Most people tend to think of spam as an annoyance that clogs up their inbox and keeps them from getting to really important emails and thats certainly true. But spam isnt just a productivity killer, it can pose a real security threat. Junk emails often load web content that has the potential to impact your computer whether or not you click on a web site referenced in the message.
And often clicking a link in a message will deliver you to some form of malicious website designed to either install malware or use a phishing scheme intended to mine personal information.
The fight against spam can and should take place on multiple levels. Ideally, your mail server will have its own junk mail filtering. Public services like Apples Mobile Me, GMail, YahooMail, and Hotmail offer some of the best spam filtering because they handle mail accounts for so many people. But private servers (those run by an Internet provider or private company) may not have such extensive or fine-tuned spam filtering.
Beyond the server level, filtering can take place on your computer. Almost all email applications, including Apples Mail and Microsofts Entourage (the two most common Mac email clients) include some junk mail filtering options. But you can extend those capabilities with additional anti-spam software, including the following:
SpamSweep SpamSweep is an application that acts as a middleman between your email client. SpamSweep connects to your mail server, downloads the first 100K of each message, scans them, and then deletes the spam while its still on the server (you can control confirmation of what is and isnt spam). When your mail application connects, it downloads the remaining (good) messages.
SpamSweep uses a combination of blacklist (bad) and whitelist (good) email senders as well as a technique called Bayesian filtering, which analyzes the content of each message to determine how to mark messages. These filters and lists can be trained by marking mail as spam (or not spam) and grows more accurate over time as you use the software.
Overall, SpamSweep is pretty good at making good choices and you can define some overrides to its basic features. On the downside, it does need to sit as a separate program rather than being integrated into your email client and its a little disconcerting to have a separate program deleting messages for you. Also, it doesnt provide any real customized rulemaking options other than training its filters over time.
SpamSieve - SpamSieve may be the best of the anti-spam additions for Mac OS X. While it uses the same filtering techniques as SpamSweep, it does so by integrating with your email client and Mac OS Xs Address Book. It supports a wide range of clients, including the most common Mail, Entourage, Eudora and Thunderbird.
So you dont need to launch a separate application to confirm the softwares spam/not spam decisions. It also means your email is still managed by your email application. The support for Address Book (and contacts in Entourage) is a nice way of ensuring anyone you actually know will be able to reach you.
SpamSieve does offer its own separate application as well. This is used to configure filters (and quite a bit of configuration is supported) and training process. It also allows you to configure mail notifications and other points of integration with your email client. Perhaps most importantly, SpamSieve does an impressive job of accurately filtering spam.
Intego Antispam - Integos offering in antispam category, appropriately named Personal Antispam, is another good choice. It integrates with either Mail or Entourage and can integrate with Address Book for trusting contacts. Although this is a more limited set of email clients than other tools, it does cover most Mac users.
As with their other tools, Intego has put an effort into making Antispam very user friendly. Beyond just being user-friendly, it offers the ability to customize filtering and offers filtering options beyond just blacklist/whitelist and Bayesian filtering options in other tools. You can also filter based on types of attachments or portions of web site addresses noted in an email. This provides additional capabilities. A particularly nice feature is that not only can you configure each type of filter, you can also opt to use all or only some of them.
Personal Antispam enables you to export spam rules as files for installation directly on other Macs running the software. It also offers usage reports and graphs, helping you see the percentage of spam being filtered as well as the types. Overall, this is another great product from Intego.
While keeping your Mac secure is about finding the right mix of tools for your needs (and your level of comfort with technology), equally important is keeping those tools updated and understanding how to use them effectively. Whichever tools you choose, be sure to read and understand the documentation.
And remember, security doesnt stop with the introductory guide. The following websites provide additional information and tips for Mac security:
Mac Security Guide from Home PC Firewall Guide.