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  • The Spam Report: The Night Owl Gets it Under Control

    January 30th, 2007

    A year ago, our daily bucket of junk mail had gotten way, way out of control. Hundreds of those messages polluted our various mailboxes every single day. It got so bad that it was near-impossible to check the spam captured by our Web hosts and email software for mistakes. In fact, I missed out on a small business opportunity because a message was mistakenly flagged as junk and it got lost in the shuffle. I called the client back too late to repair the damage.

    No doubt you’ve had similar problems. You’re inundated with the stuff, and there’s just no time to find out where your ISP or email application goofed, but it does happen. In fact, even the best spam filters talk of 98% to 99% accuracy. That seems a pretty high average, but you have to check the spam folders anyway just to examine the mistakes and, you hope, retrain the spam filter.

    Well, I got sick of it, perhaps in the way that the late Peter Finch felt battered and bruised over society’s ills in the that classic movie, “Network.” But I didn’t feel the urge to open the window and shout my frustrations to strangers. These days, they have rooms with soft white walls to handle people who behave in that fashion.

    At the time, our sites and email were handled by Yahoo, but not the free version. This was the allegedly more sophisticated business email package, which promises more robust spam and virus protection. Yes, sure it does!

    The first step I took was to eliminate what’s known as the “catch-all” email address. That’s the mailbox you can set up with a Web host or email host that accepts everything that’s not addressed to a specific person at your home or office. I was naive about such matters in those days, but I learned that you really don’t want to do that. You see spammers will simply inundated a domain with messages to everyone in creation, figuring a few will stick. Once I restricted the addresses to the real ones — those that had a real purpose — and cut out the catch-all addresses, I gave the spammers fewer targets.

    Yes, it got better, but the next solution was to leave Yahoo and go elsewhere. First it was Go Daddy, and rather than repeat the details of my unfortunate experiences with their support people, I’ll just tell you that I joined up with DreamHost around the first of the year. Prior to that, however, I moved the company mail to Webmail.us, which was the best move of all.

    The switch to Go Daddy reduced spam by a good 80% if not higher, though a lot of that might be attributed to the elimination of the catch-all addresses. Webmail has even more powerful spam and virus filters, so the situation began to get even better.

    One more spam reduction technique was to eliminate all live email links on our sites. You know, the ones that have the common “mailto:” tag in your site’s HTML code. There are actually programs out there, which you’ll find over at VersionTracker, which will encrypt the address. It’s transparent to real people who click a link and open a blank email message window. But to the spammers who crawl into your site to access the code, it’s invisible. They don’t see it, and that helps eliminate spam even further.

    On this site, for example, we have a Contact Us link that does all the parsing of the message in our publishing system’s database. Cool.

    Indeed, the daily allotment had gotten down to maybe 40 or so messages at this point, although it would climb to nearly double that figure from time to time. Such things are not consistent, but it was a terrific improvement from where we started.

    But there was one more thing. You see, up till very recently, the 17 domains we own were listed under my name and the company name, along with a real email address. That made it visible to spammers and those who engage in various types of domain fraud, where they attempt to get you to move your domain at three times the price by sending a fake bill.

    We added a “privacy” package, which means that our domains show the registrar, not our address.

    After a couple of more weeks, spam dropped yet again, to the point where I am now receiving an average of about 20 per day among all my accounts, give or take a few. That’s something I can live with, as it’s real easy to keep track of the occasional mistakes.

    So, for now at least, I’m pleased, that is until the next onslaught, which is probably inevitable. And, no, I’m not being pessimistic.



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