Unwanted Email or Spam: Internet "Junk Mail"

 

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Tutorial Overview

Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. Unsolicited E-mail 5. Email Clients for the Macintosh
2. How did they get my E-mail Address? 6. Spam and Your Rights
3. Reducing Spam    
4. Email Clients for Windows    

 

What is Unsolicited E-mail or "Spam"?

Spam is unsolicited e-mail or the online equivalent of junk mail. Spam wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't quite so voluminous and offensive but sadly it has become an endemic problem in the Internet world. Typically spam offers some doubtful financial service, impotence treatments and invitations to pornographic web sites. Most people can live without this constant barrage of offensive unsolicited e-mail.

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How did they get my e-mail address?

Spammers can get to your mail box in a number of ways - they do not always have to have your e-mail address.

Spammers can use tools to "mine" e-mail addresses from newsgroups and web sites. Let's say you posted a message in a newsgroup. A spammer can point a software tool at a newsgroup and comb it for e-mail addresses. Ditto for web sites; if your e-mail address appears on a web site, it is fair game to the spammers. Therefore web site owners often receive a lot of spam.

If you must post an email address on your website there are techniques that make it harder for spammers to harvest the adddress. For example, using a picture of the text of your email address, instead of the text itself hides the address from some crawlers. Or you can "munge" your email address at www.addressmunger.com. This will wrap it up in java script making it impossible for spam crawlers to identify.

Sometimes people who read newsgroups alter their e-mail address and remove the "@" which the spammers' search tools are looking for. They may change the setting for the reply e-mail address to, for example webmaster_at_bellingen.com and place written instructions to people in the newsgroups to replace the "_at_" with an @ when replying.

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What you can do to reduce or remove Spam

  1. Remove junk mail before you download it to your PC. Use a free POP account checker like www.mail2web.com to view your POP account contents before downloading your mail in Outlook Express (OE) or your preferred e-mail client. There are a number of tools and web sites you can use to query your mail box before download. Start with www.mail2web.com. Tick the items you want to delete, then press the "Delete" button, say "OK" when asked to confirm.
  2. Use your email client's blocked senders feature (see below). My blocked sender's list is very, very long. Blocking a sender means that you will no longer receive mail from that source. Most spammers however are already ahead of this feature, and change or hide the address from which they send the spam, so your Blocked Senders list does not recognise the new sender as a blocked one. To block a sender in Outlook Express simply single click a message header, then go MESSAGE> BLOCK SENDER... Outlook will remove all inbound mail from that source and delete future mail from the same source. This method takes a bit of persistence, but pays dividends over time.
  3. Use your email client's message rules feature (see below). OEs message rules feature is really aimed at allowing you to file messages as they arrive. You can however set up rules that look for certain words and characters, say in the subject line of an inbound e-mail, and file that message in the Deleted Items folder or delete it from the server. You could for example ask OE to look for occurrences of the words like "loan repayments" or "teen sluts" and have these messages automatically filed in the Deleted Items or removed before downloading them. If you do this however, you should be aware that you could be accidentally delete bona fide message from people you know.
  4. Do not post your email address in newsgroups, or on web pages generally. If you really must post an email address in a newsgroup, consider obtaining a free webmail account from a provider such as Hotmail. Use this to monitor your newsgroup or post questions in forums etc, and discard it when the spam level increases. (Yes, Hotmail and other free webmail providers are spam "magnets" but it is sometimes better to use one to divert spam from your regular email address!) In the meantime your "real" email address is still used by your contacts and receives less spam.
  5. Install spam blocking software like Spam Inspector (recently acquired by Microsoft) or Spamihilator (freeware). There are several techniques that these programs use to counter spam for example, constructing a blacklist and a whitelist of senders so that immediately, the program can separate trusted and junk mail. For senders not on either list the software can make rule-based judgements based on the appearance of certain words in the email subject and body text. Suspected spam is usually quarantined in a separate folder so that you can review it, just in case a genuine email has been accidentally trapped. Note that because the use of spam blocking software is increasing, you may consider avoiding the use of certain words in emails to people who use it. Anti-Spam software is a growing industry sector and as yet there is no clear market leader. Examples of spam blocking software include iHateSpam, MailWasher, and KillSpam.
  6. Change you email addresses... sounds extreme, but very effective. Here's how. Make two new email addresses for your domain. Decide on a public one that will go on your web site, and a private one that will only ever be passed on by word of mouth and email to your choosen correspondants. Encode the new public email address at Email Address Encoder. It is a hack, and not valid html, but it works. Use the encoded characters on your web site (and in forms). This will slow the spammer's recognition of what is an email address from amongst the code on your site. When the spammers do eventually catch up with your new, public email address, just change it and encode it again... maybe on a six month basis. This works! You can reduce your spam to nil. The best thing about this solution... is unlike any of the above ideas, with this one spam does not come any where near your pc. You will have to tell people though what your new private email address is, and not use the public one on business livery, but that can be phased in quickly.

