Want a safe conversation starter for your next dinner party? Skip religion and politics, and don't even think about asking who really invented the Internet. Instead, ask your guests what they think about unsolicited commercial e-mail, more commonly known as spam. No controversy here: Everyone hates spam, and you'll undoubtedly unleash a torrent of spam stories. You can look like a hero when you offer these surefire spam-busting solutions, which come courtesy of TechRepublic members who responded to my most recent Microsoft Challenge.
The most popular spam-fighting strategy is based on common sense: Set up a throwaway e-mail account, usually through a free e-mail service like Hotmail, and use it for any untrusted correspondence. TechRepublic member rparz reports, "Hotmail does a pretty decent job of blocking spam. I've learned to accept it after all these years, so the Bulk Mail filter is a breath of fresh air."
Unfortunately, that's only a partial solution for me. As a computer advice columnist, my e-mail address is fair game for both spammers and legitimate readers, and it means that the volume of spam that plops into my inbox increases every day.
Based on your responses, I've decided that the best way to stop spam is to block it at the server, before it can reach users. If you're using Exchange Server, you could do what TechRepublic member TomF12 does: "We deal with spam the same way we deal with unwanted viruses...by scanning and quarantining them before they hit our Exchange servers. We use Tumbleweed Communications' Tumbleweed Messaging Management System. Its secure mail server allows us to scan all incoming mail for viruses (and unwanted content, if need be) as well as to set up rules to block specific senders or domains."
TechRepublic member jsg recommends Mail Essentials from GFI: "I've been using this third-party utility to block spam from reaching our mail server for the last six months. It has reduced spam almost to zero."
However, you don't have to install yet another piece of server software to stop spam. TechRepublic member steveo gladly outsourced this messy task: "I manage a mail server of about 60 users. We use MailWatch [from Mail.com] to screen and filter all of our incoming mail. Besides scanning for viruses and malicious code, it checks for keywords typical of spam and gives each one a point value. Based on the number of points, I specify whether I want the mail logged, quarantined, or deleted. I originally went with the service as a stopgap measure. After using it, I decided the minimal cost is less than I would spend trying to stay ahead of the spammers."
For POP3 and other accounts where you don't control server settings, take charge by mastering the filtering features in your e-mail software. TechRepublic member mark_weinstock, for example, uses the Rules Wizard in Outlook 2000, filtering in Outlook Express, and similar solutions in two non-Microsoft e-mail clients, Poco and Eudora. "I use different addresses for different types of mail, and each goes into its own folder, where filters delete obvious spam. By using multiple accounts, I can set different strengths of filters on each account. For example, my personal account is very tightly controlled. But I'm more willing to let unknown people e-mail me in my other accounts. That way, I can address the stuff that's important to me and put off the other accounts until I have some free time."
The most tempting option of all, however, is to use a third-party utility that blocks and tackles spam before it arrives at your client. I haven't tested any of the following products, but I'm interested in learning more after reading these capsule reviews:
TechRepublic member Tomaste raves about two free spam-filtering services: “Brightmail acts as a proxy between you and your POP account. It maintains a large filtering service that weeds out almost all of my annoying spam, and I can receive a weekly digest of all the spam they have filtered. As a second line of defense, I use a service called Despammed. You get a free forwarding e-mail address you can use in places that are at high risk for spam, such as newsgroups." I've heard nothing but good reports about Brightmail; note, however, that it works only with standard POP accounts and is incompatible with MSN and AOL.
If you'd rather not redirect your mail through another server, TechRepublic member mecusar suggests Novasoft's SpamKiller 2. "It uses less resources than leaving Microsoft Outlook open and checks my mail every minute. It also automatically gets updates for the filters, and you can use a wizard to add your own." A 30-day free trial is available; to continue using the software, you pay a registration fee of $30. It doesn't work with AOL or Web-based e-mail.
A hearty thanks (and a fistful of TechPoints) to everyone whose suggestions appeared in this week's Challenge.
Here's Ed's new Challenge
Conventional IT wisdom says you should roll out complex network changes in stages. But which stage comes first? That's the question I received last week from a TechRepublic member who's about to launch a major Windows 2000 deployment. "We have gone through the servers in question with the Compatibility Analyzer," he writes, "and have identified various drivers and applications that need updating. But now what? We're upgrading a PDC, BDC, Exchange Server, and a server for a browser-based proprietary application that ties pretty tightly to IIS4. The Compatibility Analyzer recommends that we upgrade the PDC first. Should we down all workstations and secondary servers before performing the upgrade? Or should we down the BDC & Exchange Server before upgrading the PDC? Also, how concerned should we be about major differences with the new version of IIS?"
If you can help sort out this upgrade puzzle, you could earn 2,000 TechPoints. Click here to tackle this week's Microsoft Challenge.