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Fighting spam, anti-spam software, eliminate UCE, stop spam, filter spam from Outlook and Outlook Express

Email was once called the "Killer App" of the Internet.  Then came spam or UCE unsolicited commercial email.  Now, unless you have a brand-new email account or good anti-spam software, email is a source of wasted time, frustration, and miscommunication.  Here's how to make it the Killer App again.

By Stephen Worden / Illuminova Technical Services, (c) 2010

I have reviewed and demo'd dozens of anti-spam products.  I even configured spamassassin (from the Linux world) to run on my XP laptop.  While it did a good job for me, my clients can't afford a solution like that so I kept looking.  (Yes, it was "free," but it took four hours to download and assemble all the pieces.)

Today I have four solutions one for standalone desktops, one for those of you who are running Exchange Server, one appliance-based system that will do your whole network of users, and one cloud-based system that uses an a service from Google to remove spam from your email.  I also have an option for those of you who are open to Linux solutions.

To be specific (and because you asked) these are the programs I've used in fulltime production-mode Symantec / Norton Internet Security, McAfee SpamKiller,  Computer Associates eTrust Anti-Spam, No Spam Today, and the aforementioned Spam Assassin.  All of them did a fair job of filtering, but were disappointing for a variety of other reasons: they were invasive (interfered with my work too much), resource pigs (bogging-down the computer from time to time), cost too much, marked good mail as spam (false positives), or were clunky and hard to use.

Here are the winners.  They are easy to install, do a fantastic job, don't interfere with your work, and don't cost a lot in fact, one of them is free.

Standalone workstation anti-spam software

Without going into lengthy definition of "Bayesian filtering" let me just say that most anti-spam programs rely on a set of rules or tests against which incoming email is measured.  If the message fails enough of the "Does this look like spam" tests, it is shuttled off to the spam folder.  Practically ALL anti-spam programs work this way.  And despite all the brain power that has gone into creating those rules, SOME of your good email gets marked as spam.  There's a better way.

Cloudmark has created an anti-spam utility that uses humans to determine what is spam and what is not.  In laboratory tests, Cloudmark's anti spam software consistently scored the highest marks.  They have a network of nearly 2 million "SpamFighters" or reviewers that are constantly sending feedback to the anti-spam database at Cloudmark.  I participate when I get a spam message and click on the Block Spam button.  You can read about the details here.  It has eliminated the spam problem for me and many of my clients.  Here's the thing that separates Cloudmark from everyone else: ZERO FALSE POSITIVES.  You will never have one of your good email messages marked as spam.  You will never waste another second scanning through all the rude garbage in your spam folder again.  Works with Outlook or Outlook Express, and costs about $40.

Cloudmark Desktop Banner

If you want to download a trial or buy a copy click above.

One other point concerning this software virtually all of the attacks received through email, like infected attachments and phishing scams, are stopped by this very effective utility.

A network spam filter

Barracuda Networks has created a small, rack-mounted appliance that provides anti-spam, anti-spoofing, anti-phishing, and anti-virus protection in one easy-to-configure unit.  You unbox it, wire it into your network behind your firewall (you are using a firewall, right?), and turn it on.  It's really that easy.  Barracuda Networks uses a host of mechanisms (well, ten, anyway) to validate inbound email.  It is comprehensive, simple, robust and highly accurate.  Cost is about $1400 for the appliance.  A three-year subscription to the hourly update service costs another $949.  This unit will easily support hundreds of users.  You can see how cost-effective this solution is.  Barracuda's specs say it will handle up to 500 users.  I believe it.  That's a cost of $1.66 per user per year.  C'mon!

Microsoft Exchange spam filtering

The sad truth is that there are many companies who make their living by sending spam.  Most of these companies are well known.  The servers that generate the spam messages are well known and their IP addresses may be found on freely available blacklists, like the list run by spamhaus.org.

Spam filtering capabilities, using online real-time blacklists, have been built into Microsoft Exchange Server 2003.  To enable the filters, open the Exchange System Manager, expand Global Setting, then right-click on Message Delivery and select Properties.  Go to Connection Filtering and enter the names of the blacklists that you want to use.  I like sbl-xbl.spamhaus.org, bl.spamcop.net, and list.dsbl.org.  (I don't use the return codes.)  Then expand Server > server_name > Protocols > SMTP.  Right-click on the SMTP server you want to enable and select Properties.  Then go to General > Advanced > Add and tick the checkbox to enable the Connection Filter.  Now, when Exchange is processing your inbound email it is checking each message against a database of known spammers.  A reduction in spam of 50% to 70% is typical.

A Excellent, Free Solution

I've been using IPCop as our firewall since 2002.  It is simple, roll-yer-own, stripped-down, Linux-based appliance.  It is easy to install and manage, and works just great.  We've run ours for hundreds of days without any interruption, hesitation, or failure.  It'll run on just about any computer you have laying around and it's free.  Learn more about IPCop here.

Well, geniuses in Germany have taken the firewall and web management routines of IPCop and extended them by adding excellent anti-virus interception and anti-spam filtering capabilities.  While not quite as good as the Barracuda Networks spam firewall, it is very, very close.  And over the lifetime of the appliance, it could save you $3000 to $5000.  I could not believe how well it worked when I first tried it.

The project is called Copfilter and you can read more about its capabilities at http://www.copfilter.org.

The best solution of all

In my opinion, the best spam filter of all prevents spam from ever reaching your network in the first place.  I'm talking about filtering your spam before it ever reaches your Inbox and it filters all viruses, worms, and Trojan horses as well.  It's a service originally from Postini, now from Google (as Google bought the company, that lives on a server in cyberspace and inspects each email sent to you, removing malicious attachments and eliminating spam before passing along your nice, clean email to your server or Inbox.  Google Message Filtering is available in a few different flavors, all of which are very affordable.  You can learn more about Google Message Filtering here.

Help, I'm blacklisted!

If you receive administrative email messages indicating that your IP address is being blacklisted, give us a call at 737-1000.  We've had good success in identifying what the problems are, getting them corrected, then getting you removed from the blacklists.  Everyone is trying to fight spam (except the spammers, obviously) and occasionally a good guy gets blocked.  We can help.

Thanks for reading.  What did you think?  Leave feedback here.

Copyright (c) 2010 Stephen Worden / Illuminova Technical Services.

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