New Spam Fighters: Smart and Effective
If you're wearing out your keyboard's
The filters included in most e-mail clients rely on the outdated method of examining addresses and headers to catch unwanted messages. Today's spam fighters are cleverer: They use heuristic testing--learning as they go--to analyze a message's content, looking for both blatant and subtle signs that it's spam.
For instance, an e-mail message with many words entirely in uppercase letters and lots of large fonts may be from your boss, but add a forged address or mismatched header, and bingo--it's tagged as spam.
Errors? Sure. All the programs I tested confused some legitimate e-mail messages for spam (and vice versa), but not enough to worry about. Also, each program let me review blocked messages to ensure that nothing important accidentally got vaporized.
I tested the four programs in two ways: I set up EarthLink e-mail accounts and then trolled for spam by opting in to obvious spam ploys; and I used the programs for my everyday e-mailing duties.
The shipping version of MailWasher works as a stand-alone tool, so it is compatible with any POP3-based e-mail program, but it won't work with Web-based programs. (I also tried an early beta compatible with Hotmail.)
The free program goes to your mail server, retrieves the header and enough of the message for analysis, and marks suspected spam. Once you double-check the list, it filters, blacklists, bounces, and deletes the spam.
Because MailWasher identifies spam before you download entire messages, it's a real plus for dial-up users.
If you use Eudora to check e-mail, you need Spamnix. The $30 no-frills plug-in from Spamnix Software is available free for 30 days before you buy. I tested a late beta version and had no problems.
As Eudora retrieves e-mail messages, Spamnix examines each one, scrutinizing the header and contents. If the e-mail isn't spam, a click on the Accept This Sender button grants immunity to future mail from the sender. Click the Reject button, and Spamnix bans the sender's subsequent messages.
Adding or removing e-mail addresses from Spamnix isn't difficult, and the lists can accept wild cards. For example, *@pcworld.com matches any sender that ships a message from PCWorld.com.
While not perfect--Spamnix caught 190 out of 200 spams--it worked better and faster than the hundreds of filters I created to detect spam.
I tried late-beta versions of two programs that work exclusively with various editions of Outlook. Sunbelt Software's $30 IHateSpam adds itself to Outlook Express versions 5 and 6 and to Outlook 2000 and 2002 (XP). Cloudmark's free SpamNet works only with Outlook 2000 and 2002 (an Outlook Express version is under development).
IHateSpam--available for a free 30-day trial--has many useful features, including a way to block messages that are in foreign character sets, a fully customizable IHateSpam toolbar, easily configurable spam folders, and a powerful way to create customized filtering rules.
IHateSpam for Outlook worked flawlessly in checking my Hotmail account. I simply added the account, and I was off and running.
Unfortunately, the Outlook Express version offered fewer features and detected far less spam. Whereas the Outlook version caught an impressive 96 percent, the Outlook Express version caught a relatively middling 80 percent.
SpamNet keeps things simple: It filters e-mail for spam and adds three buttons to the Outlook client toolbar--Block, Unblock, and the Cloudmark button, which lets you check for updates or run SpamNet on any folder in Outlook.
If you have a specific domain you consider above suspicion, you can enter it into SpamNet's Whitelist (a list of addresses you trust).
Though it's the simpler of the two products, SpamNet removes spam effectively. I tested an early beta version that caught 87.5 percent of my incoming junk messages.
Both IHateSpam and SpamNet add another wrinkle to the ongoing spam war: They record details about your spam and then send that data to the vendors, who add the information to a database they use to further fight spam.
The upshot: All four programs do a fine job of ferreting out, examining, and dispensing with spam. Anyone can use the stand-alone MailWasher program. If you are a Eudora user, Spamnix is an excellent choice. And if you use Outlook, you can try SpamNet--a free, no-frills tool--or IHateSpam, a fast and efficient application that also works with Outlook Express and Hotmail.