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[Fighting Spam]

   Anita Bora

Unsolicited mail, or spam, is increasing by the day. It wastes time and can stress you out. The agony of deleting yet another 'Are you in debt? Get FREE help!' mail over a slow line can push anyone to the edge.

Here's how your can avoid and fight spam…

Why you are being spammed

First let us get to the root of the matter:
  • When we sign up for a special service from one site, the site may pass on our address to spammers.
  • We tick 'yes' against 'I want to receive more information' when filling out an online form. Often, the check box is already ticked and we don't realise that it has not been cleared.
  • Spammers use Web-crawling programs that look for email addresses on Web pages and pick them up.
  • Spammers also buy lists of email addresses from other spammers or those who specialise in making these lists.
  • Sometimes they take your email address without your knowledge when you visit their site and collect member names from online chat rooms.

Just deleting spam will not help. You have to learn how to avoid it in the first place:
  • If you have posted your email address on your site you are directly at risk of receiving more unsolicited email.
  • If you are posting at a Web forum, newsgroup or site, one way to avoid being picked by a spammer's Web crawling software is to obscure your email address. Instead of giving out your email ID as 'myname@mydomain.com' you could use 'myname[at]mydomain.com'. When you don't use the @ sign in the email, the spammer's programme does not recognise it as email!

    -- Tips and help for a regular user

    -- Creating an anti-spam page

    -- Six ways to deter spam

    -- Combat spam

  • One very common mistake is to reply to a spam or try to unsubscribe it. This action usually confirms to the spammer that your email address is really valid and active and this confirmation can be quickly sold at a premium to other spammers.
  • Never use your primary email address to sign up for online services. Usually sites ask for an email address to send you a password. Create a secondary ID that you can use for online submission. There is always a chance that your email could be misused.
  • Make sure your Internet service provider has an anti-spam policy. Some ISPs use servers that take active measures against spam.
  • Use innovations like the 'disposable' email address! This essentially cloaks your real address behind a fake address that you can use online. Sneakemail is one such example. You can enter a Sneakemail addresses into online forms without the risk of your real address being abused, bought and sold.
Cure: the mail filters

Since deleting junk email can be tedious you can automate the process by using software programmes called mail filters. These filters, for both Web-based mail and POP email clients, identify junk email and separate it from legitimate email.

Web based email like Hotmail and Yahoo! usually have inbuilt filters that automatically separate email from junk.

But automation can be tricky. A filter can sometimes catch legitimate mail. That's why you should build a safety net by not deleting spam immediately, but diverting them to a 'possible spam' folder that you can check periodically before deleting.

You can use these steps to filter out spam in Netscape Messenger, Microsoft Outlook and Eudora. There are also many anti-spam tools for Windows that can come handy.

Email Sentry removes junk mail and viruses. It works independently of your email programme and supports Hotmail.

Mail Washer has many advanced features like 'Bounce'. Bounce convinces the spammer that your email address does not exist by sending back a technical message or a bounce notification. This is done in the hope that slowly, spammers will stop sending you mail! Mail Washer has the ability to display status categories such as 'normal', 'virus', 'possible spam' and 'chain letter' to make your work easier.

Other similar mail filtering software like Mail Snoop, Mail Sweep and Spam Buster delete junk mail directly on the server without downloading them. However, most of these programmes only support POP accounts and not Web based accounts!


-- Spam Series

-- Spam Fighting Links

-- Some Thoughts

-- Death to Spam

-- Spam Sucks

-- Feed Hotmail into SpamCop

Campaign against spam

There are several organisations dedicated to annihilating spam. Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email is a prominent one. You can do your bit by supporting CAUCE and promoting it. The FAQ section can tell you more about the purpose of the movement and the role you can play in fighting spam.

Chain letters can be specifically tackled by an organization called Break the Chain. They warn that: 'If it promises any kind of return - like money - it's fraudulent and illegal! If you start or forward one, you could face legal action.'

SpamCop and Junk Busters can also help you act against spam.

Tracking and reporting spam

If some spammers do manage to get to you despite your preventive strategies, tweak them by the ear and march them to the authorities.

Sometimes you can track where a spam mail is coming from by reading the details of the message 'header'. Using this information in the header you can find who and where the spammers actually are. Programmes like Traceroute, Dig (nslookup) and Whois use the header details to find the contact information. You can also get technical details of the spam that the authorities may be interested in.

There are laws against spamming and you have a right to complain. If you are getting a lot of unsolicited email it is best to complain to the spammer's Internet service provider. For example, if you get spam from a Yahoo! account, you should directly complain to abuse@yahoo.com.

Also Read:
-- Eight Years of Spam: A Special
-- Stress, Spam, Virus, Rumours!
-- 30 years of email
-- How to beat spam
-- Avoiding junk mail
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