BACK
Re: SPAM

I get a lot of questions and suggestions about how to manage spam, and I feel qualified to address the topic. I've been in IT for over 15 years, I've used a bunch of different email services, I run my own mailserver, and I harbor an intense dislike for spam. I put forth a considerable amount of effort in keeping spam out of my users' inboxes. I know what works, and what doesn't.

There are two places to do email filtering: on the mailserver (known as "server-side") and on your computer ("client-side"). Effective filtering requires a balance between the two. If the server-side filtering is too strict, then good email gets rejected; too lenient, and your inbox is flooded with junk, making client-side filtering more difficult. Client-side filtering can be effective, but it is highly dependent on the capabilities of the email client software (Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail.app, Eudora, etc.) as well as the your own technical proficiencies. If you've ever had someone "lose" an email from you, or if you've ever "lost" an email, because it was filtered into the "Junk" folder, then you have experienced one of the negative effects of client-side filtering. Plus, your email client has to download all of the email—spam and non-spam alike—which can make a big difference in how long it takes to receive email, especially if you use a dialup internet connection. Another drawback to client-side filtering is that, if you access your email on different devices—say, your laptop, a Blackberry or iPhone, and via webmail from random internet kiosks—then you can't effectively utilize client-side filtering at all. Finally, some types of advanced spam filtering are readily available only in server-side tools. For example, one module on my server performs optical character recognition on incoming image files and compares any words it finds with a database of known "spammy" words (like Cialis, Viagra, etc.). Most email clients simply don't include that kind of functionality. Client-side filtering has its place, but effective spam reduction requires a good server-side component.

The problem with most ISPs, from the big guys like Verizon, SuddenLink, etc. and even some smaller guys like Alpha1 and Cybercom, is that they don't do much server-side email filtering. They have so many customers—some of whom, they reason, may actually want to receive all that spam—that they opt to take the "easy way out" and basically just pass all email along to the end-user. Most of them do some basic virus filtering, and maybe some half-hearted spam tagging, but most everything ends up in the customer's inbox. Most of the free email services, like Hotmail/MSN and Yahoo!, aren't any better. They dump everything into your inbox, and expect you to sort it all out yourself. AOL, on the other hand, tends toward the draconian, going beyond spam & virus filtering to block email content they deem inappropriate—which, in the past, has included politically conservative newsletters, Christian mailing lists, and other emails that were clearly not spam, but simply engendered the prejudices of AOL management.

On the brazoslink mailserver, I have implemented a fairly complex server-side filtering system that is very effective at keeping spam away from the server, and thus out of my customers' (and my own) inboxes. For example, a friend of mine in north Texas runs a media content evaluation ministry, and he was receiving several hundred spams every day—sometimes as many as 500—in his SBC Global email account. His is an extreme case, since his email address is plastered all over thousands of web pages, plus it gets abused by all the folks who don't appreciate the biblical focus of his movie reviews. When we moved his web & email services to the brazoslink server, I could definitely see the impact of his email on the server. The server went from rejecting 50-60% of incoming mail to rejecting about 97%—in other words, 97% of emails that tried to make it onto the server were either spams or viruses, most of them to his address. My friend reported that the spam in his inbox dropped to only a dozen or so per day, a dramatic improvement.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that you buy a brazoslink email account, but I do recommend third-party (vs. ISP-supplied) email services in general—because they tend to provide better server-side spam filtering. If all you need is a private email account, then a brazoslink account may be overkill. You can get a GMail account for free, and they use a filtering setup very similar to the one I have implemented. Another advantage to using a third-party email service like brazoslink, GMail, MobileMe, etc. is that you are no longer tied to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) for email services. Once you have a third-party email account, it won't matter what ISP you use—your email address will always remain the same.

If you live and/or work in a "sensitive" part of the world, where email security is paramount, I don't recommend GMail or any other large "well-known" third-party email provider, because most of them have been hacked, and most of them don't encrypt your email end-to-end (server to server). Big targets are more likely to be hit. In this case, you should choose a smaller email provider, preferably one managed by someone you personally know and trust.