I'm having a terrible time with spam emails. Suddenly I started getting dozens per day, and I can't seem to get rid of them. Is there a spam blocker or spam filter that's easy and just works?
Spam: How Big is the Problem?
Believe me, I feel your pain! I get hundreds (sometimes thousands) of unwanted emails every day. Spam ranges from relatively benign product pitches to blatant p**nography and identity theft schemes; and mailboxes that are unprotected can quickly be overrun by spam, possibly causing the mailbox owner to miss important messages. When you consider that over 35 BILLION emails are sent every day, and about 70% of those are spam, the impact on individual and corporate inboxes is staggering.
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.
In this article, I'll give you some spam blocking tips you can try, and I'll also tell you how I deal with spam on a personal level
Spam Blockers and Filters
Because 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 or Outlook Express on Windows PC's.
Software that uses Bayesian filtering is another good alternative. Bayesian filters can be trained on a per-user basis, causing it to "learn" over time which emails are likely to be spam and which are not. Some free or low-cost options in this genre are SpamBayes, POPFILE, and Spam Bully.
Spam Blockers and WebMail
Web-based email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Google's Gmail use a combination of keyword filtering, bayesian and collaborative spam analysis 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. I rely mostly on the built-in spam filter, but I've also added some filters of my own to block spams by sender, IP address, and specific keywords in the subject and/or message body. The graphic here shows the various options for creating spam filters in Gmail. I like the fact that you can enter your criteria, then click Test Search to see what messages in your inbox it would match.
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. One good solution for companies with many employees 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. Another option is the free and open source SpamAssassin, which is popular with ISP's, small companies and webmasters.
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 separate e-mail account for public correspondence such as online forums and newsletters. And don't ever reply to a spammer (even with remove requests), that just tells them your address is valid and ready for more spam. I also recommend that you avoid "forwards" and encourage your friends not to send them, as they provide a rich source of valid email addresses for spammers.
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 or Bayesian spam filtering
- Be vigilant to protect against viruses and spyware
And if a few spams get past these defenses, don't sweat it... just press the Delete key. For further reading, see these related articles:
- Should I Buy Anti-Spyware or Anti-Virus Software?
- Identity Theft
- Nonsense Words in Spam
- Create Currency Quickly
Got comments on spam blockers, spam filtering, or the spam issue in general? Post your thoughts below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 6 Sep 2006
|For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.|
Senior Citizens Online
The Top Twenty
Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions
Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Article information: AskBobRankin -- Spam Blocker (Posted: 6 Sep 2006)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Most recent comments on "Spam Blocker"
07 Sep 2006
Hey Bob - good points. On forwards though, I wouldn't just say don't send them, I'd train people to strip the headers off so the email addresses are not exposed. Not always easy though, I know.
If you're a large enough an organization, I've seen great reviews for this device. It uses IP addresses http://www.tyrnstone.com/emailfilter.asp
And finally, I think part of the blame for spams growth should be placed on ISP's. If they had blocked abusers, relaying servers and the like sooner, it would never have grown this bad.
07 Sep 2006
What about chllenge-response systems? I recently started a trial subscription using one such system (spamarrest) and have been very happy with the results. It's particularly good once you've been using an email program for a year or two and so have built up a pretty comprehensive address book. I just pre-approved all those in my address book and the change has been seemless to nearly all my regular correspondents. And it stops spam dead because (1) spammers oftern spoof the return address so they never get the challenge email, and (2) most spam is sent by spambots, the response requires a real person - a machine can't do it. What's your take?
EDITOR'S NOTE: As someone who gets a lot of email, I find these systems annoying. I generally DON'T reply to the challenge messages, so people using them should be careful to maintain their whitelist carefully.
07 Sep 2006
I have been using SpamSieve by Michael Tsai on my Mac for years. It uses Bayesian filtiering and works very well. Download link: www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/9116
Includes user reviews. Worth every penny!
07 Sep 2006
I'm now getting spam inviting me to subscribe to G-Mail, so I was amuzed to see it mentioned in an article about spam!
