BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2003

  

 

BOOT CAMP 301 (18/11/03)

 

SPAM Part 2

The simple anti-Spam strategies outlined last week tend to be fairly brutal and are best suited to home users as they run the risk of filtering out legitimate emails, which could be a problem for business users. Spammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated so in order to do a really effective job it is necessary to match their ingenuity and this week we’re looking at a selection of specialised Spam removal programs and services.

 

Early attempts at Spam filtering focused on identifying the spammer through names, email addresses and ISPs, or by looking for keywords in the subject line or the body of the message. None of these methods can be relied upon anymore as spammers frequently change their identity or service providers and have found ways around keyword filtering by mimicking genuine emails with authentic-sounding subject lines.

 

More recent anti-Spam systems employ a variety of techniques, none of which are one hundred percent reliable but even the simplest of them should drastically reduce the number of unwanted messages reaching your inbox.

 

One of our favourite Spam-zapping utilities is MailWasher. This operates independently of your email client program and regularly interrogates your mail server – where your emails are stored – so messages are not downloaded onto your PC without your say-so. MailWasher shows what’s there and through a simple learning process and the use of blacklists, flags up suspicious messages and viruses that can be either manually (or automatically) deleted, or deleted and ‘bounced’. That’s where the message is returned to the sender as undeliverable in the hope your address will be removed from their mailing list. What remains should be legitimate email messages and these can be downloaded to your PC and read in the normal way. Bouncing is not as effective as it once was as a lot of Spam is re-routed through authentic email addresses but the facility to delete Spam before it gets anywhere near your PC is quite satisfying. MailWasher needs to be used with care, though, and once deleted messages cannot be recovered. The program is freeware, with a ‘nag’ screen so it is well worth upgrading to the more advanced ‘Pro’ version, (about £17), there are more details at: http://www.firetrust.com/home/.

 

SpamNet is an add-on for Outlook and Outlook Express that uses a web-based database to determine whether or not an incoming email message is Spam. This system is particularly clever because the program’s ‘community’ of users constantly updates the database. If a Spam message slips through a user manually blocks it and the message’s characteristics or ‘fingerprint’ are added to the list. However, to prevent genuine messages being maliciously blocked a user has to build up a ‘trust’ rating, which grows as the accuracy of their reports are verified. SpamNet is currently freeware and is in the latter stages of beta testing, so it will probably become a paid-for service before long but if you don’t mind being a Guinea-pig and want to give it a try go to: www.spamnet.com

 

SpamCop is a subscription service that intercepts all of the email messages sent to your email address. It checks for viruses and Spam using a large and frequently updated database that users help to maintain. SpamCop provides a specially designed email client so you can pick up your mail, or you can configure your existing email program to access your inbox. Messages marked as Spam are routed to a separate mailbox where they are stored for two weeks, after which they will be automatically deleted. Setting the system up does involve a few complications, and it works best if your ISP can forward email from your existing address to a new one but it is relatively inexpensive, costing $30 (around £17.50) per year for the basic single user service. For more information go to: www.spamcop.com

 

MailKey is one of the more advanced anti-Spam systems on the market and it has built up a good reputation for accuracy. It works on two levels, firstly incoming emails are checked by the MailKey server against a ‘whitelist’ of trusted contacts or the presence of a keyword in the subject line, which users issue to friends and colleagues. If the message fails these tests it is directed to a rejected folder and MailKey sends an email to the sender, asking them to request a key, so the message can be authenticated and sent on to its destination. This can only be done manually by a person at the other end. A spammer’s automated email system wouldn’t be able to respond so the message stays in the bin, where you can review it at your leisure, or delete it. Access to your mail is via your normal email client using a simple add-on, or from a webmail page. MailKey for a single user is free and it is currently running a special offer – one year free, normally £59.95 -- on its Platinum service for multiple accounts. You can reach MailKey at: www.mailkey.com

 

Next week – Top Ten Traumas

 

JARGON FILTER

 

EMAIL CLIENT

Program, e.g. Outlook or Outlook Express, used to send and receive emails

 

WEBMAIL

Web site that provides access to an email mailbox

 

WHITE LIST

List of approved or authentic email addresses used to help filter Spam messages

 

 

 

TOP TIP

Reporting Spam is often fairly pointless since spammers are extremely difficult to catch and most of them operate outside of the UK. Some Spam reporting services have actually turned out to be companies harvesting email addresses, and you should never reply to or click the ‘unsubscribe’ link on Spam advertising as it will almost certainly result in even more unwanted email. However, there are plenty of legitimate organisations dedicated to eradicating Spam and you will find a very comprehensive list, including links to UK Government departments and agencies at: http://spamlinks.datapacket.net/report.htm

http://spamlinks.port5.com/report.htm

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