Categorised | Columns

Down with spam!

Lead image for ART@TECH spam article
Agne Kveselyte /

IF you are, like me, fairly addicted to Oprah, you’d realise that all her shows tend to revolve around the same few themes: improving self-esteem, empowering yourself, and cutting out clutter. There are those who need help in all three areas. Me, I’ve been thinking a lot about clutter of late.

Whether in our office or our homes, clutter tends to obscure the important things in life, forcing us to wade through a mountain of junk to find what we want. This is especially embarrassing if you’re at work, and your boss needs a document that’s under a pile of files and folders (and other assorted junk) on your table.

Besides giving a really poor impression, clutter can mess up your life in cruel and unusual ways… as anyone who has ever misplaced a tax refund, important file or bill knows.

Clearing up clutter should be on the top five of your list of priorities for a hassle-free life. It’s easy enough to get organised; there are plenty of books offering helpful hints on managing your clutter, and plenty of really cute, handy office supplies (colour-coded folders, binders, racks, roll-away filing cabinets, stackable boxes — all labelled with the  appropriate label writer, of course) to help sort out your stuff.

(© David Di Biase /
Once you’ve sorted out the real-world clutter, it’s time to move on to the virtual one: sorting out all the junk mail — or spam — from your e-mail inbox.

Anyone who has ever used e-mail will be familiar with spam: those unsolicited and annoying mails touting the latest penile and breast implants, cut-price Viagra pills, hot stock tips and the like. (Speaking of which, I just love some of the subject headings for these messages: Pulverise all competition with your new pole; Your new rod will rake her loins well; Is Paris Burning?; Britney Spears’ Shot Ass, etc.)

Weeding out the chaff

The sheer volume of these e-mails is nothing short of incredible. Just check out the Spam-o-meter counter, a website that offers a free source of spam statistics and live tools to measure the actual amount of spam on the internet. At any given time, spam accounts for anywhere between 80% and 90% of all e-mails — that’s over 900 to 1.5 billion unsolicited e-mails in circulation.

Ban spam!
(© Michal Zacharzewski / sxu.hc)

Even having to deal with a fraction of them in your inbox can be tiring — anyone who has logged on to find more than 1,000 e-mails waiting for them can attest to the time wasted weeding out the chaff. Though it is tempting to just “select all” and delete, you could accidentally get rid of genuine e-mails along the way. Spam flow can be overwhelming; there are many cases of people who’ve had to give up their e-mail addresses due to spam intrusion.

Though most e-mail clients now carry some sort of anti-spam filtering software, a lot still gets through. It really is up to you to keep checking the “this is spam” box to ensure similar messages are kept out in future.

But spam is not just an annoyance; it costs companies money in terms of lost productivity (as staff grapple with the amount of junk), and valuable server storage and bandwidth. And with many large corporations now archiving all their e-mails for legal purposes, you can imagine just how much storage space is wasted keeping spam.

There are, of course, plenty of anti-spam solutions around, either in the form of software or hardware filters. For the software version, check out for low-priced solutions, as well as a few shareware and freeware options. Examples of software filters include SPAMFighter, Mailwasher Pro and Qurb 3.0.

Though these filters do manage to cut out some of the crap (up to 40% in some cases), unfortunately, they don’t prevent the spam from being downloaded into the mail server.

(© Dan Mulligan /
As for hardware filters such as Barracuda, Sonicwall and Ironport, they do good work in cutting down spam (and computer viruses as well), and some claim fairly high success rates. But spam, much like viruses on the internet, keeps evolving, and many of these products use single or dual filters that just cannot keep up with the volume and types of spam.

Light at the end of the spam tunnel

Luckily, there are several contenders that have emerged to lead the battle against the spam tyranny by offering multiple filters (up to a dozen) and an internet-level approach to weeding out the offending messages.

Among the top in their field are MessageLabs, Postini and [email protected] — now called InboxScreen — fully managed e-mail security services that filter out 98% to 99.9% of spam without burdening your mail server or bandwidth, thereby freeing up valuable productivity time for company employees.

Those who use Gmail would have noticed just how effective this multiple-filtering approach to cutting out spam is. Compared with Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and most other webmail clients, Gmail lets in comparatively fewer spam messages, thanks to parent company Google’s acquisition of Postini, a global leader in on-demand communications security and compliance solutions.

Though the services offered by these big players (with the exception of Gmail) are not available to individual net users at present (they generally target large corporations with thousands of users), you can do your part by pressuring your local Internet Service Provider to offer a more comprehensive anti-spam solution.

Unlike some dastardly viruses, spam may not cripple your hard disk. Yet, by hindering your ability to communicate and imposing on your time, it is just as destructive.


N Shashi Kala last sent a letter via snail mail 15 years ago and has not looked back since. She is rarely ever troubled by e-mail spam or otherwise — thanks to the fuyoh filters set up by an over-eager techie pal.

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