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HOW TO

Winning the War On Spam
By: Developer Shed
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    2003-12-31

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    Winning the War On Spam
    by Michael Southon

    For years I didn't worry much about spam.

    But lately it's got out of control. Over half of my email is now spam, and it was growing by the week - until I took action.

    This article shows you some strategies for winning the war on spam.

    How Do They Get Your Address?

    In the old days, spammers got their addresses mainly from Newsgroups - if you didn't post to Newsgroups, you were reasonably safe. But they're now using a much more efficient method to build their lists - email harvesters.

    Email harvesters are robots that roam the Internet collecting email addresses from web pages. Examples are EmailSiphon, Cherry Picker, Web Weasel, Web Bandit and Email Wolf, to name just a few.

    How can you protect yourself from email harvesters?

    By 'munging' (mung = 'mash until no good') or cloaking your email address.

    There are many ways of munging your address - the easiest technique is to use HTML code for the punctuation in your email address (instead of symbols).

    For the colon after mailto use : and for the @ symbol use @ and for the period use . . With this method, your email address would become:

    mailto:yourname@yourdomain.com

    but it will display as:

    mailto:yourname@yourdomain.com

    Your email address will appear exactly as it did before, and it will still be 'clickable', but email harvesters will ignore it and move on.

    There are also JavaScript's that you can insert into your web page that will make your email address visible to humans but invisible to harvesting programs. Here's one that works very well: http://pointlessprocess.com/JavaScripts/anti-spam.htm

    How To Fight Spam

    The most important thing is never, ever, reply to spam.

    Most spam contains an innocent-looking 'remove me' email address. Do not use it. Here's why:

    Spammers typically buy a CD containing a million or so email addresses, but they have no idea how many of those addresses are active. So before beginning their marketing campaign in earnest, they send out a 'test message' to the entire list.

    The test message contains an email address for removing yourself. When you reply to that address, it confirms to the spammer that your address is active and therefore worth spamming.

    Worse still, the spammer may be distilling from that CD a list of confirmed active addresses that he will then sell to another spammer.

    The key to dealing with spam is to report it to a 3rd party: (1) the affiliate program that the spammer is advertising, (2) the spammer's web host, or (3) the ISP the spammer used to connect to the Internet.

    When you report spam to a 3rd party, remember to be polite - they didn't send the spam and they're probably just as anti-spam as you are.

    1. Reporting to Affiliate Programs

      Many spammers are affiliates advertising someone else's products or services. So look for a website address that contains an affiliate link, something like this: www.affiliateprogramdomain/841526

      Then just send an email to the affiliate program (abuse@affiliateprogramdomain.com), informing them that you are receiving spam from one of their affiliates.

      Most affiliate programs have zero tolerance for spamming and will remove an affiliate spammer without warning.

      Now, affiliate spammers don't want you to see their affiliate link, so many of them send their email as HTML. All you see in the message are the words 'Click Here and Order Now'.

      But in your browser just click on 'View Source Code' and search for the letters 'http'. That will take you to the spammer's affiliate link.

    2. Reporting to Web Hosts

      If the spam doesn't contain an affiliate link, it's likely that it is coming from the owner of the domain name. In that case you'll have to report it to the spammer's web host or their ISP.

      To make a report to the spammer's web host just go to Whois, the directory of registered domain names: http://www.netsol.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois

      Type in the spammer's domain (the website address that appears in the spam) together with the extension (.com, org, .net etc).

      The host for that domain will usually be listed as the Technical Contact in the Whois record and there will be an email address for contacting them.

    3. Reporting to ISPs

      To report a spammer to his Internet Service Provider, you'll have to look at the spam's 'extended headers'.

      Extended headers show the servers that the message passed through in order to get to you. The instructions for viewing extended headers will vary depending on what email client you are using.

      • In Pegasus Mail, open the offending message and then right-click and choose 'Show raw message data'.

      • In Eudora Light, click on 'Tools' in the top menu bar, and then 'Options', and then select the checkbox option that says 'Show all headers (even the ugly ones)' and click OK.

      • In Outlook Express, open the offending message, select 'Properties' from the File menu and then click the 'Details' tab.

      Reading and understanding extended headers is quite a detailed subject. Here's an excellent free tutorial on how to decipher extended headers: http://www.doughnut.demon.co.uk/SpamTracking101.html

    As an alternative to these reporting techniques, you could use a web-based spam reporting service such as SpamCop (www.spamcop.net). SpamCop deciphers the spam's message headers and traces the mail back to its source.

    Wishing you every success in the fight against spam!

    Michael Southon

    About The Author

    Michael Southon has been writing for the Internet for over 3 years. He has shown hundreds of webmasters how to use this simple technique to get massive free publicity and dramatically increase traffic and sales. Click here to find out more: http://www.ezine-writer.com/

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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