Friday, April 12, 2024

Getting Aggressive in Battling Spam

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In a perfect world, email would be a beautiful thing.

Friends wouldn’t send you bad jokes or trivia that didn’t interest you.

Messages always would arrive instantly without any delay. At work, email

would be reserved for truly important communication rather than 15

screen’s full of irrelevance about the new canteen schedule or miniscule

changes in worker compensation rules.

And perhaps most importantly, spam would be an unknown commodity.

Sadly, we are a long way from this email utopia. Email security

outsourcing firm MessageLabs, Inc. reports that spam exceeded 60 percent

of corporate traffic at the end of 2003. Today, it already is over the

80-percent mark.

And while we may never see that perfect world, there are steps that can

be taken to effectively minimize spam.

Here are some tips to reduce the amount of spam you have to deal with:

Avoid the Obvious Spam Traps

For instance, don’t ever reply to spam. If you do, it just confirms to

the spammer that he has a good address.

And when you buy things or sign up for magazine access online, beware of

checked boxes that give your OK to send you commercial email. Remember

you are dealing with professionals who are often paid to come up with

deceptive ways to get you to ‘agree’ to be added to a mailing list. You

click continue and don’t notice you just agreed to give your email

address to every spammer this side of Spamville.

Even if you’re dealing with a legitimate company, make sure those boxes

aren’t checked. Some companies don’t sell your address but many will and

then you have no idea where your address may end up.

Guard your Email Address with your Life

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t give your email address

to others indiscriminately. Yet, I see people putting their real email

address in ads and posting it on Websites. Spammers use sophisticated

bots that trawl around the Web searching for posted email addresses.

If you must post your email, use a secondary email address — one you

have just for this purpose.

You also can ask a web designer to come up with some way to prevent a

bot from recognizing the address. I’ve seen some addresses that have an

extra word inserted in them ( so the bots won’t

pick up the right address. You are instructed to delete the added word

so you can use the correct address.

Be Careful What You Block

Most spam products use black lists or block lists. These are lists of

known spammers, and filters use the lists to weed out the junk mail.

The problem with this approach, however, is that good addresses or

domains may be on those lists by accident, and mail you want to see gets


Companies also set up their own filters and users can set up individual

filters on their own machines. These filters look for specific words —

like ‘porn’, ‘free’ or ‘Viagra’ — which signal that the email is

actually spam.

Unfortunately, spammers are clever types. To get around this, they

intentionally misspell words or add symbols — ‘Prno’, ‘F_ree’ and

‘Vhiagra’ — so they slip through the filter. You see what is happening

and update your filter. In turn, the spammers modify their subject lines

again. It quickly can turn into an aggravating cycle.

Think Positive

Most spam products focus on the negative. Yes, they are beginning to add

white lists but this tends to be an afterthought and has met with

limited success.

A better approach might be spam control. Rather than blocking, it sorts

out wanted email from the junk. Further, it isolates email-born viruses.

Spam control works in a similar way to how people sort snail mail. As

they go through their mail, they instinctively look for familiar things.

They select out what they want from the rest of the potential junk. Then

they open the important stuff. Once done, they quickly glance at the

remainder in case there’s something worth looking at, before tossing it

in the trash.

A good spam control product parallels this method of operating. The best

ones collect all your mail directly and sort it into different folders

based on importance.

Spam Blocking Tools

Corporate email systems typically incorporate spam blocking systems or

product add-ons. But for those who work in satellite offices or

telecommute, there are several tools you can buy for your laptop or

desktop that will do the trick. Three of the better ones are Spam

Killer, MailWasher Pro and Mailbox Filter. All of these allow you to

filter multiple email accounts, and work with most email programs and

email services (such as MSN, Hotmail and AOL). They also send spammers a

bounce-back so your address appears invalid, and they’re designed to not

conflict with your anti-virus software.

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