This is war!

Oct. 1, 2003
War has been declared! The warring parties are all of us against the email spammers. Spam, by definition, is electronic junk mail.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

War has been declared! The warring parties are all of us against the email spammers. Spam, by definition, is electronic junk mail.

Are you like me? Are you sick and tired of receiving unsolicited email advertisements and offers? I do not know about you, but I do not need a new mortgage, a supply of Viagra, at-home business "opportunities," or diet pills. I also don't need any cheap airline or hotel tickets or access to pornographic Web sites.

Some Internet Service Providers — such as Earthlink, MSN, and AOL — have tried to institute spam-blocking software. Numerous add-on, spam-blocking software programs are also available to help fight this battle. Unfortunately, the spammers keep finding new ways to get into our email boxes!

How bad is this problem? According to America Online, between February and April of this year, the maximum number of spam messages sent to its 35 million customers in a single day tripled to 2.4 billion! A typical day's volume averages 1.5 billion emails. According to a Brightmail study, 7 percent of email traffic in 2001 was spam. This number rose to 12 to 15 percent of email in 2002. The number is even higher now.

Spammers obtain your email address in four primary ways:

1) Public Web pages — If your email address appears on a Web page somewhere, spammers can find it and enter it into their mailing lists.

2) Chat rooms — When you use an email address to enter a chat area, the spammers have found a way to locate you.

3) Dictionary attacks — Spammers will send email to a multitude of addresses using combinations of names and numbers. If you reply or open the email, they will know that this is a legitimate address.

4) Online registration — Companies without a privacy policy can distribute your email address to others when you register products on their Web sites.

So what should you do about controlling the flow of garbage into your email in-box?

• Try not to post your email address on public Web pages such as Ebay. If you must post it, type the word "at" in your address instead of the symbol "@." This might help thwart the spammers' harvesting software from finding your address.

• Use a user name in chat areas instead of your email address. Never click on a spam email "unsubscribe" link. This will inform the sender that this is a valid email address.

• Before giving out your email address to any company, investigate its privacy policy. Be sure to uncheck boxes that allow them to share your information with so-called "partners." If your email program has a "preview pane," disable it to prevent the spam from reporting to the sender that you have received this email.

• If you receive spam from a brand-name product, send a written complaint to that company via snail mail.

• If your Internet Service Provider provides an email filter, take advantage of this offer. If you do not have such a filter, purchase some spam-blocking software.

Some commercially available products are SAProxy (Steta Labs, www.bloomba.com); Spam Catcher Universal (Mailshell, www.mailshell.com); Spam Sleuth (Blue Squirrel, www.bluesquirrel.com); Spam Alert (Symantec Norton Internet Security); Spam Killer (McAfee); Mail Washer Pro (Fire Trust, www.firetrust.com); Mailpass (Mailpass, www.mail pass.com), and countless others.

Do you want to read more about spam and how to avoid it? Let me recommend the following Web sites: spam.abuse.net, a comprehensive collection of antispam links and resources; isoc.org/internet/ issues/spamming, a good resource list of information; spam.getnetwise.org/tips, a guide to fighting spam; spamabuse.org, a reference site for information; and spamhaus.org/rokso/index.lasso, a database of known spammers.

Spammers are hard to locate. They often use overseas servers. Do not expect the government to step in and prohibit unsolicited email. You have to catch the spammers before you can charge the spammers! The best way to deal with spam is to ignore it. Keep a quick "trigger finger" on the delete key when you are screening your email. Accept spam as something that is not going to go away at this point ... and enjoy all of the rest of what the Internet has to offer.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry magazine and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. His address on the Internet is www.dfdasmiles.com. Contact him by email at [email protected], by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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