Fighting Spam

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in Article

By Stuart Yarnold

Some interesting statistics on spam:

  • Currently, some 80 % of email traffic is estimated to be spam
  • 30 billion spam emails are sent every day
  • 78 % of PC users receive spam on a daily basis
  • 4 % of recipients make a purchase as a result of a received spam email
  • Worldwide, the cost of dealing with spam is estimated to be 50 billion dollars annually

If the spammers have you in their sights, what can you do about it? The first and most obvious step is to simply delete your account and open a new one with a different address. This will stop any spammers who are currently jamming your inbox. However, for many users this will not be an option for various reasons. If so, do the following:

  1. In the case of spam from specific websites, add the website’s address to your email program’s Blocked Senders list.
  2. In the case of spam from unidentifiable sources, use your email program’s message filters. These can be set up and configured to cut out the majority of spam. Typical examples are:
    • Emails containing specific words commonly found in spam, such as sex, porn, money, free, etc.
    • Emails over a specified size.
    • Emails that contain attachments

    However, while the filters provided with programs such as Outlook and Outlook Express are useful, they will never stop it completely; the spammers know how to circumvent the most common rules set up by users. One such method is to deliberately misspell a keyword. For example, Viaggra instead of Viagra. The recipient knows what is meant but the filter doesn’t, and thus will let the message through. Another problem is that because these filters are literal in the sense that they allow no exceptions, sometimes legitimate emails are blocked.

    A much more efficient type of filter is the Bayesian filter. This is available as a third-party product (meaning you must buy it) and integrates with your email program. Its effectiveness is due to the fact that it is “intelligent”, and thus can be trained, much in the same way as Voice Recognition software. The Bayesian filter examines all aspects of a message, as opposed to keyword checking that classifies a message as spam on the basis of a single word or phrase. Once set up and trained, it will eliminate 99 % of spam.

  3. Add your contacts to your email program’s Safe Senders list. You can then block all other senders with the filters.
  4. Having stopped the flood of spam, make sure it stays stopped. This means never giving your email address to anyone who can’t be trusted. Never do either of the following:
    • Give your address to a website; many sites sell lists of email addresses to the spammers. Furthermore, spammers use automated software that trawl the Internet looking for the @ symbol used in all email addresses. If a particular site requires you to enter your address in order to gain access, give a false one.
      Alternatively, set up an account specifically for this purpose.
    • Click the “Unsubscribe from this mailing list” link in a spam email. This confirms to the spammer that a real address has been reached and could open the floodgates.
  5. Sell the PC and take up residence on a deserted island. It’s probably the only way guaranteed to avoid spam.

About the author

Stuart Yarnold is an electronics engineer who has been working in the industry since leaving college. Originally a marine radio & radar troubleshooter, he now devotes much of his time to playing poker professionally and can usually be found lurking in one of the online poker rooms.

Stuart lives near Cambridge with his wife Pauline and his two staffordshire bull terriers – Jim and George. His hobbies include woodworking and marathon running.