CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, November 24, 1997

Junk mail continues to rear ugly head

So what's new in the war against "spam" since I first visited this topic over a year ago (Nov. 4, 1996)? In fact, not a great deal is new. Unsolicited e-mail, dubbed spam, plagues every user of the Internet and is getting worse instead of better.

With all the strides we're making daily in technology it seems incongruous that the tekkies can't come up with a simple solution to keeping these sleazy intruders out of my e-mail box.

Nothing can ruin my mood quicker than logging on and finding unwanted, uninvited solicitations for everything from get rich quick schemes to hard-core porn offerings. It's filth and garbage that goes beyond annoying and bothersome ... it's infuriating. It violates the unwritten rules of the information superhighway.

It's maddening because there seems to be no way of fighting back or preventing these intrusions. Spammers are expert at hiding their true identity, forging return addresses and even stealing the domain names of others to avoid detection and retribution.

The allure of Internet advertising is very compelling for marketers since they can send literally millions of promotional pieces instantly for a fraction of traditional marketing expenses. The hard costs are incurred by the recipient in the form of disk space charges, connect time and access fees. Spammers can also sabotage and cause serious equipment damage to Internet services providers.

America Online took steps last year to block unwanted e-mail from known offenders, but king spammers, such as Cyber Promotions, filed suit against AOL charging free speech violations. A flurry of legal skirmishes ensued and AOL finally won the right to filter unwanted spam out of member mailboxes.

But, so what? I have filtering options enabled on America Online and I still get hundreds of unwanted posts on a weekly basis. It's almost a losing cause since a spammer, once discovered, can change his identity instantly and be back in business.

In response to this never-ending battle, America Online recently expanded its Mail Controls to give members greater autonomy in filtering electronic mail. Sign on with the Master Screen name, press CONTROL+K and type the keywords JUNK MAIL.

From here you can easily access the Mail Controls and set the parameters for every screen name in your account list. You can specify to receive e-mail from AOL members only or AOL members and other Internet e-mail addresses that you identify. You can also list specific e-mail addresses that you want blocked. This doesn't solve the problem, but it's a short-term remedy for AOL users.

While citizens of the Internet are generally opposed to legislation governing the Net, almost all agree that spam is out of control and seriously burdening the infrastructure on the Internet.

Three pieces of federal legislation have been introduced this year that specifically address the problem of spam: "Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Choice Act of 1997" (Murkowski, R-Arkansas); "Electronic Mailbox Protection Act of 1997" (Torricelli, D-New Jersey); and "Netizens Protection Act of 1997" (Smith, R-New Jersey). Hopefully, these bills can move through the legislative process in a timely manner, since professional spammers seem to move much faster than the laws.

In the meantime, there are a few steps you can take to curb the barrage of spam in your own mailbox. Do not fall for the REMOVE scam. Typing REMOVE in the subject line and sending the junk mail back just verifies your e-mail address for the bulk mailers.

Be sure your Internet provider utilizes some form of mail filtering to head off spam before it gets to your mailbox. You can assist by forwarding junk mail messages directly to your site e-mail administrator. If your provider doesn't have a specific address for handling spam, mail the offending message to postmaster@yourdomain (This is a generic address and will usually reach your e-mail administrator). It's important to include all the header information in any forwarded posts so the ISP can try to track down the offending e-mail source.

Guard the privacy of your e-mail account. Never respond to unsolicited e-mail and use caution when you post your e-mail address to the World Wide Web as these can be captured and sold as spam lists.

Lastly, support the effort to outlaw spam by contacting your representatives in Washington. Most legislators have e-mail addresses and can be located through one of the following sites: www.senate.gov/senator/ index.html or www.house.gov/ writerep/ Complete information on anti-spam efforts and pending legislation can be found at www.junkemail.org/bills/ or http://spam.abuse.net/

Maybe by this time next year, a spam update won't be necessary.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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