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Sunday, July 31, 2005
  blackhole- Managing spam and the preventive measures.

spam starts taking its toll long before it lands in your inbox. First, spammers employ spyware and viruses to hijack home and office computers for use as unwitting relays for junk email. Then your internet provider must spend time and money running filters, lest its computers be swamped.

The junk email that inevitably leaks through wastes your time and bandwidth as you wait for each message to download.

Almost all of it insults your intelligence and good sense; spam assumes we’re drug addicted, money-grubbing, porn-addled fools ready to click on any stupid offer. And the single worst thing about spam?. Enough recipients do click on those stupid offers to keep spammers in business.

Preventive measures

Nobody has found a technological fix for spam. The internet’s design puts a priority on the free flow of the data. Internet providers, too many of which still whore themselves out to spammers, and spammers’ own cockroach-like tenacity all but ensure there won’t be.

Because the internet spans the world, laws aren’t likely to solve this problem either, although I am always delighted to see spammers being litigated into poverty, fined into bankruptcy or imprisoned until senility sets in.

Spam can, however, be managed. You can make your email address a smaller target for spammers, and you can shunt aside a healthy chunk of the spam that does find you. If you can keep your address off spammers’ lists, you will get little or no junk email. So never post your email address on any public spot on the web, and be choosy about giving it to strangers or companies.

Instead create a second, throwaway account at any of the free web-mail services, such as Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail or Gmail, and use that for online commerce. Most websites won’t share your address with the world – but a few might, so why chance it?

This method will not, however defeat a dictionary attack, in which spammers send message to randomly chosen names at popular internet providers.

Having an address with an unusual spelling or at a lesser-known provider can recuce vulnerability.

No one’s home

When spam arrives, never respond to it. And make sure that your mail software isn’t doing that for you: if it displays a picture in a spam message, it often does so by downloading the image from the spammers’ website, which tells the sender you just read the spam.

Current releases of the major mail programs – Microsoft’s Outlook Express and Outlook, Apple’s Mail, Qualcomm’s Eudora and Mozilla’s Thunderbird – won’t display pictures in mail from strangers. But older versions will, so upgrade now.

You think writing a program to delete spam would be easy, since even an internet beginner can tell spam from real mail. But that hasn’t happen – yet another way in which the computer can’t match the human brain.

Your internet provider’s spam filtering will usually sweep the worst offenders out of sight, but some adopt an excessively strict policy that wrongly tags innocent email messages as spam. Last years, for example, Verizon’s filtering suddenly began flushing away many legitimate email message sent from parts of Europe and Asia.

Add-on help

If you use your own mail program instead of a web mail interface such as Hotmail and Yahoo! , you can set your own spam filters.

The best learn form your use, watching what mail you label as spam and adjusting their screening to match.

Mozilla Thunderbird (www.mozilla.org) and Apple’s Mail, both free, include this type of filter, as does the US$50 edition of Qualcomm’s Eudora (www.eudora.com)

Microsoft Outlook 2003, by contrast, has a non-learning spam filter, while its free Outlook Express includes no spam block. You can add learning filter to either program with various add-ons; some, such as POPFile (http://popfile.sourceforge.net) and SpamPal (www.spampal.org), are free but many require tricky configuration; others, such as SpamBully (www.spambully.com) cost money.

A more stringent defence, “challenge-response” filtering, requires would-be correspondents to pass a simple test online that s bulk mailer can’t or won’t bother to complete – usually, visiting a webpage and typing in letters shown in an image.

Some add-on software such as ChoiceMail (www.digiportal.com) and SpamArrest (www.spamarrest.com) offer it.

But although this systems wave through mail from people in your address book, other legitimate senders must perform extra work. Challege-response has not been widely adopted.

All these techniques can only treat spam. A cure will have to be economic; when no money can be made from spam, nobody will send it. Filters, lawsuits and fines can raise the costs of sending the junk email, but there’s still money to be made by defrauding the gullible

-no money can be made form spam, nobody will send it-
 


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