Pulp and Paper Canada

Spam on the Lam

August 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

While lawyers argue over the legal definition of spam, most people know it when they see it and find it annoying. The current crop of (mostly American) laws against spam are not likely to be effective…

While lawyers argue over the legal definition of spam, most people know it when they see it and find it annoying. The current crop of (mostly American) laws against spam are not likely to be effective but there are a number of software solutions available that are at least partly effective.

Brightmail, one of the major specialists in spam-catching for Internet service providers, claims that 40% of e-mail is spam. I receive about 90% spam, but my wife, who receives a similar volume of legitimate e-mail (10-20 per day) receives virtually none. We are on the same local network and have an Internet service provider which does not offer any spam-catching service. This situation is common, with different users reporting widely diverse experience.


If you receive obvious spam, it is always best to delete it without opening it, since it may carry some unwelcome code. Do not reply to requests to be “removed from the mailing list”. This just confirms that your e-mail address is valid and invites more spam.


Software scans e-mail messages and assesses the likelihood of its being spam. Phrases that offer to enlarge certain private body parts are dead give-aways, but the software is much smarter than that in order to catch spammers that play games with the words. Apparent spam is flagged, and the person running the computer can decide whether to delete it, to put it in a special folder for possible human review, or to just show it in the user’s “received mail” list with a warning flag.

The software may also check e-mail received against blacklists of known spam sources. These lists are available on the Internet. This technique is about 50% effective, since the spammers frequently change the address of their connection to the Internet. Some anti-spam software (including Mail Washer, discussed below) provides an easy way to add the address of received spam to a personal blacklist.


Ideally, an Internet service provider or corporate e-mail manager runs software that deletes all spam before it arrives in the personal mailbox. In practice, these corporate systems run well, and users whom I know seem quite satisfied, although the reports in computer magazine assert that they also dump 2% to 5% of the legitimate e-mail.

If you have a corporate system, there might be some opportunities to tweak it, so ask the computer support staff.

One useful feature of some of the anti-spam software is that you can choose to accept ANY e-mail from anyone on a personal address list. Except for people who deal with new and unknown customers, this is a pretty effective way of ensuring that little or no valid e-mail is rejected.


If you are on your own with spam, and receive enough to be aggravated, then try one of the several packages on the market. Many have aggressive names, such as Spam Butcher, Spam Killer, or Spam Assassin.

Recent reviews of anti-spam software in computer magazines show that there is no overall solution, but that some of the software is good enough to improve life for people with high spam loads. This fits our own experience.

The software is generally inexpensive, at under $100. The real cost is that it takes some time to install and tune up such software.


I tried JunkSpy for a while, and found it effective in controlling spam, but about once per week it conflicted with my Internet Service provider’s software and stopped my service by continuously downloading on legitimate e-mail. The only solution was to call the ISP and ask him to delete the guilty e-mail. We never resolved this, despite efforts by the JunkSpy tech support and my ISP, so I abandoned the software. I am told JunkSpy works well for many people, but that ISP conflicts are common for users of Microsoft Outlook (like us). Refer to www.JunkSpy.com for more information.


This software is available for free download at www.MailWasher.net . The author asks for contributions, and offers technical support for those contributing over $20 (presumably US).

I have been using it for a few weeks.

Mail Washer checks your mail whenever you want, either automatically or by specific command, and sorts it into probable spam and apparently normal mail. You can review this manually which is not great help over reviewing your inbox. You can set it to automatically delete spam from known spammers. This feature is useful and effective.

While Mail Washer has reduced my spam load, it has required some tuning, and I am not totally convinced that it is worth the trouble. It is definitely not for those who dislike fiddling with software configuration.

The bottom line on spam is that there are no perfect solutions available at present. Some of the software is helpful, but the cure can be almost as much of a nuisance as the disease.

Neil McCubbin is a process engineer and a consultant with 39 years of experience in the pulp and paper industry. He can be reached at neil@mccubbin.ca#text2#

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