E-mail Software and Spam Filters

Published in General on Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

I need a little help. Spam (of the e-mail variety) is on the rise. What should I be using? What works for you?

The time has come

Alright, the time has finally come for me to face up to the reality of e-mail spam, and I'd like to clear this up while on hiatus.

For the longest time I had no troubles whatsoever with spam. I'd get maybe 5 a day, nothing too hard to deal with. But lately, I guess I've been a bit brash with handing out my e-mail address and the spam is becoming a nuisance.

E-mail programs and spam filters

Early on this year I had the lovely experience of having Outlook crash and lock up my computer on the morning of a very important meeting. Luckily everything was recovered before the meeting, but that evening I moved to Thunderbird.


Thunderbird worked fine for awhile, but then it really started to bog down my machine. Turned out all I needed was a good defrag and it would run fine for another week. This got tiring...

Opera - M2

My next stop was Opera and it's combo of e-mail and browser. This was a great pair, as they used very little memory together compared to, say, Firefox and Thunderbird. There are some problems, though. I'm finding the lack of folders (M2 is different than your average mail client) a bit tough, and am not so happy with how the inbox works.

What do you use?

So this is a call for suggestions: what is your favorite e-mail client spam filtering combo? What has worked, and what didn't?

BTW - I'm running Windows, but a Mac may be in the future, so don't hold back!

Comments and Feedback

I have had an email address, though not the same one, for about 15 years. So I know a thing or two about email.

I use OS X Mail.app for my email. I've used Outlook, Entourage, Thunderbird, Pine, and Eudora. I have never used an email client that I liked - I just tolerate some better than others.

I use Mail.app because it plays nice with Address Book and has fine IMAP handling. Incidentally, if you aren't using IMAP you are really missing out, particularly if you check your email from multiple devices.

Mail.app has a decent Bayesian spam filter, but it isn't really up to the task of heavy spam flow. It becomes a real chore to teach it when you get tons of spam.

My email provider and hosting service (Cornerhost) has Spamassassin installed. Spamassassin is awesome. You can customize its settings, which I have done.

I have Spamassassin file everything it thinks is spam into my junk mail box. I've set it so that it is very strict - I very rarely get any spam in my inbox, but occasionally SA makes a false positive. I just add the address to my whitelist to avoid that in the future.

I get about 30 spams a day in my junk mail box.

I tell SA's Bayesian filter to learn spam. Since SA uses a variety of methods to detect spam, besides Bayesian filtering, it can autolearn. This has the added benefit of teaching Mail.app because any email that lives in the junk box, Mail.app will learn as spam.

I use Knowspam, which costs 20 bucks a year. So far it has blocked over 200,000 spams (no joke and certaintly not an estimate) in the past 5 months.

In fact, I wrote about it here.

Mail.app on OS X. Junk filters work pretty well, esp on the Russian, Korean, Chinese stuff. Maybe one spam message a day escapes the filters. HTML and images are of course turned of. Hosting service has some additional server-side filtering. Mailbox(es) management is pretty good. Not exceptional, mind you. It uses mbox format, easy to back up just one folder at a time.

Second choice would be Thunderbird. Netscape4 was the first email client, then Outlook Express (junked after two days), some other Mac email clients, most given up due to poor support for multilingual messages (I need Japanese and Korean support), Eudora was then used, but promptly given up once OS X was first released.

I use a combination of software and services including SpamArrest and POPFile and I don't receive ANY spam. See: No More Spam...

Thanks everyone. Not sure where to go yet, but some things to look in to!

I have never used an email client that I liked - I just tolerate some better than others.

That's about where I am - with spam.

If you have any kind of control at the server end, I'll second the suggestion to use SpamAssassin. Also, if you can run procmail filters, you might want to add SpamBouncer to your arsenal.

I get somewhere around 700 spams per day (my email address has been out in the wild for nearly 10 years). But between SpamAssassin, SpamBouncer, and Thunderbird's built-in Bayesian filter, very little makes it into my inbox.

I use Outlook 2003 on my Windows XP machines. Mail.app on my OS X machines. Both Outlook 2003 and Mail.app handle spam superbly. If either client thinks an email is spam, it places it in the junk folder. This, incombination with SpamAssassin on my host, has relieved me of email sorting duties (for the most part).

