Saturday, August 26, 2006

Putting Spam Back In The Can


Last year I was over burdened by spam. The server had spam filters, I set up hundreds of spam filters in my mail program, used Norton spam blocker (IMNSHO - useless) and even had my tech guys install the industrial strength version of Trend Micro PC-cillian (IMHO - somewhat useful). I was still spending over two hours+ per day weeding and deleting spam mail to get to the real emails., the site I manage is an extremely large website. It is a mecca for spam harvesters who use automated programs to scour the web looking for the @ sign.

The only solution I could think of was to remove every mailto: link on the site and replace it with a form. This project took months, but the benefit was worth the manual labor. Yes, I did it manually and updated quite a few pages while I was cleaning house.

I am happy to report that I turned the spam ratio in my favor; now receiving 90% real mail and about 10% spam still managing to sneak through. You cannot absolutely get rid of spam, but you may be able to put some of it back in the can.

Here is a very useful tip for those that get a lot of mail. Download message headers only. This saves quite a bit of time when downloading your mail. Instead of having to open or preview each message you can select the ones that you want to read and delete the ones that you can tell just from the title are spam. My advice - proceed with caution!

Spammers are a very resourceful bunch using vague or common titles like "Regarding your email" or "About your account" to get you to read their email. Questionable emails are a judgment call. If you are unsure, download the mail. If in fact it is spam and you have some sort of filtering program set up, you can block that sender or add them to your junk mail senders list. Next time they send you email, this should automatically send them to your junk mail folder or deleted items folder, depending on how you have your mail options set up. It is a good idea to parse your junk mail folder just in case a legitimate email was mistaken as spam. You may be able to add that sender to your safe list. This way future emails from that sender do not get misfiled.

I use Outlook to manage my email. In my not so humble option (IMNSHO - in case you were wondering what that acronym meant above), it is the most complicated mail program ever invented. Extremely feature rich if you can figure how to use all the features. I am still learning.

How to download email headers only, using Outlook:

Tools > Send/Receive > Send/Receive Settings > Define Send/Receive Groups > All Accounts > Edit > Folder Options > Personal Folders > Inbox > Select Download Headers Only > Hit OK

This handy little feature saves download time as well as disk space. You can mark the items you want to read and delete the junk. Next time you connect to the server, the deleted items will also be deleted from the server, another Outlook option.

You can set your mail preference to delete the mail from the server, unless you need to store a copy on the server to access mail from a laptop or home computer.

How to delete your mail from the server, using Outlook:

Tools > Send/Receive > Send/Receive Settings > Define Send/Receive Groups > All Accounts > Edit > Account Properties > Advanced > Delivery > UNCHECK BOX Leave a copy of messages on the server > Hit OK

Filters and/or software used to block spam are good devices but, are not perfect and often times a bit over zealous. Some Internet Service Providers and Spam Blocking Software offer their users a "smart feature." A feedback tool designed to educate the software, training it to better recognize spam. Users can mark a message as spam. It is then returned to the server or software program. The message is flagged and analyzed to educate the software to profile similar emails as spam.

The term "spam" when referring to the Internet means unsolicited commercial email -- that means you did not ask for it. If you signed up for a newsletter, a mailing list or joined a group, you gave permission to receive email from that sender.

Spam blocking and filtering programs are good ideas in theory. Giving too many people an easy button to report spam is not good in practice. Companies using the Internet as a communication tool are the ones most at risk. It is often times easier and faster for a recipient to mark something as spam than it is to follow instructions on how to unsubscribe. Lots of email is being labeled as spam, an association most legitimate companies look to avoid.

With all the controversy over spam, it makes me wonder what kind of impact the negative association of spam email has had on SPAMTM the luncheon meat, a product of Hormel Foods. They have a very interesting take on SPAM and the Internet that is worth reading.

Thank you for reading my rantings.

1 comment:

Aaron J. Stein, CPCU, CFP said...

i use spamarrest, and have for several years. sometimes it can be a pain, but overall, 98% of my email never reaches my inbox.