Five Ways to Jam the Spam
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Columbia Journal
, December 2003
For many of us, email is the most-used application on our computers,
for some, the best reason to have a computer at all.
But for too many of us, the last year or so has seen our email inboxes
flooded with junk mail: messages offering us cheaper mortgages, larger
body parts, erotic video clips, and the chance to earn millions
bringing money out of Africa. Other people, however, seem to get few if
any spam messages.
A couple of things make a difference. People who get a lot of spam tend
to fall into one of two categories. One group consists of people who
have posted their email address on the Web. Many of the hundreds of
articles I’ve written are online, and a lot of them include an email
address so people can contact me. “Spambots” wander the Web, looking
for “@” characters, “harvesting” the words surrounding them as likely
email addresses, and sending them off to potential spammers.
(Don’t worry about typing an email address into an online form for a
valid purchase—there’s no evidence that these end up resulting in spam,
though you may get some junk mail from that particular vendor).
Also spam-bait are people with addresses at some of the mega-popular
email providers: Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. These services don’t provide
spammers with your addresses; instead, spammers often do mass mailings
to lists of randomly generated names: email@example.com, etc. If you
get too much junk mail on one of these accounts, ditch it, and apply
for a new one. Use a hyphen, dot, or underscore to combine two names or
words, add a few numbers: firstname.lastname@example.org will get much less
spam, at least for a while.
It’s an urban myth that clicking a spam message’s Remove link will get
you more spam. It won’t, but it won’t help any. Viewing spam messages,
however, is often all it takes to confirm your address to the spammer.
Try to delete them without previewing or viewing them.
The good news is that spam-filtering software has gotten much better,
and now can be used to successfully filter out well over 90 per cent of
the junk aimed at your mailbox. There are a couple of ways to make use
◦ If you get email through a large
network, such as a business or organization, your network administrator
should be making use of a network spam filter. If you’re getting a lot
of spam at work, ask your network administrator to do something about
◦ Vancouver-based Uniserve is a
local Internet Service Provider that is now filtering email to all its
customers, weeding out spam and viruses. Hopefully other ISPs will also
start to make this a no-extra-cost service.
◦ Hotmail and some of the other
large web mail providers are offering spam protection to their paying
customers. Ironically, they may be happy that the spam deluge motivates
people to drop their free service for fee service.
◦ Many new email programs now
include built-in spam filtering, including the Mail program built-into
Apple’s OS X operating system, and the Outlook version in the new
Microsoft Office 2003 (oddly, with filtering set ‘low’ by default). The
new Eudora version 6 includes spam filtering, but only in its paid
incarnation. And Mozilla Thunderbird (www.mozilla.org) is free, and
does a good job of importing messages, address books, and settings from
your current email program.
◦ If you’re otherwise happy with
your current email software, a number of add-ons can provide spam
filtering. Both Symantec/Norton and McAfee have new anti-spam
equivalents for their popular anti-virus programs, and there are a wide
range of free add-ons as well. Check my spam tutorial
With any of these spam filters, be sure to check the filtered-out
messages periodically, All sometimes accidentally filter out legitimate