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Hawaii's Spam Dilemma

By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

Say 'spam' in Hawaii and one immediately thinks 'musubi'. If you mention spam to anyone who spends time online you're undoubtedly going to get a less desirable association. Spam has become a real problem for both businesses and average end users. According to a study released last year by the European Commission, spam costs users worldwide $9.4 billion in connection fees. Although virtually all of us in this country pay flat ISP rates, spam is still a huge, expensive pain in the okole.

It's not unusual for us (and we're sure many PBN readers) to get 50 to 100 unwanted messages a day from get rich quick schemes, porn sites or some huckster in Nigeria who tells you he's interested in parting with excess dollars in his bank account. Spam is more than a hassle. It can contain viruses and even the innocuous kind takes time from your day to delete.

The Genesis of Spam

Whether it's phony charity, a diet scheme or a bogus medical treatment, there are two ways these miscreants find us. The first is what's known in the business as "random access verification. Thus if bob@hotmail.com is a valid address, there's a good chance that bob@aol, bob@yahoo, etc, is as well. There's plenty of software out there that will produce random email addresses that can be used to create lists. The other method of generating email is through the use of spiders or agents, which are programs that comb pages of the World Wide Web for addresses. To make matters worse, once massive email lists are created, they are often sold on the Net. (How many times have you seen banner ads or spam itself advertising something like "Buy Cousin Ed's email list of 10 million prospects for $49.95".)

Stopping the Spam Menace

So what can you do to keep the bad guys from finding you? There are any number of methods that your IT people can employ but the easiest way for the average person is to employ software that in effect filters the mail coming your way. There are two varieties of this technology. One is a tool that protects your business or organization and is installed on a mail server. A popular solution that has received good press is MailShield (http://www.mailshield.com) which comes with about 50 different techniques to protect you. Among other things, it identifies spam before it gets to your mailbox and either refuses to let it in or sends it to a backup location.

Another option is to filter spam at the client level -- on your individual box. This is effective but has a downside. You still have to pay for the time and bandwidth to download the unwanted mail and, your anti-spam program has to keep track of the latest spammer tactics. Most of these programs do provide regular updates but it's hard to stay ahead of the bad guys.

We've had pretty good success with a program called "SpamKiller" from Novasoft (http://www.spamkiller.com/). It costs $29.95 and allows you to set your own filters up which allows your friends in and keeps the junk out. They have a free 30-day subscription which gives you plenty of time to evaluate the product and have really responsive customer service. We're also very impressed with a enterprise product called XWall from a company called DataEnter. It's really a firewall that combines that protects your Exchange server from viruses, spam mail and dangerous attachments. See http://www.dataenter.co.at/index.htm. Any popular program for smaller businesses called Spam Buster (for $19.95) has also received rave reviews in the press and can be downloaded at (http://www.contactplus.com/products/spam/spam.htm)

Jeff Bloom, is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627.

Published July 26, 2002

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