4. Responding to spam e-mail will
only make it worse
By Mark Alberstat
OPENING UP the mailbox on the front of my house each day, I often find
more junk mail than regular mail.
The same problem is now happening in my electronic mailboxes, but to an
even greater extent.
When I checked my e-mail this morning, I had 23 messages, only five of
which were ones that I wanted or took the time to read. The rest, sadly,
was spam: mass mailouts for everything from herbal Viagra to home
Junk e-mail has become a problem and there is no let-up in sight.
Brightmail, a company that provides spam-blocking software for ISPs,
reports that in January 2003 its software saw over six million spam
attacks. That's 2 1/2 times the amount recorded just a year earlier. They
also recorded over one million attacks for Valentine's Day. That's a lot
of unwanted messages asking you to buy chocolates, flowers and lingerie.
Although you and I may delete most spam we receive, just a small
percentage of replies can pay for that piece of unwanted e-mail you
received this morning.
Spammers have various ways of getting your e-mail address. One of the
cheapest is buying a CD from direct-mail companies with millions of
addresses on it for as little as $25. With this and an Internet connection
they can send out thousands of e-mails every day.
The term "spam" is one of those words in our culture whose origin is
unknown. The best bet is that the term was from a Monty Python song that
repeats word endlessly, as in: "Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam,
lovely spam, wonderful spam." Like the song, spam e-mail goes on and on
without saying anything.
There are several ways for you to combat spam. Some service providers,
such as Chebucto, have spam filters installed and give their users options
to deal with spam, including outright deletion.
A common way your e-mail address gets spammed is by posts you send to
newsgroups. If you are a member of a newsgroup and post to it, one
suggestion is to use a disposable e-mail account for this purpose. Such
addresses can be created at sites such as Hotmail.com, Canada.com or any
number of other sites.
If you find your address is getting hit hard by spam, simply create
another account. If your e-mail has a signature block at the end with your
address in it, it is a good practice to put a few spaces in that address
so that if it is caught by a spammer, the address won't be formed
correctly and your address won't show up on one of those CDs.
If you are getting spam, one thing you don't want to do is to reply to it.
Responding to junk e-mail notifies the sender that the account at the
other end is active, and this will perpetuate the spam, not slow it down.
An individual can also load software that is intended to stop spam before
you find it in your inbox. A popular and free application is Mailwasher.
This software allows you to preview your e-mail before you download it to
your PC. You can even bounce e-mails back to their originator, saying
that the address was unknown.
Of course this is just one of many e-mail filters available for the PC and
the Mac. Most, however, are shareware that has to be paid for after a set
period of time or to get the needed functions, or are commercial filters
such as SpamKiller, produced by Network Associates.
Whether you choose to fight spam with some of these suggestions or simply
delete it as it arrives in your e-mail box, like the luncheon meat by the
same name it will be with us for a long time to come and won't get any
better with age.
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Originally published 9 March 2003