educational

Spam is Everywhere

James Edwards
The adult webmaster, due to the nature of his or her niche, receives a huge volume of email that is junk — spam. A great deal of money is lost in both bandwidth and storage due to unwanted mass mailings.

Ironically, a webmaster might also want to engage in targeted email campaigns, which if not handled properly become a source of spam itself.

Therefore today's adult content provider needs to balance sending kinky emails for marketing while at the same time combat an endless stream of similar letters on his/her mail servers, let alone advertisements for Viagra, real estate, and those heartfelt pleas to help the Ethiopian prince about to come into a fortune.

The challenge of course is to eliminate spam. If we could eliminate all spam, the amount of wasted disk space and CPU usage in the world would drop dramatically. Eliminating spam from your adult web domain is crucial if you want to cut down on hardware costs, let alone the lost human labor spent deleting unwanted email.

The most powerful way to eliminate spam is a hardware solution. If you are an adult webmaster hosting your own operation you can now purchase hardware at a reasonable price that will attack the problem of spam. If you wish to pay for hosting, a provider offering hardware to block spam should be considered. These hardware appliances attack and filter email using a variety of different methods.

One method used by CiperTrust is to log each IP address over time and rate the probability of an IP address sending spam. CiperTrust accomplishes this through a connection to a database that the company maintains of worldwide spam servers. With the CiperTrust product, you also can control the pace at which questionable IP addresses can send email.

Mirapoint's MailHurdle appliance uses another trick to find bogus IP addresses. This product sends an SMTP retry message to the original server. This is an effective method, since most dedicated spam servers are not set up to retry. Another advantage of this method is that SMTP retry messages require extra work from the spam-bot servers that flood the Internet with unwanted email, thus providing a service to all Internet users.

Using these appliances directly or through your hosting company, you can easily reduce your email load by more than 50 percent. They also are useful at thwarting DoS (Denial of Service) attacks, in which a malicious user overloads your web and/or email server with useless requests. These appliances will detect high activity and halt it by identifying nonstandard SMTP communications and repetitive requests that are usually the work of a spambot.

Spam-fighting hardware appliances range in price from $5,000-$10,000 dollars, so hosting plans with these solutions will probably be more expensive. Software solutions installed on the web server are also effective and cost less. If you need an inexpensive hosting plan, make sure you find a provider with, at least, software installed to block spam when it reaches their server. Regardless, today's adult webmaster needs a two-pronged strategy — preventing spam from reaching the web servers while at the same time blocking spam on their own email clients.

One popular piece of free software that protects web servers from spam is the Apache open source Spam Assassin (SpamAssassin.apache.org). This spam blocker is like the above hardware offerings, in that it blocks unwanted email on the server before your email program views it. Spam Assassin flags emails or deletes them based on a genetic algorithm that learns how to detect spam. As an adult webmaster, you should insist that your hosting company has software like this installed on your domain.

After blocking some of your spam by going with a hosting service that has software or hardware installed on their servers, now instead of receiving 200 unwanted emails a day for penis extension elixir and similar vital services, you are receiving only a hundred. Yet you aren't done. You are filtering spam on your web server, but you haven't yet filtered it for each employee through his or her email client, such as Outlook Express.

Client email algorithms generally use the Bayesian Method to filter spam. This algorithm judges the probability of an email being spam based on a set of variables. These variables might be facts such as the IP address, domain or word content. The advantage of this method is that a spam filter can learn. If it makes mistakes by blocking useful mail or by allowing spam through, the end user can train it, thus changing the weight of certain variables and making the filtering process more efficient.

Many free mail programs, such as Mozilla's email component of their browser and Eudora, use a Bayesian filter to trap spam — you can teach your email client how to detect spam the moment you get your first letter. The advantage of these mail servers is that they also run on multiple platforms, not just Microsoft Windows.

The most popular mail client is Microsoft's Outlook Express. Unfortunately, Outlook Express does not use a Bayesian Method to filter spam. This drawback makes Microsoft's default mail reader one of the worst spam blockers on the market. Yet don't fret Microsoft users; there are many free third party solutions that will monitor and block spam received by Outlook Express.

Defending Against Spam
SpamBully (SpamBully.com) is one such type of free software offering that you can use with Microsoft's Outlook Express. This software uses Bayesian methods and will even automatically report detected spam to the FTC.

For other well-tested spam-blocking software that runs on multiple platforms, try out SpamBayes.SourceForge.net. This product also relies on the Bayesian method, thus allowing you to teach it how to define what you consider spam.

For an easy-to-use Windows spam blocker, check out Cactus Spam, available at CodeOde.com. The great thing about Cactus Spam is that you can drag emails it doesn't tag properly into a learning folder with your mouse, thus making the filter smarter as time goes on.

Learning algorithms in your spam filters are vital for the adult webmaster. Simple spam programs block erotic words that are the lifeblood of the adult industry. The trick with Spam filters is to make sure legitimate business mail is not marked as spam. For the adult webmaster, training a spam filter will yield very different results than the way a church group might filter their email simply using hot words.

If you want to pay for a spam filter on your mail clients, the expensive Norton and McAfee spam blockers use software that queries blacklists maintained by these companies. For instance if a server in China sends out a huge amount of email, this information is stored in a central database, alerting your software to block email from that domain. The problem with these solutions is that they sometimes require an annual subscription to the vendor's spam database. There is no distinct advantage to this software over the free offerings, aside from better support.

It is estimated that spam costs ISPs more than $500 million per year. Add this to the costs an adult webmaster faces due to lost labor and bandwidth, and we see that spam is a major weakness in the Internet as a whole. The FTC receives more than 125,000 complaints per day about spam — this is why since November 2003, 285 cases have been brought against spammers who violate the law.

Whatever solution you choose to filter spam, choose a solution. Many of us have come to accept spam like it was dust on our front porch, simply there to sweep off each morning.

If you are an adult webmaster who receives a lot of email, you need to attack the problem of spam. If you do, the rate at which you will purchase hardware and your lost man hours will decrease, thus saving you large amounts of money for more interesting projects.

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