Anti Spam Techniques – How to Prevent and Stop Email SPAM

Anti Spam

Good Policies and Habits

Email SPAM has become one of the worst annoying things associated to Internet communication.
There are many things you can do to avoid SPAM. There are preventive measures and there are remedial actions. Between the two of them, the preventive actions are the best because have the least impact on you. Preventing SPAM costs less than removing and saves your precious time.

Anti spam Laws

Many of the developed countries have anti spam laws, that are meant to stop unsolicited email messages. Having laws against spam is great and it is a great step forward, but as an end user and an email user, you have to understand that it is your responsibility to prevent spam and to act responsible when using the email. In some countries the anti spam legislation is not very effective, so people will still send unsolicited messages, crafted so they will abide the law. Because email is using the Internet, it is basically open to abuse from any country without specific legislation.

What Can You Do to Prevent Email SPAM?

Spam Preventing Strategies and Behavior

First of all do not give your email address to dubious sites or people you don’t trust.
If you need to subscribe to various doubtful sites you need to create a second email account that you can easily discard when the SPAM level becomes intolerable.
Even better, have three accounts. At least one account should be dispensable.
Do not publish your email address on your web-pages. These are regularly scanned by spammers to harvest addresses. Use web – forms instead. These forms will allow people to send you emails but they will hide your address from spammers’ eyes.
When filling registration forms online, look for the box that requests future offers, or subscription to news-letters and select or deselect as needed.
Do not forward chain letters or, if you really need to, the article Stop Chain Letters – Anti Spam talks about how to prevent spammers to harvest addresses from your email correspondence.
BCC is your friend against spammers. When sending messages to many recipients at once, use BCC to insert all the destination addresses. This field (blind carbon copy) hides the addresses of your recipients. Read this article for more information.
Your work email is only for work. Do not mix your work emails with the personal ones, this is actually part of the Anti Spam IT policy of many companies.
Many Government Agencies and Institutions use email as a way of communication. You should use a special email account only for this kind of communication. This might even be a free account like “Gmail” or “Live” accounts. This will avoid getting this important account spammed.
If you don’t know the sender of an unsolicited email, delete the message immediately.
Never buy from unsolicited emails. You might get scammed and end up on a spammers’ list.
Do not answer spam messages and do not click on any links in spam messages. The “Unsubscribe” links on spam messages are just a way to trick you to confirm the spammer that he has a good address.
Generally speaking, reduce the exposure of your email address in any way.
Use dispensable accounts for dangerous activities.

What can you do to remove SPAM from your mailbox?

Personal Anti Spam Software

Use user level anti spam software. If you use Microsoft Outlook keep you Ms Office up to date as the integrated Junk Filter filters most of the unrequested emails. Some of the most known personal anti spam software are: Norton Anti Spam, Mailwasher, (free version available), Vanquish Personal Anti-Spam, Spam Bully, Spam Buster, SpamFighter Pro, Personal Antispam for Mac, etc…

Corporate Anti Spam Solutions

Speak to your Network Administrator about a corporate anti spam solution. A free anti spam solution that will work great in a corporate environment is Spamassassin. Other commercial anti spam solutions include Mailwasher the server edition, Trend Micro, GFI MailEssentials, Exclaimer Anti-spam, SPAMfighter Exchange Module, SpamTitan ISO as software solutions. There are also anti spam appliances such as MailFoundry, iForce Mail Firewall, Barracuda Networks, Roaring Penguin CanIt, Astaro, SpamKiller Appliances, Fortimail, etc…

Hosted Anti Spam Solutions

Hosted anti spam solutions have become widely adopted because of the convenience and the near to zero administration involvement. These are anti-spam servers that will filter the junk email before delivering to you mailbox or your server depending on the case. Some great hosted anti spam services are: Hosted CanIt anti-spam service, (Roaring Penguin), GFI MAX MailProtection, Symantec Cloud, Barracuda Networks, Google’s Postini, etc…

Solicited Messages can Become Spammy

Unsubscribe from any news-letter that becomes annoying. Sometimes you subscribe to a newsletter and it is fine for a while and in time they decide to send you more emails. I was surprised by the number of people that tolerate unneeded messages and do not unsubscribe. As underlined above do not unsubscribe to unsolicited email messages, you will only make it worse.
As a last resource give up the email account and create a new one. Inform all your friends about your new address and set an auto responder informing about your new address. Spam emails are automated there isn’t a person who is reading the bounce backs or replies, therefore an auto responder with the new address will be only read by real people.

What can you do to help the fight anti spam?

Spread the word. Give your friends the address of this page.
Translate this page in other languages.
Comment on the bottom of the page with other suggestions.
Publish a link to this article on your website or give us your thoughts about other anti spam solutions.

Chain Letters and Spam Email

Email Chain letters are one of the sneakiest and devious ways of SPAM. I consider them a particular case of social engineering.

Chain Letters Target Human Weakness and the Lack of Information.

