Stopping Spam

By Philip Buxton, editor of Netimperative (www.netimperative.com), 25 April 2003.

Can You Take Any More Spam?

If spam critical mass were a definable quantity, Ithink it would be fair to describe it as less than one genuineemail in 30, which is the current condition of my inbox.

In the last couple of weeks, we have featured a number ofcolumns and pieces of research on the subject and while this isdue in part to our inherent dislike for the stuff – genuineopt-in email senders are greatly at risk from the threat of spam- it is also due to the amount of information we are nowreceiving on the topic.

Soon we'll be revealing details of just what we plan todo about it – for now, discussing the subject seems a fairstarting point. The answers to simple questions, such as'does the out-of-office assistant provide our email addressto spam senders?' seem beyond most of us and it's clearthat there are some simple steps we ourselves can take toaddress the disgraces that are our morning inbox. A quicktip-list provided by a respondent to Niki Panourgias'srather controversial column on Monday is posted at the bottom ofthis comment for your perusal.

But, as AOL is now in the process of trying to prove, thereis much, much more that can be done. So far, users have put upwith spam as a price worth paying for the practical joy ofemail. However, there is a significant groundswell of people nowconvinced that the price has risen too high. In practical terms,this means that companies will, if not invest in anti-spamtechnology, then at least learn and deploy the tools already attheir disposal. It also means potential legal steps to preventspam will be taken more readily, and that the government, ISPs,industry bodies, and anybody with any relation to the process ofspam will be under ever greater scrutiny.

We have never really dealt with the intrusion of directmarketing mail-drops in the offline world and it's hard todefine just what makes the online version even more frustrating(their lack of verbal flair is my principal beef), butinfuriating it most certainly is and we are without question ata point of action.

For the moment, AOL deserves the best of luck, ISPs need tostep up their efforts and companies need to see what can be doneto further protect our own inboxes. I for one would delight inno longer being led to believe that there is money in the penisenlargement business.

Paul at ASP developer Cactusoft writes:

1. Remove email addresses from your web sites and replacethem with a contact form instead. For safety, sendautoresponders to anyone emailing these addresses informing themthe account is no longer checked and that they should use theweb form.

2. Use major blocklists – many small companies don'tbother because they don't realize that MailDaemon softwaresupports these DNS-based systems and that using them is free. Weuse spamhaus, spamcop and spews, among others. While it ispossible to block innocent mail, a clear bounce message can beset up and direct people to a web site form instead.

3. Filter email based on headers – MailDaemon and other suchpackages allow filtering of mail based on specific headers. ISPcan tag mails with X-warning tags if the originating IP addressis on one of the lists they're checking. Filter on this anddelete such mail.

Profile

Philip Buxton began his career in journalism as a reporterfor licensed trade newspaper the Licensee & MorningAdvertiser, having completed a degree in marketing at LancasterUniversity's business school. He then joined nationalbusiness weekly Marketing Week as a reporter, takingresponsibility for the magazine's new media news coveragethree months later. He joined netimperative (www.netimperative.com) in April 2000 as areporter on its media & marketing channel and was appointededitor in April 2002.

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