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How to combat the rising tide of spam

  • 15 November, 2005 15:16

<p>By Peter Stewart*</p>
<p>In the virtual world of online communication, spam began as a mere irritant to email users, evolved from pest to burden, then transformed into a real menace.</p>
<p>A recent Microsoft research project confirmed that spammers routinely hijack PCs to use them as spam relays on a huge scale. Microsoft monitored a standard Windows XP computer with an always-on connection to the Internet. It was quickly taken over by zombies - virus-like invaders sent out by spammers – which then contacted remote computers to inform them that the PC was available as a relay. Over a 20-day period that single PC received 5 million ‘pings’, or hits, from other PCs seeking to connect to it.</p>
<p>Microsoft also monitored outgoing traffic and discovered that this single PC processed 18 million spam e-mails in that period. (Microsoft blocked all the spam the PC tried to send.)</p>
<p>While governments worldwide have begun to counter the rising tide of spam with legislation, organisations and individuals have a few options for combating junk emails. Essentially these fall into two categories: pre-emptive measures and anti-spam technology.</p>
<p>Business people are particularly vulnerable to spam since most cannot change their email address, which is locked into the corporate convention. For those already receiving high levels of junk email, an anti-spam solution that utilises blocking technology is the most effective option, since it stops all incoming email that has not been authorised by the user.</p>
<p>But even users who block out all incoming spam should join the continuing campaign to reduce the effectiveness of the spammers. Below is a comprehensive list of ways in which they can do this.</p>
<p># Never reply to a spam email or follow any URLs in the message – essentially this validates the email account and flags you as a potential candidate for more spam.</p>
<p># Never buy anything advertised by a spam email, since you immediately identify yourself as a source of income for the spammers.</p>
<p># Never open an unsolicited message unless it is from someone you know and trust - this rule also applies to avoiding virus infections. Remember, spam can contain viruses and other malicious exploits.</p>
<p># Do not use your email program’s preview pane of your email client - some spammers track when a message has been previewed, which tells them your email account is active.</p>
<p># Do not post your email address on your website or in newsgroups - many spammers trawl the Internet to collect email addresses. If you must have an email address on your website, set up a web mail account for this purpose alone.</p>
<p># Never give your email address to anyone you don't trust – give it only to close friends, colleagues and business associates.</p>
<p># Always use the blind copy field when sending an email to a large number of recipients - email addresses in the 'To' field can be harvested by spammers.</p>
<p># Consider setting up a secondary email address for use when you fill out registration forms, surveys, etc. It will protect your primary email addresses from spam.</p>
<p># Always select/deselect the 'further information/promotional offers' box as appropriate.</p>
<p># Consider printing a set of business cards without your email address, to give to people/businesses you don't know and trust. You can always supply them with your email address at a later date if needed.</p>
<p>In your home or small office:</p>
<p># Install a firewall. Buy a router with a built-in firewall (ask for help at a computer store) if you have a cable or other broadband connection. Use a software firewall otherwise. Windows XP has one built in - make sure you have it turned on.</p>
<p># Never open attachments you didn't ask for, particularly if you receive it from a home user you know is not computer literate – there is a strong possibility that they won’t have virus protection. Make sure others in your family understand this too.</p>
<p># When you receive attachments you didn't ask for, even if they seem to be OK and seem to come from someone you know, delete the entire message. You may even choose to call the person who seems to have sent the attachment (don't reply to their mail as the incoming mail could be a spoofed mail, and you'd simply get infected by responding) and verify the origin.</p>
<p># If you use Windows, keep your anti-virus software up to date.</p>
<p># Never leave your computer on standby and connected to the internet. This allows zombies to turn on the PC without your knowledge.</p>
<p># Consider switching to a non-Microsoft desktop email client such as Eudora which are less vulnerable to virus and zombie attacks.</p>
<p>* Peter Stewart is Chairman of New Millennium Solutions, Australian-owned creators of the TotalBlock anti-spam solution</p>

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