Spam Slayer: Hot Tips to Cool off Spam
Tip of the WeekFix Broken WindowsMicrosoft's operating system has been criticized for having more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Many viruses, bugs, and worms have gained access to systems as spam. It's time to start checking IDs. Activate the Windows Update feature inside your Internet Explorer Web browser (under the Tools menu). This automatically checks for patches and upgrades to Windows XP, Me, and 98. This is a good dose of preventive medicine to head off disaster.
This weekly online column chronicles the spam wars and offers advice. Send your spam gripes, questions, and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Return to the SpamWatch page for more articles.
Spam has been a nuisance for years, but only recently has it reached epidemic proportions. Not only does spam carry dangerous computer viruses, but its sheer volume drains bandwidth and productivity.
Daily spam e-mail messages are forecast to hit nearly 9 billion by 2004, up from more than 7 billion this year. About half of all e-mail is spam, according to antispam software maker Brightmail.
Just ignoring spam is no solution. Just deleting spam isn't good enough anymore, either. So we're going to have to deal with it: It's time for spam slayers to unite.
Here are seven more tips for protecting your e-mail address and preventing it from being abused by the spamming hordes.
What's in a name? A favorite spammers' technique is running a software dictionary program to generate millions of e-mail addresses--some of them will actually work. So, if your name is John Doe and your e-mail address is email@example.com, you're basically asking for spam. Try using a variant of your name that you and your friends can easily remember, but hard for an automated spamware program to guess. Mr. Doe might want to try firstname.lastname@example.org instead.
Handle with careWould you scrawl your name and phone number on a telephone booth in Times Square soliciting personal advice? No, you wouldn't. So don't do the virtual equivalent by posting your private e-mail address on the Internet. Spammers use software versions of henchmen to scour the Net and harvest e-mail addresses listed on Usenet groups, chat rooms, and Web sites.
To solve the problem, try this: Most ISPs give you multiple e-mail addresses for one account. Create a disposable e-mail address for public postings and to give to used-car salespersons. Give your private e-mail only to friends and family.
Creature of Habit If you can't change your e-mail address, you have only one option: A spam filter. Personal tastes may influence which type you prefer. Here are two free programs that can learn, adapt, and predict what you consider spam.
SpamBayes works with Outlook, and, as you delete e-mail, it will learn what you like and don't like. Similarly POPFile is free and compatible with Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, and the Pegasus e-mail program.
PCWorld.com also maintains an extensive library of spam blockers and filters in our Downloads section.
Opting to Opt Out Beware of spam that offers an "opt-out" option supposedly to stop spamming you. Many spam messages invite you to click on a link or respond to the message, leading you to believe you have just unsubscribed from receiving more spam. Disreputable junk e-mailers love this trick because it confirms your e-mail address is valid. You may never see e-mail from the original spammer, but you're guaranteed to get more e-crud from a dozen more dirtbags.
The tip for this spam reality is: It's okay to opt out, so long as you can trust the recipient.
Spamware Proliferates Nobody reads the 12-page end-user agreements for software they install. That's too bad, because you may inadvertently be inviting malicious code that can turn your PC into a spam-sending machine. The programs you get from less than reputable sources may do disreputable things to your machine.
Go Ahead, Blame Yourself Speaking of paying attention to the small print, consider the true cost the next time you sign up for a free Web service. "Free" sometimes has the hidden tradeoff of getting spammed. Services often pay for themselves by selling your e-mail address to marketers that in turn send marketing pitches.
For example, the Web site IMBum.com gives away free instant messaging icons for users of AOL AIM software. The price? You must accept e-mail marketing pitches from IMBum.com partners. Worse: In order for you to register, IMBum.com insists you "invite" a friend via e-mail to sign up.
Slay Spammers Yourself If it looks, sounds, and smells like spam, then slay it yourself. You can report particularly vile spam to your Internet service provider. Typically ISPs maintain abuse inboxes that follow the convention email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I am sick of getting Messenger Service ads. What is the free fix?
A: Messenger pop-ups are a variant of spam and can be a major annoyance to people who have no idea how to stop them. Messenger Service ads bypass e-mail and traditional pop-up blockers. They travel through a Windows conduit that is actually an administration communication tool, which spammers have co-opted.
A free fix requires downloading InterMutes' Message Subtract program. If you would rather turn off the Messenger Service manually, try this:
First, go to Start, and choose, in succession, Settings, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and Services. Next, select Messenger from the list and right-click; then select Properties. Last, select the Stop button, then Startup Type, and finally Disable.
Windows XP users wishing to turn off Windows Messenger service should go to Start, Control Panel, Performance and Maintenance and select Administrative Tools.
Next, follow the same steps as you would with 2000 and select Messenger from the list. Right-click and select Properties. Select the Stop button, choose Startup Type, and then pick Disable.
Q. It seems to me the only way to stop spam is to reply to the ad and sound genuinely interested. If enough people do this every day, the companies paying spammers will be swamped by fake requests and abandon spam altogether. Who knows, it could be fun too.
A. People have actually made a sport out of replying to e-mail scams. The phenomenon is called spam-baiting.
However, answering garden-variety spam that's marketing Viagra or adult Web sites will only draw more spam. In fact, Stop Responding to Spam is the rallying cry behind a consumer-awareness campaign kicked off in September by Australia's Internet Industry Association.
Also, replying to spam is futile if the return e-mail address is fake, as it often is. Spammers almost never provide a telephone number. Lastly, sales of spam-promoted products are usually handled with Web-based forms, leaving no one to overwhelm with requests.
Remember: If you click or reply to spam messages, that may alert the spammer that a message was opened and your e-mail address is valid, and you get more spam.