Even though chain letters come always from your friends, and they look like their purpose is to spread “peace on Earth” or to give you an insightful perspective of life, or ask you to help someone in need, their purpose is Spamming.
You can recognize this by the encouragement to forward the message to your friends or to close the email circle or anything similar. Some of you came here as a result of my SPAM, (I apologize, I had to…).
Sometimes the spammer will go as far as threatening you to send to your friends or else something bad will happen. All of these are various sorts of psychological exploitation. They target human weakness and lack of knowledge.
Most of the times chain letters contain false, misleading, frightening, or foolish messages, Urban Legends, Virus Hoaxes. The Chain Letter has evolved now and it is more subtle nonetheless dangerous. It uses “good luck” promises, “missionary” messages, or even true philosophical dissertations.
No matter what is the method of persuasion, all the chain letters will convince you to send the letter to other people. It is very convincing and it targets human flaws. I am not an easy to scare person but I can remember myself in at least on occasion getting chills up my spine while reading the blackmail at the end of the email. Human brain is easily influenced, once the message read you will start, unconsciously, to act upon validating the prediction. It is a process similar to Hypnosis.
Best way to avoid such events is to delete the message without reading it.
There is also the positive message if you forward the message to 5 friends something wonderful will happen in your life. Who can resist such a promise? Me.

Is It Wrong to Propagate Chain Letters?

Short answer – YES – it’s wrong to propagate chain letters. Previous paragraph explains why.
Long answer:
Sometimes it is hard to ignore some of these messages and discard them. Their message is beautiful, and you would like to share it with your friends. There is not too wrong to do that IF and ONLY IF you follow these simple rules.
Use BCC field when addressing your email, (blind carbon copy). This will conceal the destination addresses.
When the chain letter arrives in your Inbox there are high chances to contain all the previous recipients into its body. Remove all the email addresses in the body, before forwarding the message. This is of no benefit to you, but it will benefit the community, and if many people do this harvesting addresses will be very difficult. Who knows on how many chain letters has circulated my email address?
If you really need to send chain letters, consider using your secondary email address.
Consistency on doing all of these will discourage the creators of such letters to write them, as the benefit from sending them will be null.

The image below shows a portion of the email body of a message that contains all the previous recipients of a chain letter. Using an email harvesting utility I got 417 email addresses only from this message.

Example of email Chain Letter
Chain Letter - Click to enlarge

What does the SPAMMER achieve by these kinds of emails?

They harvest email addresses. How do they do this? The principle is that the more an email circulate the more chances are to come back to the original sender. Even if it doesn’t come back it will go to another SPAMMER in the “Black Hat Web Marketing Community” and made public within the community. Then all the harvested email address will be shared or sold.
Another reason for circulating chain letters is scamming people. There are numerous scamming schemes circulating through emails.
There are also the hoaxes. A lot of chain letters warn about an upcoming virus or a computer threat. Most of them are hoaxes. Some of them are just simple hoax, but some other are cleverly crafted emails, so that when a recipient look for some of the keywords in the respective email, they would be directed by the search engine to targeted websites.

How can the Spammer harvest email addresses?

The main problem comes from the fact that most of the people will never think of hiding email addresses when they are forwarding messages. This makes that an email can sometimes contain hundreds or even thousands of addresses from all the people that forwarded it. The picture bellow depicts such a message.

What can you do to help?

First, whenever you send an email to a list of people add your addresses on the BCC field rather than CC or TO field. The BCC field will hide all the destination addresses.
If you forward a message, delete the transmission history in the message body. Check this article Prevent email SPAM for more information.
Break the chain! Delete the message and do not forward it. You have now the information. Stop for a few minutes before sending the email and think.
Comment on this post with positive or negative feedback. I can take critique.

I dedicate this article to Bogdan M. who first talked me about chain letters some 10 years ago.

Social bookmarking as a way to increase your Website’s traffic

What is Social Bookmarking?

Social bookmarking is a great way to improve your website’s ranking and traffic in Search Engines.

SB are websites that provide subscribers a way to save their bookmarks on a central server and retrieve them from any computer. The nice thing about it is that you can share some of those bookmarks with other users, based on interests or friendship. Google and the other Search Engines take these SB sites very seriously because that is the user’s choice and they want to provide users with the best service. It’s obvious that the more users bookmark your site the better your ranking.

Improve your rankings using SB

-First create an account to all major Social Bookmarking services and bookmark your own site.
-Second ask your friends to signup for these websites and bookmark your site. This should be done personally by all your friends. You can provide them with a list of keywords to be used in the description text. Your friends can recommend your website to other friends, etc… This is something that the SEO spammers do, but they do it unnaturally by spamming. The rest of us do it as a social activity. It is not recommended to use multiple accounts to the same Social Bookmarking site as is considered spam. And the Search engines will figure out is spam, by matching the description for all the fake accounts, and penalize your rankings. However if the description is different, there is no way that the Search Engine figure out that you cheated.
Be an active participant and give back the community, show your interest, it’s the best way to attract visitors.
Place a navigation bar on your site with links to all major Social Bookmarking sites.
What would be a good list of Social Bookmarking sites? Here are a few of them:
http://digg.com/
http://del.icio.us/
http://reddit.com/
http://www.furl.net/
http://www.blinklist.com/
http://www.stumbleupon.com/

I should probably mention that stumble upon is a great tool not necessarily for rankings, but for free traffic. If you are getting voted positively by the community you are being pushed in their rankings and they will send invitation to people with an expressed interest in that area. If you have a good site that you think it deserves more traffic and better rankings in SE send me an email with the link and the suitable keywords.

If you have an idea and you would like to blog it here, please contact me.

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