Network Productivity Group

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The tip...

Okay, technical tip #20, May 14, 2001.

Several of you have asked about junk e-mail or "spam" and what to do about it.  My response is a mix of opinion and, I hope, fact, so here goes.

First a fact.  There is no cheaper method of advertising than "bulk e-mail" or "spam".  And, I am sorry to say, it works.  Ergo, it ain't gonna go away.

  Second, I have, as I did with bulk snail mail, given up.  Worse, I confess, I have found goods and services via spam that I use.  A regular morning exercise for me (about all I get) is to rip through this morning's load and see if there is anything useful in it.  If you are an Outlook Express or Outlook user this is pretty painless.  I look at the "From" and the "Subject" and if neither interests me I press the Delete key.  When I am done I then right click on the Deleted Item Folder and confirm I want to permanently delete these items.  I doubt the entire process takes a minute.  For Netscape or AOL users I have to work from memory a bit but I think you can do the same.  The Outlook products have the additional advantage of the preview Window as a secondary means of deciding if you want to actually look at a message.

  The only spam I respond to is filth.  I forward these to support at my ISP ("Internet Service Provider", in my case "support@earthlink.net") and ask them to do something about it.  Maybe it helps, I don't get much.

  If you've come this far and still want do something, the first and obvious action is the "Remove" e-mail.  There are two schools of thought here.  If the sender is a legitimate business, they should listen and it should work.  Others say it merely confirms you are a real, working e-mail address and gets you on more lists. 

  In either event you have to check the address to which to send the "remove".  To avoid detection by their ISP most bulk e-mailers "borrow" someone else's e-mail server.  Therefore, usually, if you just click Reply and send the message it will go to somebody who will wonder why on Earth you are telling them.  You actually have to open the e-mail (this is still safe, really, only attachments, so far as we know, are dangerous), and find the address to which to send Remove.

  There is the "Block sender" option of the Outlook products (and I assume Netscape and AOL as well).  In Outlook Express, open the e-mail, click on "Message" and then "Block Sender".  Unfortunately, the "cloaking" capabilities of the "good" bulk e-mail software will probably render this ineffective.  It will block those who are not trying to hide their identities and are, perhaps, just too lazy, rude or stupid to remove you from their list.

  The only "real" leverage you have with a spammer is to threaten to get them kicked off their ISP or if they have their own server, their "up link".  (Every site attaches to the Internet through someone else or several someone elses.  Internet protocol says that if you have been proven to be a bulk sender of unsolicited e-mail your links have the right to shut you off.  Maybe.)  The problem is finding out who the host or uplink is.  For example, you get this letter from "info@npgsystems.com".  Can you figure out who hosts my web site?  And I don't try to hide it.  Most spammers will.

  There are tools that will allow you decode the Internet addresses of every step in the path of any e-mail you receive.  There is trace software that will allow you to find the sender's host or links.  If you really want to pursue this I suggest you start with Support at your ISP.  You might also check out this link: http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/story/story_1110.html.

  There is a veritable army of folks who are up in arms about spam.  If you want to enlist (slick little series of metaphors there, huh) or just see what they are up to, type "spam" into any search engine.  You will get a very long list.  Note that rumor has it that some of these sites are active ways of collecting valid e-mail addresses, so be careful.

  As I prepared this tip I wrote to my ISP, Earthlink, and asked them what can be done.  I got back an extensive response that I decided not to include in this message.  It appears as an addendum to this page on this web site.  Note that some but not all of the advice given there is relevant only to Earthlink, Mindspring or Netcom customers.

  Years ago I bought a nice little wire frame "box" that sits beside the mailbox.  As I sort the mail what I don't want goes into the box.  Once a week I empty the box into the recycle bin.  It works for me.  I suggest you find an equivalent way of dealing with spam.  

 

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