Searching for the perfect Anti Spam appliance can be like the quest for the Holy Grail. You’re never quite sure whether what you’re looking for really exists.
There are a variety of solutions on offer, ranging from disposable email addresses to getting your own anti spam exchange server. I’ve tried most of them. I don’t think I’ve discovered the anti spam software Grail yet, but I’ve made some important discoveries.
Do you need a Spam Solution?
It’s curious. We accept unsolicited advertising in most areas of life. We didn’t ask for advertising on TV or radio, yet we don’t refer to it as spam. We certainly don’t ask for billboards, as if we need something to stare at on our way to work, and yet we don’t normally complain either, and when we do, it tends to be about content, not about the fact that we didn’t ‘opt in’ to billboard advertising as a medium. Yet when unsolicited advertising comes to us in the form of email, we tend to get very upset and not a little self-righteous. What’s the difference?
I assume the difference is that it’s harder to deal with.
With the TV or radio, we simply change channels. With newspapers and billboards, there’s always something else to look at. Yet when unsolicited emails fill our inbox, we can’t just ignore them and hope they’ll go away. At the very least, we have to delete them. And given that spammers routinely try to make their rubbish look like something we were expecting, we have to spend time sorting the wheat from the chaff. When there are only a handful of tares in the wheat, this is manageable. But the longer you stay online, the larger that handful becomes.
Three types of Anti Spam Solutions
1. Prevention is better than cure
Perhaps the most obvious solution is to avoid getting on the spammers’ mailing list in the first place. Some people suggest that if you follow a few basic rules and never give out your email address to companies that you don’t know, you will never end up on spam lists.
Unfortunately this only works up to a point. I’ve found over the years that I get plenty of spam to addresses that I never give out. How do the spammers get me? They generate random addresses until they find me!
The spammers pick major players – AOL, Hotmail, etc. – and send out a million emails to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc. From a million, perhaps only a thousand emails don’t bounce back, but that means they’ve found 1000 real people, and they’ll now keep those addresses, mail to them again, and sell the addresses to other spammers!
Bottom line: you can’t avoid the spammers forever.
Of course, you can keep changing email addresses and so keep one step ahead of the spammers. Disposable email addresses are not hard to find nowadays. The problem here though is that you end up wasting more time than you save. Keeping all your contacts up to date with your ever-changing email address is likely to consume far more time than a daily clean-out of your inbox?
2. Anti Spam Inbox Filters
The second type of spam appliances are those that sort through the email that is in your inbox and throw it out before you get to it.
These programs generally require both an initial anti spam software purchase and an ongoing subscription, as file definitions continually need to be updated.
This type of solution is superior to thinking that you can avoid being spammed. It is not ideal though. Three reasons:
- It can be quite expensive.
- The spam is still downloaded to your inbox. This can take up a lot of time if you’re receiving between two and three hundred spams per day (as I do).
- It is never 100% accurate. The technology of offensive weaponry always stays ahead of defensive weaponry. Hence spammers will most likely always be a step ahead of those who are trying to keep them out. Some spam will get through, and even more importantly, some emails you wanted to receive will be mistakenly weeded out as spam!
Now admittedly, with this last problem, most inbox-based anti spam solutions do allow you to review the emails that they’ve flagged as spam before you delete them, but this takes you back to the task of sorting through all your emails, and the whole idea of your anti spam appliance is that it’s supposed to free you up from doing this!
3. Server-based Anti Spam Solutions
In my opinion, server-based Anti Spam solutions are the way to go.
Most commonly, this solution just invokes filters, similar to those used in the inbox-based anti spam solutions. But the difference is that you don’t have to waste time waiting for the rubbish to download nor do you spend time installing updated filter definitions every week.
Another type of server-based anti spam filter is that used by Spam Arrest, who are my Anti Spam Appliance of choice.
What makes Spam Arrest different is that they don’t actually filter anybody out. They just bounce back an email to the sender, asking them if they will identify themselves as a real human being.
The system works on the assumption that most spammers are not personally sending and receiving their emails, but have mindless machines that do it for them. So when some machine sends you an email automatically, it will reside in the ‘unverified’ box on your server until you decide to either verify it or let the system delete it after a few months.
Spam Arrest is not the only company that takes this approach. There may be better systems out there by now? Look around for yourself. Check out the various options. I can’t tell you with certainty which software anti spam solution is the best one for you, but I’d encourage you to be clear about one thing. The problem with spam is that it wastes time. Beware of spam solutions that waste as much time as they save!
First preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.