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How To Fight Spam!

Date Written: June 2, 2001
Written By:
Jason Rabel

There's A War Brewing:

If you are like me, you HATE getting spam in your inbox every day. Even if you never give your email address to anyone, through the corrupt powers that be, you will inevitably get spam. Before I proceed any further, I better define spam for those people who are totally clueless to the subject.

  • SPAM (spăm) - A trademark used for a canned meat product consisting primarily of chopped pork pressed into a loaf.
  • spam (spăm) n. - Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups; junk e-mail.

Today we will use the second definition of spam for this article, however if you have some good recipes using the first definition, feel free to post it in our forums.

Like the heading says, there is a war brewing, and it's the spammers against the rest of the world. Just like an modern battle, we are fighting (and hopefully will eradicate) an enemy that we will never see with our own eyes. While some of us would love to just bust down their door and beat the living crap out of the person, that is hardly legal, and there are several measures that one can take before resorting to that level of violence.

Spam can originate from many sources, and spam lists can come from many different places too. Generally people buy lists of thousands of emails which someone has harvested from one way or another. Then they will use bulk mailers to send out their mass email to people like you and me. There are many SMTP servers that are "open relay" and even some that are "anonymous remailers".

SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transport Protocol, it's basically the protocol that is used to send email through the Internet. An "open relay" email server basically is one that will allow any person to connect to it and relay their mail through it. A properly configured email server should only allow authorized users to connect and send mail through. For instance, if you use some cable modem service, then your provider has a SMTP server for you to connect to so you can send your outgoing mail. This server should only be available for the cable modem subscribers, and the rest of the world should get denied. An open relay server comes about from generally just poor configuration, where either a person doesn't know, or doesn't care enough to take a few simple steps to only allow the intended users access to the server.

Anonymous remailers are basically an open relay server, but with an added twist. These email servers strip out the header info (and sometimes replace it with bogus info) so you can't trace it back.

If you seem a little confused about what I just said, let me try and explain the process how email works. You as the end user have an email program (like Outlook or Eudora), and you have it configured to communicate with your email server. If your email server is properly configured, then only you and other users on your network should have access to it. So let's say you send an email, it starts out on your computer, then you send the message to your email server. Your email server then looks up the address, and will then try to communicate with recipients email server directly. If it can then it will pass the email along to the recipients email server, which will then put it in their mailbox and they will download next time they check their email. If your email server can't directly connect, then generally there is an email server set in to preferences that it will default to, then that email server will try to deliver it.

Now that I explained that, I just revealed another tool a spammer could use. You can setup your own SMTP server on your local computer, which can then distribute email out that way. The rest of the world doesn't know it's a home computer, they only see it as another SMTP server. However the anti-spammers have thought of a measure against this, so read on.

Common Sense - Your First Line Of Defense: 

Common sense, something that many people lack (look around, these people are pretty easy to spot). Many people can avoid being put on spam lists in the first place just by taking a few precautionary measures.

First, if you fill out a survey or some sort of form (either paper or online), and it asks for an email address, don't put one in unless it is required (if it's not, I like to put in funny fake email address), and if it is, you should give them some sort of secondary email account you have (creating one at yahoo or hotmail works great). Even if they have a privacy statement saying they won't share your info with anyone, you still shouldn't trust them. Many web sites these days are changing their privacy policy to include clauses that effectively allows them to share your information with third parties!

Second, often when shopping online, or filling out some form where your email address is required, sometimes they have checkboxes to opt out of subscribing to their list. Read the sentence carefully, I've seen some pretty crafty and confusing sentences where they try to trick you to subscribing to their list.

Third, if you do get an unwanted email, look who it is from. Also, skim through the who email for web addresses & other email addresses. If it is a legitimate web site that is trying to get your business (like Amazon.com), they often have an automated unsubscribe procedure at the bottom where you can click on a web address to unsubscribe from their database. *Caution* Doing this is only for websites that you know are legit and will remove you from their list. 

You definitely DON'T want to reply or click on any URL in an email that is one of those many scams or shady sounding deals. You've gotten lots of them before like, "Make $1,000,000" or, "100% FREE - NO STRINGS -$$$" or, "Loose Weight Fast". Basically these are just long text emails that are full of total BS. Many times at the bottom they say, "This email is not spam because we are providing information for you to unsubscribe from our list," but when you do reply with the words "remove" in the subject, often the message just bounces back because the email address doesn't exist. However, sometimes it DOES exist, but a spammer will only use this info to add to their list, now that they know they have a valid email address. So like I said at first, don't even bother hitting reply to these kinds of emails, most of the time it will only cause more harm than good.


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