Five essential steps to stop spam

Ahh, spam. As old as the Internet itself and probably everybody’s least favorite way to start the day. Although many modern email providers are good at weeding out the rubbish, it is still annoying when a wily email slips in, offering you cut-price Viagra or a mail-order bride. A recent article from PC Advisor reports that 1 in 6 people have actually responded to a spam email, a really worrying thought. Since a significant number of emailers out there still seem to be making rookie mistakes, we thought it was time for a quick reminder of the basic ways of keeping your account safe from spam. Read on…

Gollum The best tips are the simplest. First and foremost, protect your address. Remember how Gollum felt about the ring? Well, you should feel the same way about your email address. Don’t give it out easily, and make sure friends and family know it’s not for passing around. If you aren’t sure that a person will treat your email address with the love and care it deserves – don’t give it to them!

But, I hear you cry, what if we have to give out our email addresses, like when we are signing up for programs and websites? Well, that’s why I recommend creating a dummy account and using it when you need an email address for anything that doesn’t involve close (and therefore trustworthy) friends and family. You’ll probably only use this account from time to time, so if any spam does build up in it, at least you won’t have to look at it every day.

Even the most vigilant emailers, however, will occasionally find themselves with some spam, ranging from the obscene to the ridiculous. If you do find some, make sure to actually report it as spam, because it is only by learning from its mistakes that your service provider can improve in the future.

Anybody who uses both web-based and client-based email will have probably noticed that the client-based (Outlook, for example) suffers much more than the web-based in terms of spam. There are several different reasons for this, from the spam-filtering capabilities of the services themselves, to what we actually use the different accounts for.  Either way, you may find yourself in a situation where the basic steps to a spam-free inbox just aren’t enough.  If you reach that point, you should probably think about calling in some back-up: spam-filtering software.

SpamAssassin is one popular choice, as are SpamBayes and Spam Reader, all open source or sharewareno_spam.png programs that use a statistical approach to rooting out spam, Bayesian filtering. They usually require a learning period before they are truly effective, during which you ‘teach’ the program to recognize good (‘ham’)  and bad (spam) emails. Most people only need to use these programs on client-based services. I would even go as far as to say that if you need them on a service like Hotmail or Gmail, you must doing something REALLY wrong.

Well, I hope you’ve all been taking notes, because the subject of spam is one we’re going to come back to. In fact, here at OnSoftware, we are going to do a little test to see how well popular email services manage spam. Over the next few days, I am going to set up five accounts with different service providers. Going against every instinct in my spam-hating body, I will then leave each of the addresses somewhere really risky for an email address, like a forum or website. We’ll keep them there for a month before coming back and seeing how each of our competitors have done. Once we have a winner, you can take the final (or first!) step in our five great ways to protect yourself from spam – picking a service that’s good at it to begin with! Let the spam-battle commence…

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