How to Stop Spam

Category: Spam

It is estimated that 70% of emails sent over the Internet are unsolicited commercial e-mail. When you consider that over 35 BILLION emails are sent every day, the impact of spam is staggering. Here's what YOU can do to stop spam today...

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...


Spam ranges from relatively benign product pitches to blatant pornography and identity theft schemes, and mailboxes that are unprotected can quickly be overrun by spam, possibly causing the mailbox owner to miss important messages. CAN-SPAM, the US government's attempt at stopping spam, has been a miserable failure.

Email users are getting more spam than ever, both at work and at home. Rather than complying with the law, spammers are increasingly using zombie networks (computers hijacked with spyware) to send spam on their behalf. So how do you fight back?

Spam Filtering Options

Although the volume of spam has grown by more than 65% since 2002, a number of companies have stepped up to the plate with solutions. One of the best end-user solutions is Cloudmark Desktop, a subscription service that costs about $40 per year. Cloudmark analyzes feedback from all of its users to determine what most people consider to be spam, and moves those messages to a separate folder for quick review later. When a spam message does make it into a user’s inbox, a single click on a toolbar removes the message and adds that message’s profile to the Cloudmark database. With this dynamic system, Cloudmark is able to react quickly to new forms of spam, and claims 98% spam removal immediately after installation. Unfortunately, Cloudmark only works with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.

Popular and free web-based email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Google's Gmail all do similar collaborative spam analysis and attempt to automatically funnel unwanted messages into junkmail folders. Users can also create their own filters to block messages based on sender, subject or content. My personal experience with Gmail has been quite good -- several hundred messages per day are blocked, with very few false positives.

Impact of Spam on Business

For corporate networks, spam can become a financial burden. Considering the amount of time employees spend weeding through e-mail, as well as the amount of load placed on mail servers and the company’s bandwidth, the corporate cost of spam quickly climbs into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, depending on the size of the company. A good solution for these networks is the Barracuda Networks line of anti-spam firewalls. Barracuda products sit behind the company’s Internet firewall, scanning each incoming message before passing it on to the mail server. Using multiple methods of analysis, the Barracuda products block over 80% of spam messages right out of the box. Within two weeks, following the configuration recommendations in the Barracuda documentation, that number can approach 95%, saving even companies with only one hundred mailboxes thousands of dollars per year. Since the Barracuda products do not have a per-seat licensing scheme, the return on investment for the products is very quick – usually less than three months, even for companies with only one hundred mail users.

Scorn Scum

Think about it... spammers do what they do because it's a lucrative business, not because they like to annoy people. So it stands to reason that people who buy stuff from spammers should bear a large portion of blame for the continuation and growth of spam. If nobody bought products advertised by spammers, the spam problem would go away within weeks. People who abuse the Internet and inconvenience millions of users by mass mailing their pitches should receive your scorn, not your hard-earned cash. If they flout the rules of the online world, they're most likely crooks in the physical world.

Protect Your Inbox

Of course, the best way for an individual user to reduce spam is to keep his or her main e-mail address private. Entering an e-mail address into any kind of public Internet forum or website exposes that address to discovery by spambots that harvest e-mail addresses from websites. One strategy is to get a free e-mail account from a webmail provider (such as Hotmail) and use that e-mail address for all website forms and public correspondence.

Though spam is a constant problem, it can be effectively controlled with the right tools and smart address management. In summary,

  • Keep your email address private
  • Never buy anything from a spammer
  • Use email software with collaborative spam filtering
  • Be vigilant to protect against viruses and spyware

    For further reading, see my articles How can I avoid computer viruses? and Spy, Counter-Spy to learn how to protect yourself from those risks.

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    Most recent comments on "How to Stop Spam"

    Posted by:

    Stu Berg
    28 Jan 2006

    The best way to fight spam is to fight it with the help of a great system that really works. BlueSecurity (http://bluesecurity.com/) is free and works by eliminating the root of the problem.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Stu, I wrote about Blue Security last August. And in a nutshell, I think it's a BAD idea. Using abuse to fight abuse is wrong.

    http://www.askbobrankin.com/blue_security_spam_solution.html


    Posted by:

    James W Kardos
    28 Jan 2006

    Cloudmark, and most other blockers work ONLY if you use Outlook Express for your E-mail. Thes do NOT work for Juno.


    Posted by:

    Sarah
    28 Jan 2006

    I am very glad I have stayed with AOL. I rarely see any SPAM. If something does slip through, I flag it as SPAM, and AOL takes it from there. It sits in a folder for a day or so, so I can change my mind if I was too hasty in clicking the spam box.


    Posted by:

    Tony Rothwell
    28 Jan 2006

    I use POPFILE at http://popfile.sourceforge.net/ It's free. Uses Baysian filters and over the past three years is 99.25% accurate at sorting my spam, my wife's mail, mine and replies to the 4 websites I run. This is not a guess, an actual statistic as reported by Popfile. Hmm. OK. May be biased!

    BTW: I don't get anything like as much spam now as I used 9 months ago. Why? Something is working!


    Posted by:

    Don
    30 Jan 2006

    Good advice, but I believe there's another way spammers get your email address and I rarely ever see it mentioned. You know those people who forward every email the get to all their friends? You know, those people who never remove all the email addresses of all the people it's been forwarded to already? Those emails sometimes contain hundreds of addresses.

