Help for the Computer User

February 2nd, 2004

SPAM, Spam, spam,....
Joe Margiotta (flyfisherjoe)

It's on everyone's lips, mind and computer...Spam. It's not an acronym but a word referring to a canned luncheon meat, spoken over and over and over in a Monty Python skit until it became meaningless, annoying nonsense. Spam, or unsolicited e-mail, is one of the most frustrating and costly problems that plague e-mail users and the Internet in terms of time and money. You may be surprised to learn that it's actually a lot worse than it seems. A great deal of spam is filtered out by Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Hosting Service Providers (HSP.) They sometimes cut short a spammers e-mail session. That's right, a spammer may only get out 1,000,000 of 2,000,000 e-mails before they are shut down because of a violation of a service agreement. Of course most spam now originates from other countries and the only way that is stopped is by blocking the source. There are some major lists of spammers that are updated continuously and some use these to screen e-mail origins and block or bounce the spam. One such list is SpamCop. Another service ORDB (Open Relays DataBase) keeps track of servers that can be easily used by spammers through a process called relaying. In other words using someone elses unprotected server to relay the spam.

In spite of the spam that is stopped, enough gets through to drive us all crazy and spammers don't care. It's all about numbers. Send out enough and you will get some people to click on the ad maybe even buy something. As long as it works, they will keep spamming. After all the cost is practically nothing. Think how much it would cost to send out a couple of million regular mails along with the printing and handling cost. There are no laws that can deal with the situation. A recent federal law went into effect on January 1 this year that actually made laws in some states, that were stronger, go away and even the people responsible for prosecuting law said the new law made it almost impossible to do anything. If you want to keep spam to a minimum, you must do something about it yourself. What can you do about spam? Here's a few suggestions:

File a spam complaint. This must be done properly and to the correct source. Remember spammers hide their source. The return address you see is usually forged. Spammers employ software that generates random e-mail address and subjects. They continually change spelling of key words to disguise the e-mail and hide it from filters that key on those words. To determine the source you must analyze the e-mail headers. SpamCop offers a service that does this for you, then prepares and sends the e-mail complaints to the proper sources. Does this do any good? Yes it allows SpamCop to keep an up to date database of spammers and some do get caught and shut down. Some have to move to a new location or change identity. It causes spammers problems and ISPs are appreciative. It also allows you to discover the sources of spam and use that information in filters you may set up in your e-mail program or other software. It can, however, be an overwhelming task.

The way this works, is to run a trace of the source and file complaints to the appropriate ISPs and HSPs or perhaps a University where someone has used the schools computers to send a mailing. You can process complaints by signing up with SpamCop® and using their system to trace and file them. They make it very easy. This is a free service and they offer a pay one that includes a spam free e-mail address from SpamCop. You can get more information by visiting their web site, spamcop.net.

Filter through your ISP. Most provide filtering just by you selecting that option. Some, like Earthlink®, offer a very strict filtering option that only permits e-mail to come through if it's on your approved list. All other e-mail is returned with an application to get on your list, subject to your approval. This will eliminate spam but it also inconveniences your friends and wouldn't be a good business practice. They, and other providers offer several levels of filtering and will remove most spam from your in box. Enough may still get through to bother you. You can login to your ISP's web mail and view the spam that is filtered. It keeps it for a while just in case you want to double check. You will probably be shocked to see how much there is.

Filter with your e-mail client. The software that you use for e-mail, if it's up to date, will most likely have screening options built in. Spam often has long and weird e-mail addresses. The subjects often have strange characters or contain certain words. Some contain faked headers. Filters can flag some of these. Some use subjects that sound legitimate and may pass through. "Hi" is a common subject of spam, probably because friends also use it. The e-mail that is filtered is still in your e-mail program, on your computer. It's just now being stored in a different place. You have to delete those e-mails, which can be done all at once.

Pre screening and bouncing. It is possible to prescreen your e-mail against the spam databases I mentioned above, set up additional filters, and bounce the spam without it ever reaching your computer, with software. One such program is called MailWasher. It allows you to check e-mail on your server before downloading, even view it if you wish. It will check and mark the spam for bouncing and deletion from your mail account. One mouse click sends it back to the spammer, not that they care. It does feel good, however, to "just say no!"

Using one or more of the above techniques will certainly help you reduce the amount of spam that reaches your inbox. You may not be able to eliminate it all, but you can do something.

Tip of the Week

When looking at a web site do you often want to increase the size of your browser window to see more ? Instead of dragging the edges or corners with you mouse to increase the viewing area just push the "F11" Key. That's one of those keys in the top row. It will increase your view to the maximum, even removing tool bars. To go back to the smaller size, just push the "F11" key again.

May the time you spend on spam, turn into fly fishing time. ~ JM ~ JM

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