded to spam messages and received a higher volume of spam or a virus as a result. More than half of American and European users (55 per cent and 54 per cent respectively) reported that something happened as a result, with receiving more spam and contracting a computer virus as the most common responses.

A third of US adults who had received a spam email said that it is becoming more difficult to distinguish spam from legitimate email and 44 per cent of their European counterparts reported this issue.

Leon Rishniw, senior vice president of engineering for Cloudmark, told SC Magazine that people are fearful of infections and spam is getting more sophisticated, it is an entry point for malware and when it does not carry a payload, it has a link.

He said: “The characteristics of spam is different from directed attacks, it is a call to action there and what we focus on is algorithmic attacks, there is a lot of hacks going on and legitimate domains have a malicious page.

“There is a lot of social engineering going on with information on Facebook and Twitter and multiple logins. The real issue is people using multiple logins and then hackers can get into your email account and send messages from your account to your friends, which look legitimate but have malicious payloads. People are having a hard time distinguishing spam from email.”

Asked if a problem lies in spam looking more legitimate, Rishniw said that spam senders use templates and have the ability to personalise to a name and it is difficult to deduce from that.

Asked if the perception of spam is fear or irritation? Rishniw said that it was both, as 70 per cent of people are fearful of getting infected.

“People have fears and people are naive of spam and fear it but don't know how to change their behaviour, this is the aim of the application, to alleviate fears,” he said.

“It is really difficult to change behaviour, it is not about being intelligent or being tech-savvy, it is not about separation of attacks or software on the computer, you get to a level where you are aware and it is very difficult to discriminate between what is good and bad.

“A certain amount of education can be done, but not behavioural changes about who you are dealing with over the internet. Is it a reputable organisation? When shopping and putting in your information, is it safe?”