I love my MailWasher (http://www.firetrust.com/) which not only gives me control over spam, but allows me to also control those huge files people sometimes send with cutsy pictures. It was especially useful when I was on a dial-up connection. Thanks for the great Tour-bus!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Those are not spams from Gmail... Gmail has an "invite a friend" feature.
08 Sep 2006
I find it interesting that when I click on compare spam filters and then go to the web site of Spam Shield I find that McAfee SiteAdvisor gives a negative rating on Spam Shield saying that entering your email address on Spam Shield site will result in spam from them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Perhaps they are competitors? I'd be wary of McAfee's warning in that case.
08 Sep 2006
I think I have read the stats on just about every anti-spam software there is. I have tried some of the most publicized ones. I have uninstalled all of them, because none of them lived up to their ads, and they suck up to much system resources.
I have found the best way to avoid spam is to delete the spam, working offline. You don't have to disconnect. Yes, it does take awhile to do this, especially when a person gets as much spam as you do, but with a little patience the spam keeps getting less and less. I use Outlook Express and Outlook.
I read somewhere that it can be quite expensive to send spam, and when the spam messages don't phone home, the spammer stops sending it. I don't know if this is true or not, but I do know that my method of stopping spam works, and it's free!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Lots of options, to be sure! I wonder how that will work long term...?
09 Sep 2006
I use a combination of strategies for fighting spam. First and foremost don't give out your main email address. Second, use disposable addresses when filling out a form online and use a separate one for each site or shopping that you want to do. Mark in the notes exactly who it is. Also a good idea to check privacy policies before joining or shopping on any site.
For corporate accounts or email coming from a domain I have addresses on, I send them first to my spamCop account. This allows you to stop the spam in its tracks, so it never even reaches your email and at the same time report it. BlackLists can be chosen for use with SpamCop including the ever popular SpamAssassin which assigns a score to an email.
Then for those emails that do go directly to my main email, I have mailwasher, which works great with online accounts. With this I have eliminated about 99% of my Spam and I don't have wade through the garbage.
12 Sep 2006
My provider supplies me with a spam filter which works quite well and I update it regularly but I spend a lot of time doing it. Is there a program that you can drag your spam messages into and no messages from that source will show in your inbox again?
Even better - is there a program that will return the spam to the sender and cannot be simply returned to you again? Maybe make it mandatory that an email address MUST accept returned emails. Maybe an internet address setup that takes reported spam source emails and makes sure they dont reach their "victim".
There must be something drastic we can do with the spam problem, after all, aren't computers for solving problems?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Spammers almost always use a bogus From address, so unfortunately it's pointless to return mail to the sending address, or to block further emails from that source.
19 Oct 2006
I got Thunderbird email program because it has a Bayesian filter. I tried it out for about 6 weeks. At the end, I was only getting a 50% reduction in spam. I was getting good email in my spam and spam in my "good" email. I diligently "taught" the filters. I kept on getting spam that was the same exact spam except it was from a different send. Every time I would have to manually take it out. Does anyone know why it did not work for me? Anyone else have a similiar problem? Personally I had other problems with Thunderbird and now just use OE. I still get spam in OE but it is much quicker to just take it out than hassel with spam filters that do not work.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Depending on the TYPE of emails you generally get, Bayesian filters might not work well for you.
09 Mar 2007
i hate teachers they dont let you have any fun they blocked myspace at my school so can you plz help
EDITOR'S NOTE: Those teachers... always trying to TEACH! Sigh... see http://www.askbobrankin.com/banning_myspace.html
19 Oct 2007
Protect Your Inbox -- > -- How does this work? How do spammers get access to the email addresses?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Most people forget to edit out the list of addresses when forwarding.
14 Oct 2009
You will find this to be the easiest, most effective way to manage your incoming e-mails and stop spam. You will be amazed at how quickly you will like using MailWasher.
31 Aug 2010
At YourNet Connection, we use barracuda spam filters. They're highly effective and are very low maintenance. We use barracuda for our colocation and webhosting clients as well as for our own email. For more information about our services click here.
20 Apr 2011
Great info. I use xsl-fo. Hopefully I can take some of this info with me to it.
05 Apr 2012
But isn't there just another app. Out there that trumps out these "blocked" systems? So then you need to purchase back up "blocker"???