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Langa Letter: Real-Life Spam Solutions
A new generation of anti-spam tools is just around the corner. But until then, these spam blockers and handlers may be the next best thing.
November 14, 2002
6 Min Read
There are many, many other anti-spam tools currently available, some good, some bad. (I'd personally classify as "bad" any anti-spam tool that mainly or solely relies on a third-party, external blacklist. They're just too crude to be useful.) But it's time for me to stop talking and let you hear from your fellow readers, many of whom have written in to recommend current anti-spam tools that they've found useful or promising, or both. Please check out these comments, and then add yours in the discussion area: What tools have you found useful, or not useful? How do you combat spam? Join in the discussion!
The spam-fighting arena was recently galvanized by the article by Paul Graham on Bayesian spam analysis [see above]. Many implementations of this immediately sprang up (several on sourceforge.net -- search for Bayes). Simultaneously, Steve Gibson joined with Mark Thompson and the members of his newsgroups to produce a program that looks likely to be ideal for your readers. It will be a Windows-based POP proxy, run on the user's computer and trained entirely on *the user's concept of what is spam*. Other programmers are forced to use set rules to decide, for the user, what is likely to be spam and what isn't. This program starts with no preconceptions, learning only from what you reject each time. There's been no publicly available copy yet, but Steve described the results as "spookily" accurate, labeling spam correctly after only a couple of examples to learn from. This is the program I'm currently waiting for: The combined reputations of AnalogX and GRC, and the excitement and amazement of the two programmers, make it likely that this program will set the standard for others to match. More immediately, two other programmers were sparked off by this newsgroup effort, and are working on very similar programs. These are POPFilter, which just went open source and SPAMI (the URL is erratic, but here's the last known-good URL for SPAMI. Both look very promising, with the latter even aiming to offer an IMAP interface for intuitively easy use.
I use a program called "MailWasher." It has both a "blacklist" and a "friends" list, and also contains filtering not unlike that which I use in Eudora. It's better than my ISP's spam filter [which, I found out last week, only filters messages that are relayed]. In addition, the guy that programmed this is lovely to deal with ... he sent me the registration code within a few hours after I said was going to send him the fee ... obviously, not enough time for the payment to have reached him, particularly since I had to send it postal mail to New Zealand! I don't use their technical support often, but I've found them quite helpful when I have. As a bonus, the addresses I've accumulated in my "blacklist" are transportable ... I've added them to my version at work and shared them with a couple of friends. They're text files and can be edited easily. I recommend the program ... please include it in your survey of spam filters.
I thought you might get a charge out of this idea for stopping spam. ("A Bounty On Spammers") The author believes, as you do, that brain-dead coding is not the answer.
— Gail Hunn
Thought I would let you know about another spam tool ('iHateSpam") for Outlook/Outlook Express (only those two, unfortunately) that is looking promising. The nice part about this one is that it works from within Outlook itself so it works for Exchange users such as myself. There's a free 30-day trial. Might be worth seeing if they have an affiliate program or something for you to use because I think people will want to get this one. $19.95 for a limited time. I am still using the trial version, but it's probably the best solution I've seen so far.
— Jon Crowe
I use a little program called Inbox Protector from GBS Design. The best part about this little program is that it integrates with various versions of Outlook. When my computer boots and Outlook 2000 loads automatically, Inbox Protector goes to work, too. It automatically puts known spam in the "deleted items" folder. It has an option to ban other senders and allow senders who have mistakenly gone to the "deleted items" folder. Once in a while, it deletes something I normally get, but I'm in the habit of scanning the "deleted items" folder before actually deleting. It costs $29.95 and is worth every cent.
— Raymond Brace
In all the talk about various spam filters, I haven't seen mention of Postini. Our ISP has used it for about 4 months now. It's an "intelligent" filter with a white list. Very easy to use, and after a few weeks of use it makes almost no mistakes. It's currently filtering some 50 to 85 spam messages a day for us, while maybe 6 to 10 make it through. For those, I forward them back to Postini and over time, they seem to get picked up. It does mean a visit to their site (through your ISP) to check messages, but that takes only a few minutes. You check all for deletion, uncheck those you want delivered and can pre-view them before delivery. It includes McAfee virus, although I back this up with Norton on this machine. Unfortunately, they don't have a standalone product, but our ISP can offer it free since, I assume, they save so much server space it pays for itself.
— Tom Wirt
I have been trying to follow your trials and tribulations with regard to being "black-holed." I came across a site that might be of assistance: http://www.habeas.com/ "Rather than focusing on determining which E-mail is spam, the Habeas system identifies for you which E-mail is not spam, and gives you the E-mail you want..." It does seem like at least one step in the right direction.
— Beamer Smith
What anti-spam tools have you found useful, or not useful? How do you combat spam? How much time do you spend dealing with spam? Please join in the InformationWeek.com Listening Post discussion.
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