The Teflon Surfer: Spam Email and How to Avoid Most of it
2003 Peter Johnston, PSC Consulting Ltd.
Everyone has heard of spam email. This unwanted electronic version of junk mail is proliferating
through the internet at a record pace. All of us receive it. It ranges from responses to your “requests”for information, to “special offers”, to personalized emails that start with your name and seemaddressed to you alone. Topics include the traditional junk mail categories with a bonus - all thepornography you could ever wish (or not wish) for. All delivered free to YOUR email box.
Spam has been labeled one of the worst fallouts of the internet. You cannot avoid it completely, but
here are a few tips to minimize your exposure to it and to stay off spammers lists. I’ve implementedthese ideas on my own company’s email accounts and have reduced spam email from over 100 to lessthan 5 pieces per day
Never, ever, EVER reply to a piece of spam email. For ANY reason. Spammers dump their messages into the internet by the millions. They do not know where they are sending to - rather like a cold sales call. However, if you respond to their message at all, even to tell them to take you off their list, they know they have a live email address and you will be specially targeted from then on. In some cases the spam can get so bad after replying that your only alternative is to change your email address. Never place a list of email addresses in the “To:” field of your email. If you are sending to a large number of recipients and you place all these email addresses in the “To:” field of the email, a couple of things happen, both bad. The first, and least damaging, is that everyone of your recipients receives a copy of your entire mailing address book. Is this what you want? The second is that all of these email addresses, in plain, readable format, are transmitted over the internet. If you sent to 100 people, 100 copies of this list are transmitted, one with each email. Spammers use email packet sniffers to read email in transit and grab email addresses. A list like this they love: they get a large number of addresses in one shot, and because it is a list, they know that almost all of these email addresses will be valid. A gold mine. So how do you send to a large group of people? Simple. Instead of placing these email addresses on the “To:” line, place them on the “Bcc:” line. Your email will go to all the recipients, but each person will see only their own email address, not all the others. And when the email is transmitted over the internet, only one email address is attached to each email. Do not place your primary email address on your web site. For instance, my main email address is email@example.com. But on my website, I have an email address info@psc- consulting.ca for people to use if they have requests or wish information. Email sent to this address is then auto-forwarded to my main email address by my post office program. So what is the point; seems like I am doing a lot to get the same results. Well, not quite. Just as spammers sniff email in transit to grab email addresses, they also run web spyders that crawl through web pages and find email addresses. If they get an email address from a web site, it is a good bet it is a valid one, and it goes on their “A” list. As soon as this happens, you start receiving a vastly larger quantity of junk mail. When this happens to me, all I have to do is a) cancel my email address firstname.lastname@example.org, b) create a new one, say email@example.com, c) change my web site to display to the new email address, d) forward this new email address to my main email address, and I am back in business, but without the spam. For a while anyway. And I do not have to delete my main email address that everyone knows me by - it has been protected. Get a secondary email address for non-business email correspondence. This could be from one of the free email providers such as Canada.com. Use this for personal email. If you like, you can either configure your email client to access email on more than one account, or you can have email from this secondary forwarded to your primary email address.
If you start getting too much spam at this secondary email account, delete it and create a newone. Select an email client that supports filtering and learn how to use it. Most modern email clients (Eudora, Outlook Express, Outlook, etcetera) allow you to implement rules for accepting and filtering email. These rules can be quite specific and are applied to email received by your account. For instance, you could specify that any email that has the word “viagra” in the subject line be automatically trashed. Or email from certain users or domains or countries could be quarantined. This can also be useful if for instance, you subscribed to a mailing list and cannot seem to get un-subscribed: just create a filter to transfer all email received from the mailing list directly to the trash, unseen by you. One of the limitations of this procedure is that spammers can spoof email addresses or change them so that filtering by email address is not always that helpful. A how-to guide on setting these filters up for common email clients is available from Computing and Network Services at the University of Alberta, and is downloadable as a PDF from http://www.ualberta.ca/CNS/dispatch/Dispatch-Jan-Feb2002.pdf If your ISP offers email filtering, investigate it. For example, Interbaun here in Edmonton offers free access to the Postini spam filtering service for all their clients. This is basically a computer system whose sole job in life is to keep track of all known spam email senders and filter them out according to your user specified wishes. All of these spam filters are configurable by you, so you choose the mail that gets through.
An excellent article dealing with spam written by a colleague of mine is available on the internet at
http://clubweb.interbaun.com/fenske/bloggo7.htm#20030101 Aimed at the non-technically inclined, itgoes into more detail than I have above and explains how spammers work, why it is so difficult to catchthem, how they get your email address, and what they can do with it. It is fascinating reading.
If you would like me to send you a PDF copy of either of these articles just contact me
These hints and suggestions will help you reduce the spam email you receive. They will not eliminate
it. If you would like to explore more drastic options, please contact me (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)- we provide computer, email server, and web server support for the clients. Questions andsuggestions are always welcome.
2003 Peter Johnston, PSC Consulting Ltd.
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