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A Guide to Reducing Spam

Small Business Canada Magazine
by Tristan Goguen

Unsolicited emails that advertise everything from university degrees to porn is filling up email inboxes. Commonly known as spam, these emails are more than a nuisance. It costs money and time to deal with. According to IDC’s report, “Worldwide E-mail Usage Forecast, 2002-2006”, spam accounts for approximately 30 percent of all traffic flowing through the Internet.

Spam mail can be damaging to your business in many different ways. Some spam mail contains viruses, which can attack key critical business files or computer systems. Others try to trick you and your employees into installing keystroke capture programs (perhaps disguised as an “unsubscribe” link) that allow a hacker to remotely monitor everything you type.

Most people delete spam as soon as they see it in the inbox. But have you ever considered how much time is spent each week cleaning out the inbox? Each employee will have wasted 15 hours deleting e-mail in 2003 compared to 2.2 hours in 2000 according to a Ferris Research report “Spam Control: Problems and Opportunities”. This will cost the average business $400 per in-box in lost productivity in 2003.

Tips on Minimizing Spam

The best way to avoid spam is to not be on a spam list. Here are ideas to make it harder for spammers to find your business email address.

Do not post a text hyperlink to your email address on your web site. Post it as a GIF or JPEG image. Customers can read the address, but automated web-crawlers that explore web sites to compile email lists will not detect it.

On your web site, use a form field that does not display your email address, but allows a website visitor to submit a message. Another option is to dedicate one email address for website communications so only this address is revealed. You will keep your personal addresses from being exposed. Incoming mail to your public address can be viewed separately from your main business email.

Use public and private email addresses. Use generic free-emails such as Hotmail or Yahoo for contest submissions, online registrations or posting to discussion groups. You can abandon that address when spam becomes uncontrollable. Give your private address only to legitimate contacts.

Never reply to spam, even to unsubscribe. Doing so indicates your email address is valid.

Email programs with a preview capability (such as Outlook’s preview pane) should be turned off. You are actually “opening” the mail when it is previewed. This can tip off the spammer that your address works. There is also a chance a virus can be activated if you preview an email.

A wide variety of anti-spam solutions

There are varieties of software and service solutions available to reduce spam. Depending on how your business uses email, some solutions will fit better than others. Here are a few common anti-spam technologies used today.

White List Technology– A pre-authorized address book maintained by the user. New email contacts that arrive are flagged for your review, requiring permission to be added to your list. Another variation is once the sender sends an email to you, the sender receives a message with an instruction to click a button to verify he or she is not an automated mass-emailing program. Once on your list, email exchanges flow naturally.

Black List Technology– A collection of illegitimate email addresses, domain addresses and IP addresses is created. Emails originating from these listed sources are blocked. Spammers are constantly falsifying their sending location so this technology may not be effective at blocking the newest spam messages. Legitimate emails can accidentally be blocked, including emails originating from entire countries with high spam rates.

Content/Category Filters– These filters use rules to process the email. It scans incoming email for tip-off terms and words, unlikely return addresses, unusual symbols, embedded graphics, and fraudulent routing information. The filter calculates the violations and ranks the email to determine if it receives a passing score, in which case it will arrive at your inbox. A failing score sends an email to a quarantine folder.

Key things to look for in an anti-spam solution:

Compatibility- Some anti-spam solutions are not compatible with all email programs. Check carefully for one that works with the variety of email programs being used in your office.

Quarantine Area- This folder stores spam so you can occasionally review to ensure your legitimate emails did not get blocked. A medical/health-related professional may find this feature important as words commonly filtered pertain to names of drugs.

Effectiveness– Anti-spam solutions do not all work the same. An effective anti-spam solution will block almost all your spam with the exception of a few. An effective solution will not block any legitimate emails.

Seamless Processing- Does the anti-spam solution allow you to retrieve your email in the same manner as you did before the installation? A good anti-spam solution should not require you to perform extra steps to protect your email.

Ease of Use - Is the product easy to install? Is it easy to use?

Tristan Goguen is President of Internet Light and Power Inc., one of North America’s premier Internet Service Providers. Tristan is proactively helping businesses and individuals find ways to reduce spam. Contact Tristan at tgoguen@ilap.com for more information on his efforts or visit www.ipermitmail.com.

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