5 Ways to Block Spam…

SpamSpam is one of those things that nobody wants, but probably has plenty of. If there happens to be anyone out there unfamiliar with spam, we are not talking about the luncheon meat, but the unsolicited junk e-mail that clogs our inboxes. In case you are curious, according to some sources, the junk mail version of spam earned its name from a Monty Python skit regarding the luncheon meat of the same name. Care to sing along?

From offers for prescription drugs to mortgage refinancing to sexually explicit content, spam can leave us having to sift through mounds of trash to find the few messages we actually care to read. Although eliminating all junk e-mail may be impossible there are several steps than can be taken to all but eliminate spam from your inbox.

Protect Your E-mail Address

One of the best strategies for avoiding spam is to protect your personal e-mail address. Your best defense is for the spammers to not even know you exist but this is a difficult task to accomplish.

Many spam mailing lists are created by harvesting e-mail addresses from websites where your information may be displayed. Newsgroups, bulletin boards and chat rooms are just a few examples of places where spammers may run scripts (a small software program) to collect anything that resembles an e-mail address. Many sites, such as bulletin boards have safeguards to protect their members but it does nothing if these members post their personal information in one of their posts, their signature or somewhere else that puts the information in plain sight. In addition, signing up with unknown sources for online contests, mailing lists, and similar occasions where you need to provide an address as part of the registration process may also expose your address to spammers.

Using your best judgment is your best defense. If you want to keep your mailbox clean keep your address private, only giving it out to trusted parties.

Create a Spam E-Mail Account

Protecting your e-mail address is easier said than done and if you find that it is impossible to keep your personal e-mail address completely private a separate account may be the solution. Referred to by some as a “throw-away” account, this e-mail account doesn't have to cost you anything as suitable e-mail accounts are available for free from places such as Hotmail and Yahoo.

This throw-away account is the best choice when you are unsure that your privacy will be protected. Use it when registering with newsgroups, bulletin boards, sweepstakes, or in any other situation where you’re not quite sure your privacy will be protected. You have to use your better judgment as signing up for something from a trustworthy source, like the Tata Computers Tech Tips is totally different to many other things that we will just leave to our imaginations.

Since you are not expecting any important mail at this alternate e-mail account you do just as the name suggests and throw it away for a new one if it becomes over run with spam.

Message Rules in Outlook / Outlook Express

Most people use either Outlook or Outlook Express as their e-mail client (program) but you may not be familiar with creating message rules in the “Tools” drop down menu. Rules allow you to manually filter the delivery of e-mail and can be created to analyze the sender’s name, subject line, and message body before processing it into your inbox. For example, a rule can be created so that any message with a particularly offensive word in the subject line is automatically moved to the Deleted Items folder or even better, just deleted from the server before the message is download to your computer.

Another option provided by Outlook and Outlook Express allows the user to add senders to their “Blocked Senders” list. No rule needs to be created and in a few clicks a sender of unsolicited e-mail can be added to your personal blocked senders list. Whenever mail arrives from this sender in the future it will skip the inbox and go straight to the Deleted Items folder.

Windows XP with Service Pack 2 provides even greater security in a variety of areas, including Outlook and Outlook Express. Many spam e-mails have images in the body that are coded to identify receipt of the e-mail. If the individually coded image has been viewed the spammer knows that you have seen the e-mail thus confirming your address as valid. With SP2 images are blocked to prevent your computer from being identified thus keeping the spammer from confirming they have a valid address to continue mailing to.

Third Party Software

There are numerous applications available for purchase or as free downloads specifically intended to filter spam as it enters your inbox. These programs identify telltale signs of a spam message by analyzing hidden tags in the message, the use of text and images in the message and various other clues available that point to a message being unwanted.

One that I have used in the past is Spambayes. It is a free program that will "learn" the mail that you typically receive and filter items that it determines to be spam. You can also tell the program that any given message is or is not spam and it will change how it treats such messages.

A few examples of spam filtering software are available from these three companies; SPAMfighter, MailWasher, and Cloudmark. Each offers its own twist on the interface and manageability but they all allow users to take control of the spam in their Outlook or Outlook Express mailboxes.

With so many good free programs available I really don't see much need in purchasing any further protection but you might feel different.

Server Based Solutions

Most major internet service providers (ISP) now offer a spam filter as part of the package offered to its subscribers. The ISP provided filters effectively manage spam at the server before delivery but they are generally not customizable on the end user level and they obviously only protect e-mail accounts provided by the ISP.

Protection similar to what an internet service provider offers can be implemented by just about anyone with their own domain name, and access to their server. Domain names and web hosting have become so cheap that it is not all that uncommon for people to have their own website, or at least a domain name for e-mail. SPAM Assassin is a no-cost, server based spam fighting solution that can be installed on a server, and has become a common feature included on many web hosting packages.

These solutions use various rules and logic to analyze messages, much like the third party software does, but it all happens at the server level. This keeps the message from having to be downloaded to you machine to be processed, thus saving time and precious bandwidth.

Final Words

Spam is a nuisance that impacts people on several levels. Even if the content is not inappropriate or offensive, it is a waste of time and money. Although some spam solutions claim to eliminate 100% of all unsolicited e-mail, my experience tells me that this just isn't realistic. That said, protecting your e-mail address and implementing the appropriate spam filtering solution should nearly eliminate spam from your life

Remember, if you find something that you are suspicious about and want a second opinion, just write or call me and I will be happy to help you decide.

Should you have any questions about your computer do not hesitate in picking up the phone... better to call and be sure.

Tom @ Tata Computers