The Norman Transcript

December 30, 2012

Spam email for 2013


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Many years ago, I had a Hotmail email account that I eventually abandoned out of frustration.

I was receiving so much unwanted junk “spam” email (not to be confused with the tasty luncheon meat) that I was spending more time messing around with the spam than I was reading legitimate messages.

The folks at Hotmail were completely unresponsive, essentially ignoring my pleas for help. In the end, I gave up on Hotmail and set up a new email account somewhere else.

Changing email addresses was a bit of a hassle, but well worth the effort. I assembled a list of all of my contacts and notified them of the change, informing them that, after 30 days, I would no longer check for messages at the old address. Two weeks later, as a final warning, I notified everyone again. At last, I would have email peace.

I began to educate myself about antispam techniques, zealously guarding my new email address. If I noticed that someone I knew was including me in their regular mass emailing of silly jokes and stories (amateur spammers), I asked to be removed from their mass email list. To folks who just couldn’t resist emailing 10 jokes a day to all of their friends and relatives, I encouraged them to start putting all of the addresses in the BCC field, instead of using the CC or TO fields.

This can help to prevent email addresses from finding their way onto spam lists. I also started using fake email addresses for discussion groups, message boards, program installations and website registrations. The basic principle I used was simple: don’t give your email address to anyone that might make it part of a spam list.

In addition to my “real” address, I also set up a second email address just to catch spam. This is the address that I give out to websites that insist that I “register” with a real email address in order to view information. It’s also the address that I use for eBay, Paypal, Amazon and everyone else with whom I conduct online business.

The sad truth is, many otherwise legitimate companies “share” customer email lists with other companies, who sell them to even more companies, who sell them to spammers, who sell them to even more spammers, who sell them to criminals.

Unscrupulous employees also steal email lists and sell them to spammers. An AOL employee was once busted for stealing and selling 92 million email addresses to spammers. Unfortunately, that’s the way that the email spam game is played, and all of the stupid “CAN-SPAM” legislation in the world hasn’t made the situation any better.

Experts estimate that at least 95 percent of all email received in North America is spam, leaving Internet service providers struggling to come up with ways of combating this flood of garbage. This sorry state of affairs means that the real fight against spam is left largely up to you, the end user. If you’re having a problem with spam, there are many potential solutions, divided into two distinct groups: use an email service that employs antispam filtering, or install an antispam program on your computer.

I currently have three email addresses that I use regularly. Two of the addresses, one of which is my “spam catcher,” are set up using Google’s Gmail service (mail.google.com). Gmail uses a pretty good spam-filtering scheme, but, like all spam filters, it has to be trained. This chore is easy to perform; when a spam message comes in, I simply tag it as spam and move on. After a while, the program learns which messages are spam and files them accordingly.

Every now and then a spam message will sneak through, which I simply tag as spam, and the program gets “smarter.” I check the contents of the spam box every few days, because legitimate email will sometimes be tagged as spam. Tagging these messages as being good trains the program to do an even better job. My spam catcher address tags and rejects over 70 spam messages every day.

Bear in mind that no antispam program is perfect; they all have to be trained, they all have to be monitored and they all make mistakes. There are no “set it and forget it” programs. But, if you’ve decided to declare war on spam, these solutions may help you to at least win most of the battles.

Based in Norman, OK, Dave Moore has been an independent computer service technician since 1984. He also teaches computer security workshops to public and private organizations. He can be reached at (405)919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.