    If you have people who send you such emails, realize that they're getting spread to possibly thousands of others with YOUR emai address intact. Encourage those people to learn how to use the BCC field when they send email. It's easy, it's just that most people know nothing about it. Here's a great writeup, forward this url to those people:

    http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/web1/bcc_field.htm


    Posted by:

    KinKStar
    30 Jan 2006

    My free Hotmail account has about the worst filter system to be found! When you mark something as "junk" in your inbox, it goes to your Junk file, only to have to been seen and deleted from there. Why isn't it deleted from the first pick? The Junk file has the same crap coming to it ALL THE TIME, so it's hardly worth making the selection telling them it's JUNK when obviously nothing is being done internally. I've found myself just deleting the crap right from the start, which certainly isn't doing the right thing to combat spammers either . . .


    Posted by:

    DavidO
    30 Jan 2006

    I would also recommend SpamBayes. I've been recommending it to friends and customers for a couple of years now. Very accurate and totally FREE. http://spambayes.sourceforge.net/

    It cleans up what SpamAssasin leaves behind at the server level. On that note, SpamAssasin is a great server level engine. With some better professional filters added to it, it could be a best of breed solution.


    Posted by:

    DavidB
    02 Feb 2006

    Lots of good points raised. I've been using Spamihilator with Eudora. Much easier than all the Eudora filters, and its free. Uses Baysian, Lists, word analysis, etc. Sadly, I still have to review the spam as it occasionaly grabs something I need. A few suppliers use dumb email serving so I can't white list them.

    http://www.spamihilator.com/

    If you have a mail server though, check this review out:

    http://windowssecrets.com/comp/060126/#story1

    Thanks Bob! --David


    Posted by:

    JackD
    03 Feb 2006

    I've had good luck with Spam Bully www.spambully.com

    Spam Bully uses baysian filtering to filter out spam and works with Outlook and Outlook Express

    Installs are trouble free and the interface is so intuitive that anyone can figure it out just by looking at it. This filter does a great job!


    Posted by:

    DavidP
    24 Mar 2006

    I admit I haven't read EVERYTHING you have written, but I haven't seen you mention the use of images embedded in emails which are used to validate addresses. As I understand it, some spammers send emails to "guessed" email addresses which include unique links to images on their server. If the image is downloaded from the server then they know they have hit a real, live, in-use email address - which can then be sold.

    The solution is to use an email client which does not download images until you ask it to (I use Thunderbird - which incidentally also seems to do well with it's built in spam filters). Thanks for all you do - I enjoy the Tourbus - and have learned lots!


    Posted by:

    null
    11 Mar 2007

    I totally agree with KinKstar, but note that no-one has offered any constructive solution to their problem (since 2006!)

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Maybe that's because Bayesian filters and collaborative spam filtering are working for a lot of people. If you don't like the way Hotmail does spam handling, switch to another provider. Gmail funnels tons of stuff to my spam folder and I almost never look at it. It gets auto-deleted after a while...


    Posted by:

    Stu Berg
    18 May 2007

    In answer to "null" above, the "constructive solution" to the spam problem (now that BlueSecurity is gone) is KnujOn. Please go to http://www.knujon.com/ to read about it. KnujOn uses all legal means available to shut down the spammers.


    Posted by:

    David B
    18 May 2007

    One note on this is managing your spam catching points. Gmail has a decent spam filter and also lets you check it before deletion. The only brain-dead thing its done is mark bounced messages as spam. You can then have it forward to your POP account. But be sure to check the spam box occasionally. Add senders to your gmail address book if they have reliability issues.

    Eudora full version is now much cheaper (its left Qualcomm to become part of the Mozilla camp) and it includes a decent spam filter.

    The key thing though is managing points of spam filtering. You want it in one place where you can monitor it. My domain provider recently added a spam filter and turned it on by default, contrary to prior settings. It bounces messages it deems spam. (stupid) Theres no address book or rules to adjust. I only discovered this as I was forwarding some gmail there and it bounced back. Obviously this is a poor approach (doubling spam moving around the net and confirming your email address) so its now off. Spam control is back in my control.


    Posted by:

    Carter
    18 May 2007

    It's not free (but not that expensive either). For Mac OS X I've found SpamSieve, http://c-command.com/spamsieve/, works very well. As far as I know there isn't a Windows version but its compatible with most Mac email clients.


    Posted by:

    Jane
    18 May 2007

    Two comments. First, people like me who sometimes forward humorous e-mails or other items need to not only learn to use BCC, they need to learn that after you hit the "Forward" button (and before you click "Send") you should go through the e-mail deleting all the previous headers. They're full of details for spammers, they make the email huge, and they slow down the reading process when the email arrives.

    Second, some of us HAVE to put our e-mail addies on our websites. I do genealogy, and I need to hear from strangers who will turn out to have family data. I'm comfortable with my Hotmail and Yahoo accounts. When Nigerians offer me millions or I win a lottery I never entered, I use the buttons to tell my mail accounts those are spam e-mails, but most penile enhancement ads are recognized by Yahoo and Hotmail.


    Posted by:

    Bob Chandler
    19 May 2007

    I am not defending all spammers but I will share this. About four years ago I did buy something from a spammer. My junk mail never increased and the product was good. I would buy from this operation again. I suppose I was lucky. I do not allow HTML in my mails which probably helps. I use a web based service operated by my ISP.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: You are part of the problem. Don't buy from spammers. If everyone stopped doing that, they would stop spamming.


    Posted by:

    stop spam
    23 Jan 2010

    little advice: never leave your real email
    always use a temporary email address


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