BOOT CAMP 300 (11/11/03)


SPAM, Part 1


If the number of unwanted and unsolicited junk email or ‘Spam’ messages sloshing around the Internet continues to grow at the present rate it could eventually bring the web to a shuddering halt. Even modest users can expect to receive a dozen or more items of Spam every day, for many others it is a great deal worse, and don’t forget, unlike the junk mail that comes through your letterbox you are actually paying to receive this rubbish.


It’s more than just a nuisance though, and apart from the effect the sheer volume of billions of unnecessary email messages are having on the web’s infrastructure, much of it is offensive or pornographic. Because of its non-discriminatory nature it can easily be sent to young children, who really shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of material. Unfortunately most Spam originates from overseas, beyond the reach of UK jurisdiction and the seemingly indifferent organisations that control the Internet, but even if there were effective legislation available a large proportion of Spam messages are sent using bogus, stolen or short-lived ISP addresses that make it very difficult to track down the offenders. Even when a spammer is shut down more often than not they’re open for business again under another guise within a matter of hours.


Nevertheless there are ways to stop it, or at least reduce your exposure to it from a flood to a trickle and if everyone did likewise spam would cease to be an effective advertising medium. Therefore the first and most important tactic is never, ever reply to Spam messages, whatever they are selling – and it’s bound to be worthless tat or a scam -- you didn’t ask for it, you almost certainly don’t want it but even if you do it probably doesn’t work. 


It’s pointless emailing the company to complain – even if your message gets through you can be absolutely certain that it will be ignored -- and above all never click on the ‘remove me from the mailing list’ or ‘unsubscribe’ links. This only confirms to the sender that your email address is valid, which increases its value and there’s a very good chance it will be sold on to other spammers so you’ll get even more nonsense filling up your inbox.


There are many different ways to control or eliminate Spam, using sophisticated software, ‘blacklists’ and paid-for services – more about those in part two -- but this week we’re going to be looking at some simple and effective techniques for home PC users, using the software already installed on your PC. We are of course talking about Outlook Express, which you are probably already using as your email program. It has a very useful, but little used facility called ‘Message Rules’, which can be set up to automatically filter and sort your incoming email into specified folders. 


The key to this first trick is not to filter out Spam messages individually by addresses or keywords  – spammers are wise to that one and increasingly messages have plausible sounding subject lines – but to use your Address Book to separate out emails from people you know and presumably happy to receive emails from. We’re going to set up a rule that sends emails from those listed in your Address Book into a folder called Friends. The rest, most of which will be Spam, stays in the Inbox or goes to the Deleted Items folder, where they can be deleted en-masse, or checked manually, if you are not sure.


Begin by opening OE and on the Tools menu go to Message Rules then Mail. If you have previously set up any rules click New. In the ‘Select Conditions…’ box check the first item ‘Where the From line contains people’ then in the Select Actions box check ‘Move it to the specified folder’. Below, in the Rule Description box you’ll see two blue underlined items ‘contains people’ and ‘specified’. Click on ‘specified’ and a new dialogue box opens, click the New Folder button and call it ‘Friends’ then OK. Now click ‘contains people’ and on the new box that opens click the Address Book button. You can either add all the entries, (highlight the top one, hold down the Shift key and press the down arrow), or edit the list manually by highlighting each address in turn and clicking the From button, which moves the selected entries into the Rule Addresses box on the right. Click OK to exit the open dialogue boxes and it’s done.


The second trick is a little more drastic and requires some organising but essentially all you have to do is give everyone you want to receive emails from a keyword that they have to insert into the Subject line of their emails sent to you. You then set up a rule to move emails with the keyword  (‘Where the Subject line contains specific words’) into your Friends folder, and all others, from people you do not know, can be deleted.


Spam isn’t going to go away and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. The trouble is Spam is cheap to send and the huge numbers involved means that it only takes a tiny percentage of people to respond to these messages for it to work -- the solution is in our hands!


Next week – Spam, part 2





Library of known spammers, addresses, keywords, names and terms used by anti-spam software to filter incoming email



Internet Service Provider -- a company providing Internet access



Junk email; almost certainly derived from a Monty Python sketch where the word was repeated incessantly




You can easily move your Outlook Express messages and Address Book to another PC using the Export facility but transferring your Message Rules is another matter. It can be done but it involves tinkering with the Windows Registry – off limits to novices – however, Microsoft has prepared a reasonably easy to follow how-to-do-it article that will guide you through the process. For some reason MS has not given it a Knowledge Base number or made it easy to find using it’s Search facilities, so you’ll have to enter the whole torturous address into your browser:



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