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1969 December 31 - 09:00 pm

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Inbox Inundated by Spam? Some Tips on Fighting Back

Spam is insidious and it’s pandemic. Unsolicited commercial mass e-mail clogs our e-mail in-boxes, the e-mail servers of our Internet service providers, and the optical fiber, coaxial cable, and copper telephone wires though which Internet traffic flows.

With the current regulatory environment, there’s no legislative solution on the horizon, though things could always change in the future. In the meantime,  courts and prosecutors for years have gone after high-impact spammers, but other spammers have just come along and taken their place. Internet service providers use filters that stop some of the spam from reaching you, but only a small percentage.

The major problem in trying to filter out spam is that you’ll inevitably also filter out some legitimate e-mail. No matter how well you train them, spam filters will remain a half step behind the wiliness of spammers, who make their money on the tiny fraction of a percentage of the millions of spam e-mails that are typically responded to. Newcomers or otherwise gullible people finance spam.

 Still, there are steps you can take to reduce the tedium of spam, the scanning of it to find that important legitimate e-mail out of a hundred, or a thousand, that mistakenly was flagged.

After putting this off for far too long, I personally did an analysis of the spam I was receiving. To my surprise I discovered that about 98 percent of it was coming from my first e-mail address, one that I’d been using since 1994. I was using this address before the spam explosion, when I didn’t hide or “munge” it on various Internet forums and Web sites.

So I’m now in the process of phasing out my old address, e-mailing contacts and asking them to replace it with another in their e-mail address book and, if they have an e-mail white list that permits e-mail from known sources, to include my new e-mail address there.

It was also in 1994 that the first commercial spam was sent, the infamous “Green Card” spam from lawyers Laurence A. Canter and Martha S. Siegel. It advertised their immigration services to thousands of “Usenet” discussion groups, with all but a tiny fraction of these groups having nothing to do with the subject. Other spammers followed suit, and along with Usenet they have also abused e-mail, Web forums, blogs, instant messaging, and mobile phone texting.

With e-mail, spam is legal in the U.S., according to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, if it has, among other things, a truthful subject line, truthful information in the technical headers, and the inclusion of the truthful postal address of the sender. Since 2003, the volume of spam has only increased.

The best ways to reduce the e-mail spam you receive include:

* Never respond to spammers. If you click the “unsubscribe” link or otherwise reply to a spam e-mail, in all likelihood your wishes will be ignored. Instead you’ll just be informing the spammer that yours is a valid e-mail address, enabling him to sell your e-mail address to other spammers. Clicking on links in a spam e-mail can also expose you to viruses, spyware, and other “malware.”

* Disguise or “munge” your e-mail address in Internet discussion groups, blogs, and Web sites, including your own, if this isn’t done automatically for you, to prevent spammers from harvesting it. One common method is to replace the @ sign with the word “at” spelled out and any dots or periods with “dot” or “period” spelled out. Another technique is to create an image of your e-mail address. A third is to use a Web form for getting input or feedback.

* Use different e-mail addresses for different functions. With Web e-mail services such a Google’s Gmail (mail.google.com) and Yahoo Mail (mail.yahoo.com) and some Internet service providers offering multiple e-mail addresses, it’s easy to use one e-mail address for vital clients, colleagues, or friends, one for registering at shopping and other Web sites, one for Internet discussion forums, and so on. If one e-mail address becomes a spam magnet, lose it.

* Take advantage of spam filters. Your e-mail program probably has one built in, or you can use third-party filters, either stand-alone programs or utilities built into suites such as McAfee Total Protection (www.mcafee.com). Most filters let you train them to better detect both spam and legitimate e-mail. Even if not perfect, the more you work with any given program, the more effective it will be.

* With instant messaging, ignore bubbles that suddenly appear in your IM window, and ban those sending them.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book
Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at
reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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