Wed, May 14, 2008 - Page 13 News List

[ TECHNOLOGY ]: Some tips on how to stay one step ahead of the spammers

By Jay Dougherty  /  DPA , WASHINGTON

SurfControl monitors spammers' techniques to help computer users combat the nuisance of unsolicited commercial e-mails.

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

If you think you spend too much time dealing with junk e-mail, you're not alone. Each day, nearly 80 percent of all e-mail sent is spam, according to a recent study by the University of Maryland. That means that if you get your fair share of that junk e-mail, you’re probably at the breaking point, as you sift through the mountains of junk e-mail looking for one or two legitimate messages.

But there are ways to fight back — and they don’t include angrily firing off messages to those who sent you the unsolicited mail or wasting yet more time by pursuing other retaliatory methods. Instead, you can use both technology and know-how to fight back against what is essentially a problem that’s not about to get better any time soon. Here’s a rundown of what you can do:

Use Gmail

Search is not the only thing that Google is good at. The Internet giant’s free Gmail e-mail service (mail.google.com) comes with the best spam filtering currently available.

One of the nicest things about Gmail is that you don’t have to abandon your favorite e-mail program to use it. Gmail gives you the option of receiving your e-mail either on its Web site or directly from within Outlook, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, or another e-mail program. Instructions are available when you sign up.

Guard your e-mail address

Don’t make it easy for spammers to find your e-mail address. First off, don’t use the same e-mail address for everything. Give out your main e-mail address only to friends, colleagues, and trusted business partners. Create and use a separate address for everything else.

Next, be careful when posting your e-mail address anywhere online. And when you do, disguise it so that it’s not instantly recognizable as an e-mail address to automated e-mail harvesters. Instead of “me@myhost.com,” for instance, type “me AT myhost DOT com.” The latter is easily understandable by a human but will be passed over by any spammer’s e-mail retrieval bot.

Enlist a spam filter

Any good e-mail program today should come with a basic spam filter built-in. Use it. Outlook 2003 and 2007’s spam filter has three different levels of spam protection. Likewise, Thunderbird has spam-catching built-in. The higher levels of protection with these free spam filters are likely to tag some legitimate messages as spam, though, so you’ll want to monitor the filtering closely when you first start using it.

You’ll also want to check the Web site of the makers of these e-mail programs from time to time to see whether any updates to the spam filters are available. Spam filtering, like virus checking, is always evolving and improving, and updated filters can greatly improve the ability of your e-mail program to catch spam and leave legitimate e-mail messages alone.

A couple of fee-based filters are worth a look for those who find the free filters insufficient. Cloudmark Desktop (www.cloudmark.com/desktop/), available for both Outlook and Thunderbird, is remarkably effective and has a loyal following. It’s available as a free 15-day trial; thereafter the fee is US$40 per year. CA Anti-Spam (www.qurb.com), formerly called Qurb, is another option, although it tends to be too aggressive at times, requiring you occasionally to fish out legitimate messages from among those it has sequestered as spam.

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