iCalendar users: Noticing spam invitations? Here's what's happening and how to fix it

The problem is unique to iCalendar users and it stems from Apple's desire to make things easier for us. Luckily there is a way to get rid of those random, often unintelligible, invites.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

We live in an era where spam is largely under control. While the occasional message does slip through the cracks of increasingly powerful spam filters most of us are unaware of the sheer volume of junk mail we never see.

With Google and other email providers constantly getting better at swatting spam, message senders have had to rethink their approach. Every industry has to evolve to meet changing markets, and spammers are no different.

Exploiting convenience: The new wave in spam

Apple, and other tech giants like it, are always creating new ways to simplify using their products. Spam filters, single sign on, autofill, and other small conveniences are how they bill their products as things that "just work."

One of Apple's convenience creations is how macOS and iOS process event invites. The operating system takes a glance at incoming emails to see if there is a calendar invitation, and if so you get a notification asking to accept or decline.

Automatic event processing is great for legitimate invitations: Travel itineraries, family events, and work meetings are things you don't want to miss.

SEE: Apple iCloud: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

Simply put, anyone who sends an email containing a calendar invite to an iCloud-linked account can pop a notification up on your screen, whether it's filtered to spam or not. To make matters worse, spammers have figured out that invitations to view shared photo albums and to-do lists generate the same notifications--you've likely gotten a few of those too.

As 9to5Mac points out, declining those invitations can only encourage the spam because the sender is notified of the response, thus telling them that the account is active.

Fighting calendar spam: It's not convenient

There's no response from Apple on iCalendar spam yet, and there's also no simple solution. Spamming event and share invites is a new problem that no one ever considered, which means the only solutions currently available are workarounds. These workarounds, unfortunately, have their drawbacks.

Eliminating past events without declining

As I stated above, declining invitations will notify the sender that it's an active account--something you don't want to do. Here's a way to hide and delete those events without responding (on an iOS device):

  1. Open the calendar app and tap Calendars to show your full list.
  2. Tap Edit and create a new calendar under iCloud titled SPAM.
  3. Go back to your calendar and open up the spam event.
  4. Tap the Calendar field and move the event to the SPAM calendar.
  5. Move all the spam events and go back to the calendar list.
  6. Tap the SPAM calendar and scroll to the bottom of the Edit Calendar screen that opens.
  7. Tap Delete Calendar. Done.

Blocking future event spam

Blocking future spam invites means disabling iCloud from scanning emails for invites. If you use your iCloud account as your primary email you'll have to manually accept invites from within the message--you simply can't have it all until Apple updates its spam filter algorithm.

SEE: Infographic: How to identify and avoid phishing attacks (TechRepublic)

To disable future spam invites you'll need to log into iCloud on the web. Once you log in with your Apple ID follow these steps:

  1. Open the Calendar app.
  2. Click the gear icon in the bottom-left corner and then click Preferences.
  3. Open the Advanced menu.
  4. Make sure Email to "your address" is selected and not In-app notifications.
  5. Save and log out.

Getting rid of photo sharing spam

If you're getting spam photo sharing invitations you'll need to turn off iCloud Photo Sharing.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iOS device.
  2. Tap on iCloud, then on Photos.
  3. Swipe to the bottom and make sure iCloud Photo Sharing is off.

It's unfortunate that disabling convenient features is the only way to eliminate this new form of spam, but it's just that: New. Hopefully a future update from Apple will render calendar spam just as ineffective as junk email.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Spammers have started targeting iCloud calendars with junk invites.
  2. This new form of spam gets through email filters because iOS and macOS create notifications for event invitations even if messages are filtered to junk folders.
  3. There's no official solution yet, but workarounds are available by disabling certain iCloud features.

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