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That @#$%&* adaptive spam!


All of us have experienced spam. Spam is unsolicited and unwanted email that arrives in our inboxes. It can range from a minor annoyance to complete disruption of email accounts, or worse yet, can harbor malware, trojans, and viruses.


Some of us go through a period of time where we do not get spam in our inbox, then are suddenly bombarded with it. Some of us even incorporate spam/content filters, often decreasing unwanted and unsolicited email, only to have a renewed surge of spam activity within a year or so.

While our first instinct may be to contact our email administrators to inform them of increased activity and find out if any email server settings have been modified, let’s not forget our own responsibilities to help prevent, diminish, and combat spam from infiltrating our email accounts.

I want to bring up four points that we all need to think about when we want to protect ourselves from these disruptive and intrusive emails.

First, whenever possible, try to avoid using your primary email address when filling out forms. We see it all the time, at the mall or shopping center a booth is offering a free entry to win a prize. We eagerly fill out all the information to win that car or vacation to the Bahamas, and one of the pieces of information they ask for is our email address.

For things like these, try to use an email address that is not your primary email address. Set up a Yahoo or Gmail account that is used solely for these events, and it will help to greatly reduce the amount of spam that arrives in your inbox.

You might think that creating an alternative email address on your primary email domain will solve the problem. For example, your primary email account is [email protected], and you create [email protected]. The problem with this method is that you are disclosing your email domain, and spammers can now bombard with “guessed” addresses (such as info@, webmaster@, or even entire dictionaries of usernames) which can eventually spill over to your primary email address.

Second, look at this one as a duty or responsibility: never respond to spam! Delete it, and whenever possible, mark it as spam in your email system so that you build a reputation for what is and isn’t spam. The next time you get a similar spam message it will automatically drop it in your “Trash” or “Junk” folder.

In SmarterMail, if you see an email in your inbox that is spam you can go to Actions/Mark/spam. The more you use this, the more you build up your definition of potential spam.

The third good practice is setting up account level spam and content filtering rules. Many email systems have this feature. In SmarterMail you can go to Settings/Filtering. There you can define your own content filtering and spam filtering rules.

Don’t forget Greylisting! When an email network “greylists” messages, they do not accept the initial incoming message, but rather instruct the sending mail server to try to delivery again later (which most servers will do every few minutes). The assumption being that spam servers will not attempt to send the message again, but legitimate servers will. Greylisting will delay legitimate emails though, so it’s up to you to decide to enable or disable this feature. For the most part, Greylisting is a valuable tool in helping keep your email account clean of unsolicited emails.

Finally, if at all possible, try to avoid “catch-all” email accounts. Catch-all accounts will allow any email address to come through. For example, if you have Catch-all enabled, email addresses that do not exist ([email protected], [email protected]) will make it into your inbox. There may be a business need to have this activated, but this will greatly increase the likelihood of receiving spam, even with a strong spam filtering system.

The last thing that I would like to mention is the necessity of remaining diligent.

Many of us successfully implement the above practices, reducing or even eliminating spam from getting into our inboxes, only to relax our guard, even temporarily, exposing us to a new series of attacks on our email.

Keep in mind that spam is an ongoing threat, and that spam is adaptive and always evolving. Spammers know that they have to constantly update their procedures and techniques to get through to the greatest number of people.

One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is believing that once we have effective anti-spam measures in place, that we do not have to revisit and update those measures. If that were true, spam would have been eliminated a long time ago.

As spammers find new and more sophisticated ways to infiltrate your inbox, you have to remain vigilant and active in combating spam.

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