Alexander: Spam filters work, but not well enough

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2014 - 7:33 PM

Q: I am inundated with spam, and receive as many as 50 to 75 junk e-mails per day. I have used spam filtering software, tried a new Web browser and complained to my e-mail service provider without much effect. What can I do?

John Gomilla, Baton Rouge, La.

 

A: There are some things you can do to reduce the amount of spam you receive, but there isn’t any way to eliminate it entirely.

The best thing you can do is find an e-mail service that does a better job of filtering out spam before it gets to your inbox. I suggest Google’s Gmail, which is good but not perfect.

You should also avoid clicking on anything in a spam e-mail, including the unsubscribe link. If you try to unsubscribe, you’re just confirming that your e-mail address works and can continue to be a spammer target. The right thing to do is either delete the e-mail or send it to your provider’s spam filter for future use in deciding what to block as spam.

While spam remains a huge, intractable problem, it’s only fair to note that spam filtering does reduce how much reaches your inbox. Without filtering, more than 70 percent of your e-mail would be spam. But the filters are no match for the resourcefulness of spammers. Consider what filters try to catch, and how spammers have learned to avoid being caught:

Spam filters, and their associated “blacklists,” search for Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and domain names (the part of the e-mail address following the @ symbol) that have previously sent spam. Spammers change those things daily to avoid detection.

Spam filtering programs look at the use of key words or symbols (Free, Money Back Offer, $$$, Click Here) in the sender’s name, subject line or body of the e-mail. Spammers now avoid using those words or symbols, or use them sparingly.

Spam filters also look for attention-getting tactics, such as the use of all capital letters in the subject line or body of the e-mail. As a result, spammers instead get your attention with e-mails that have unusual combinations of capital and lowercase letters.

Spam filters keep track of how many similar e-mails they receive, and at some point classify them as spam. Spammers try to stay under the number of duplicate e-mails they believe will trigger that response.

 

Q: I’m looking for a column you wrote recently about a printer that scans photographic slides and transfers them to CDs or DVDs.

Rich Noreen, Minneapolis

 

A: The product was a flatbed scanner that converts printed images, such as photographic slides, into digital files. You can find that column at tinyurl.com/l57a9vf; it includes a link (tinyurl.com/k4rb2k8) to an article about scanning techniques. In addition, you can find a comparison of scanner models at tinyurl.com/82u57q4.

 

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 ­Portland Av. S., ­Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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