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Setting up Message Rules for Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP

Outlook Express 6

  1. Open Outlook Express and click on "Tools"
  2. Select "Message Rules" then "Mail" (see illustration right)
  3. In the conditions box select "Where the From line contains people"
  4. Select "Delete it" in the action field
  5. In the Rule Description field select the word "Contains People"
  6. Type the email address that you no longer wish to receive email from and click "Add"
  7. Click "OK" on select people and click "OK" on New Mail Rule
Message rules
How to access your message rules editor.

Ruler editor. Tick the boxes to complete the wizard.

Sample completed message rule

To delete mail containing certain words, in the conditions box select "when message body contains specific words" or "when subject line contains specific words" then edit the word list by clicking on the blue underlined text in the Rule Description box.

Thunderbird

See an excellent resource on Thunderbird's message rules (called "filters") at www.freemailtutorials.com

Eudora Lite 5

To set up filters on Eudora Lite, please refer to http://www.eudora.com/techsupport/tutorials/win_filters.html, where you will find detailed instructions and screen shots showing how to set up filters for Eudora.

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Filtering for Macintosh computers

Outlook Express 5

  1. Click on "Tools" then on "Rules" Then on the 'Mail (POP)' Tab. Ensure 'Enabled' is ticked
  2. Click "New" then select "Mail(POP)" from the dropdown list
  3. Type a name for the Rule
  4. Select "if any criteria is met" from 'execute actions'
  5. Select "message body" or "any header" from the first drop down list, then "contains" from the second drop down list
  6. Fill in the field next to them with the words you want to filter out
  7. Select 'delete message' from the last drop down list
  8. Click OK.

Eudora Lite 5

To set up filters on Eudora Lite, please refer to http://www.eudora.com/techsupport/tutorials/mac_filters.html, where you will find detailed instructions and screen shots showing how to set up filters for Eudora.

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Spam & Your Rights

At present you have almost no rights. If you want to complain your best option is the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Coonan. Government sub-committees are meeting to discuss these and other privacy issues and the Internet but to date no decisions have been made.

Privacy Law in Australia is not currently useful in the battle against spam. The Privacy Act of 1988 was amended in 2000 but remains unclear, as there are a large number of exceptions and exemptions to the legislation, as well as heavy reliance on the undefined term "unreasonable". Companies and lawyers will be spending a good deal of time establishing what constitutes "unreasonable" behaviour under the Act.

An announcement was made in July 2003 by Senator Alston, then Minister for Communications and Information Technology that spam would be outlawed and fines introduced for those choosing to continue spamming, however no Bill has been passed yet.

Please see http://www.privacy.gov.au to find out the limits of your rights in Australia, or go to http://www.adma.com.au to see voluntary codes suggested by the Australia Direct Mail Association.

In early December 2003 the US Congress approved the first national bill to combat spam. The bill does not prohibit commercial mail itself, or even mass mailing of commercial mail, but requires senders to identify themselves correctly. Some other measures in the bill include:

  • Fines and prison sentences of up to five years for senders of spam.
  • Senders of unsolicited commercial mail are prohibited from harvesting addresses off websites.
  • Spammers are obliged to include a mechanism so that recipients can indicate whether or not they want to receive messages in the future.

The Bill also encourages the Federal Trade Commission to create a list of e-mail addresses that do not want to receive any kind of spam.

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