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Keeping spam out of your business

Experts who filter company e-mail systems say 90% of global e-mail traffic is spam ranging from phishing schemes to pornography. But the basis of spam is changing:
  • Pornographic spam is on the increase according to internet security company Clearswift. Research by e-mail security service provider, MessageLabs, identified the trend for spammers to combine skills with virus writers. The scary part is that this is purely malicious behavior, like vandalism. The spammer has no other benefit from it than enjoyment knowing they took a computer system down, the bigger the business, the better. Email worms work by getting into all the names in your address book and sending out the worm to them and then attacking all the names in the recipients address books. So you can see why the MyDoom worm wreaked havoc.
  • Spreading financial scams is also another area spammers are moving into, as well as unlicensed software and bad share tips. Don't open any mail you see as suspicious, and definitely never open attachments you aren't expecting even from someone you know.
  • Comment spam is also a problem on blogs, guest books, forums and message boards. Comments or messages can be left advertising all those things found in spam e-mail. It has even happened to government site with unmonitored forums and blogs discovered to contain a flood of spam comments.
Microsoft's attempt to address the problem of spam came under fire from a number of industry experts. Accused of not being fully effective. Microsoft tried to implement a 'Sender ID' system, to verify e-mails really did come from the server they claimed to. Flaws were discovered in the way the verification worked. Despite the domain being checked and authenticated as genuine, no checks could see if that domain belonged to a known spammer. So the spam continued.

A new international organisation gives spam fighters direct links to overseas counterparts. The International Council on Internet Communications (ICIC) allows spam fighters to track spammers across international boundaries. Find out more about its work at www.isipp.com/icic-news.php.

These initiatives show the Government and Internet Service Providers are at least taking the problem seriously. But the best way is to take action for your own protection.

Several ways to get rid of spam includes using e-mail filters. Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express users can set up a filter can help redirect unwanted messages without losing any important ones. Here's how:
  • Set up a new folder in your Outlook folder list, and name it 'Spam'.
  • Go to Tools, then Rules Wizard, and click New. In this case, your Rule should be 'move messages based on content'. For Outlook Express, the correct sequence is: Tools, Message Rules, then Mail and 'where the subject line contains specific words'.
  • Click on the underlined text 'specific words' and type in 'get rich quick', or some other phrase that crops up in your spam. Tell it to move these messages to your new Spam folder.
  • Outlook will ask if more conditions need to be added; for the time being just click away until the wizard's finished. You can refine your rules later.
  • Now, every time spam arrives with corresponding words, it'll be sent straight to your designated Spam folder.
  • To make sure not to lose anything important, check the folder periodically and see if any of the senders look familiar or message titles look important enough to read.
  • To get rid of all the junk in your spam folder, simply press Ctrl and the A key at the same time. This will highlight all the messages in the folder - then just press delete.
Most web-based e-mail providers, like Hotmail, let users set up a junk mail folder in addition to a regular inbox. The email service decides which messages might be spam, and filters them into this folder. Check often and delete contents after a certain amount of time. Regular checks will need to made to be sure nothing slips into spam by mistake.

More ways to deal with the threats of spam include:
  • Going instant. Use Instant Messaging (IM) to communicate without battling the daily influx of spam. You'll find a Grown-Ups' guide to IM at http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,114161,pg,2,00.asp Links to virtually all the IM software brands can be found at http://products.instantmessagingplanet.com/imp/recent1.html. But it is still at risk to new form of spam, nicknamed spim. And never give out personal details over instant messengers.
  • Setting up a weblog. Bill Gates said at a 2004 Microsoft conference that blogging will be the future of online communication, as spam makes e-mailing more troublesome than ever. Blogging does provides a way for you to communicate with colleagues and customers without worrying about sending illicit spam or being pipped at the post by an especially suspicious e-mail filter. There are plenty of free or low-cost resources to help you set up a weblog - go to www.blogger.com for more information.
Further information

For a monthly spam index and regular news articles on the types of spam doing the rounds:
http://www.clearswift.co.uk

For quarterly reports to shed light on the current nature of spam:
http://www.messagelabs.com

A guide to the various laws against spam in the US, EU and elsewhere:
http://www.spamlaws.com
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