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Stand and Fight: An Arsenal for Spam Victims
By J. D. BIERSDORFER

Published: March 25, 2004

THE subject lines on junk e-mail may present rich source material for cultural anthropologists, but for most users, spam is simply a maddening headache. Fortunately, effective weapons are emerging in the Battle of the In-Box.

You can install special software that works alongside your e-mail program to filter incoming messages, or choose a new e-mail program with ingenious spam-blocking features. Or, because spammers frequently use fake return addresses to evade filters as they blast out millions of messages, you may choose to install a companion program that requires the sender to verify his or her identity before the message can be delivered. Such options enable you to stand firm against spam without having to get a new e-mail address.

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Add-On Programs

Most of the programs created specifically for screening out spam have a similar lineup of features. They allow you to import the names in your e-mail address book so that all your regular correspondents are already on the approved list. You can create custom filters and set the software to monitor several e-mail accounts. Some of the programs even provide handy toolbar buttons that integrate with common programs like Outlook Express, so that a junk message can be disposed of with a click.

These types of programs, most of which work with a variety of e-mail software, give you considerable control in managing your spam. They run independently of your mail program, though, so you have to remember to start them up. Once you do, the spam-swatting program typically checks your mail server and downloads the mail, filters it and then sends on the legitimate mail to your regular in-box. You can scan the contents of the program's spam holding pen, rescue any mistakenly blocked messages and quickly delete the rest.

SpamKiller 5.0, McAfee Security's latest spam-busting program, works with most stand-alone e-mail programs for the PC that use the POP3 or MAPI protocols for fetching mail from the mail server, as well as with MSN/Hotmail accounts. It requires Windows 98 or later and can be downloaded for $39.99 at www.mcafee.com or purchased on CD for $49.95; a yearlong subscription for filter updates is included.

The program's filters are thorough; they even have the scanning power to quash scams and virus hoaxes forwarded by friends. SpamKiller can generate complaint letters to be sent to the spammer's Internet provider, although spammers' addresses are so commonly forged that this tactic is less effective than it once was.

Spamfire Pro from Matterform Media works with just about any e-mail program using the POP3 protocol and it is also one of those rare programs that works with both Windows 98 and later and Mac OS 9 and X. A free 15-day trial version is available for a test drive, and buyers ($39.95; www .matterform.com) get a free year of spam-filter updates. The program's graphical toolbar lets you quickly add friends and enemies to your filter lists, and even more gratifying, it offers a Revenge menu.

The Revenge menu, which comes with a disclaimer warning against abusing it, includes straightforward tasks like generating a fake bounce message to indicate that your e-mail account has been closed. If the message seems like a scam, you can use the menu to forward it to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Revenge menu includes two more satisfying options for those who have had quite enough spam, thank you. A Bug the WebBugs feature strips out the invisible tracking code buried in the message and replaces it with gibberish or any message you choose before sending it back to the spammer's logs. And a Toll-Free Numbers item locates the free telephone numbers listed in the spam in case you would like to personally tell the merchant what you think of his marketing efforts.

Built-In Filters
Some e-mail programs themselves now include aggressive mail-blocking tools, eliminating the need for you to buy and install a separate program just for spam control.

Eudora 6.0 by 
Qualcomm, the latest edition of a 15-year-old e-mail program named after the author Eudora Welty, works with most versions of the Windows and Macintosh operating systems using the POP3 or IMAP4 protocols for e-mail. There is a free version of Eudora, but it is the paid edition that gets you integrated spam filtering. The full version of Eudora 6.0 sells for $49.95 (an upgrade is $39.95) at www.eudora.com.

Longtime Eudora users will find a mostly familiar interface, with an addition: a SpamWatch feature. After setting up SpamWatch in the program's preferences and deciding how aggressively you want to screen your mail (stricter settings increase the chance that legitimate messages get nabbed, but looser restrictions may allow more spam to slither through), you simply let Eudora check the mail as usual.

As the program downloads mail from the server, it quickly screens each message. Messages that trip your selected SpamWatch trigger get dumped in a Junk mailbox and everything else continues on its way to you. If spam does get through, you can either select the message and label it as Junk for the program's future reference or raise the filtering level by adjusting your SpamWatch preferences.

Many other e-mail programs, including Web-based mail systems like Hotmail, are now including dedicated spam filters. 
Microsoft Outlook 2003 has an option for screening junk mail, America Online 9.0 Optimized for Windows gives users more control than ever for spam screening and the Junk filter in the  Apple Mail program for Mac OS X 10.2 and later efficiently shuttles spam into its own mailbox.

Challenging the Sender
Filters are always locked in a race with spammers, who will struggle to enter the in-box any way they can. An alternative approach is to use a "challenge response" program, which typically requires senders to prove they are who they say by answering an automatic e-mail reply triggered by their message to you. Obviously, this is something that spammers do not stick around to do after dumping their bulk mail.

ChoiceMail One 2.1 from DigiPortal Software is a challenge-response program that works with most Windows systems and e-mail software. You can have the program put the people in your address book on an approved list; anyone else who sends you mail must fill out a form and send it back.

Once you get the form back, you can decide whether to add the sender to your approved list. Since most spammers will never respond to the form letter, their junk mail is effectively blocked. The program, which sells for $39.95 at www.digiportal.com, can gather up and screen the mail from all your various POP3 mail accounts as well as from Web-based mail systems like 
Yahoo, Hotmail and America Online.

Zaep AntiSpam 2.0 from RhinoSoft, another system for Windows, is a little more complicated to set up and requires you to keep a computer on all the time, but families and small businesses with multiple e-mail accounts and multiple computers may find it appealing. The company offers more information and various price plans at www .zaep.com.

Finding the message-filtering solution that fits your needs may take some time and patience, but a mailbox free of spam, scams and shams can make life a little bit easier.

 

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