What is SPAM and why do I receive it?


Named after the Monty Python sketch which featured the canned meat, SPAM is unsolicited email. The cyber world's equivalent of junk mail. Stuff you don't want and didn't ask for, but get anyway. For many it has reached the stage of making email communication almost impossible for individuals and business alike.

Why do 'they' send out this stuff? Answer: it works.
It is a ruthless and illegal business tactic. A response of between 1% and 4% to an advertisement or conventional mail shot is doing well. There are of course costs involved with such publicity. Sending spam email is as good as free, so the profitable response rate is much lower. If you send out a million spam emails and get only 0.01% response, that's a 100 respondents! And spam is sent out in 100s of millions...

I used to get between 50 and 100 SPAM emails a day. Now I get about 1 a week.

The following will apply to most good hosting packages.

How to stop SPAM

There are two strategies: prevention and cure.

As with health, prevention is better than cure.

PREVENTION:
Other than trying to guess your email address (and spammers do that too), the reason you receive SPAM is because spammers got hold of your email address from somewhere. Perhaps from a forum or when you bought something online perhaps or completed an online form for some offer. There are 'spiders' or 'robots' that crawl the web looking for email addresses. Every website displaying an email address on it will eventually get 'harvested'. So obviously if you 'give away' your email address and have it on your website or any other website, it will soon be picked up.

You wouldn't hand out your phone number to just anybody, so be equally careful who you give your email address. If you need to supply an email address to obtain an offer or download, then get a free email address from Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail just for this purpose.

On your website never publish your email address. You won't find mine on this site. But you can still email me with the contact form. This is no longer infallible and there are programs that will seek out such forms and fill them out and send them to the site owner. An effective way of stopping forms being abused is the use of 'captcha' or image verification asks for human input in the form of entering randomly generated numbers and letters.

There are also ways you can encode an email address on a website using JavaScript or displaying it as a graphic. However, none of these methods is secure anymore and email harvesters can read and capture these email addresses.

CURE:
So you've avoided handing your email out and keep it off your website, but the spam is pouring in now we need to look at your email set up. Catch All email set up
You may find it very convenient to be able to use various 'aliases' and have them all come to your main account as show on the left.

However, spammers know this set up well and send 'dictionary' spam. This uses any combination of letters and numbers before the '@'. (eg. aaaa3687e @ mysite.com.)

You should drop the 'catch all' idea to avoid a big slice of spam. If you still want to use aliases, then use forwarding set them up as shown below.email forwarding

Yes, it is a bit more complicated to set up individual forwarding, but this can potentially clear much of spam in one move.

Additionally many hosting control panels give you the opportunity to bounce such mails. But better still is to send the sending server a fail message saying that no such email account exists before it even reaches your mail server and so not even bother sending the spam email. The image below shows this set up (under mail > default address in cPanel).

Email fail set up
With your email set to receive mail at only specified addresses/email accounts, you have already shut out a substantial amount of spam.

Now we need to put a spam filter into action. With most reputable hosting, comes some sort of spam filter, such as the free and very effective SpamAssassin. But whatever system you use, there may come the day when you need to 'tune' (or simply increase level) of your spam filter. Your hosting supplier should be able to provide details of how to do this.

Today, with broadband 'always-on' connections to the internet, you should not even think about going online without some sort of virus checker on your computer (like McAfee or Norton). These too will usually have some sort of spam blocking facility.

Finally, some spam will still get through and the last ditch is your email client. Outlook (Express) is sadly lacking in spam filters, but the free Mozilla Thunderbird isn't. Thunderbird will 'learn' what you deem to be spam and throw it into a 'junk' folder which you can set to delete on shutdown. Unfortunately, Thunderbird does not come 'out of the box' configured and a number of free downloaded 'extensions' are needs to get the email client running to it's full potential. Thus you will need to spend some hours getting the configuration right.

If you follow the tips listed above, you should be able to cut your spam down to nearly nothing - for almost no cost. Most of the above suggestions are free and just require some time.