I use Outlook 2002 and The Bat! to manage my accounts; the accounts with the virulent spam are managed with The Bat! while the accounts with the easy peasy spam are managed by Outlook

The Bat! has rules that can delete spam from the server before it is downloaded into my inbox and can be found at http://www.ritlabs.com/

Unfortunately, I am still on version 1 of The Bat! while the software is currently in version 3 so I cannot comment on what else they offer these days

In addition, my ISP has antispam software which is enabled for my accounts so these days, I get around maybe 2 - 5 spam per day (though my ISP's antispam software catches around hundreds per day which I can view via webmail)

For those spam that slip through my ISPs defenses, I use K9

The best solution, although extreme, is to switch domains and don't give your address out to anyone. Since switching domains a few months ago and using my gmail account for any commercial purposes which may come up, I've received exactly one piece of spam. It's quite nice.

That said, I use Apple's built-in Mail program. It's quite good.

I would give Bloomba a try. I used it for the trial version (30 days) and it worked great. I finally use Outlook 2003 with Norton Internet Security (AntiSpam 2004), but that is because of some issues with accessing my work account. Bloomba comes with it's own Spam software, SAproxypro which worked well.

Check it out over at www.statalabs.com

If I had to bail on Outlook, I would go with Bloomba for an alternative.

On Spam:

You should definitely check out Paul Graham's spam filter list. Back before I wised up enough to tell Freenet to delete the obvious spam, I was using Popfile, which worked very well.

My current spam filtering is multilayered and very effective. The bad part, from your point of view, is that most of it's applied by my ISPs. My main account, at my ISP, is tightly guarded by both Brightmail, and my never giving out the address to anyone/anything untrustworthy. Anything likely to generate spam (intentionally or not) gets signed up for with either Gmail or NCF. My NCF account is from the early 90s, back when it was safe to post to newsgroups. It receives hundreds of spams a day, but virtually none of it gets through. NCF uses a customized version of SpamAssassin, and my profile is set thusly:

  1. All mail past a certain spam threshold is thrown away automatically. This is okay because Freenet is not my main address anymore and so gets very little real mail.
  2. All mail between a low threshold and the high threshold above is held for manual inspection, and can be sent on to my mailbox (or rules added for it) at will.
  3. Everything below that low threshold, or on my greenlist goes through.

I also use Opera's M2, but I cannot give an informed opinion on its antispam features. The regime above is that effective. Only a few spam mails a year make it all the way to M2. Now if only I could have my Freenet account forwarded to Gmail after the spam filtering takes place! Gmail's filters are still learning, but have improved significantly while I've used it. Its cardstack is the ultimate for mailing list reading.

On Opera:

I like M2 a lot. It's not perfect, though. See what I really want. But I put up with its various small annoyances for the love of access points. What things about M2 do you not like? Here are some links that might help:

Bronwyn, thanks for the links and ideas. I haven't really devled into M2 too much, in fact, not at all. I love how it works, but I have yet to find some simple functions that most e-mail programs have.

Before diving into the details of what I don't like, I'm going to read thru the links that you provided.

Thanks to everyone for sharing so many ideas! The help is really appreciated.

I use the Spambayes plugin for Outlook 2003. It's free and works really well. It cuts out virtually all of my spam and never deletes anything it shouldn't.

I have had the same email address since 1996, and get 100 - 200 spams a day.

I found that none of the spam filtering systems I tried could get better than about 95%. I now use fusemail, which is an imap service which you can use to collect all your email in one place (such as pop, yahoo!, etc.). It offers an incredibly detailed set of tools to tell it what to do with spam.

I have it set to send a "challenge" email to anyone who is not in my address book and has not emailed me before. It bemuses the occasional sender, but actually stops all spam. There is a blacklist and whitelist, and various filters and forwarders.

Just to throw my .02$US into the discussion...

At work, I don't give out my email address. I give it to clients and anyone inside the domain can get it from the address book. Outlook 2003 with the built in junk mail filter plus IT runs a junk mail filter before it hits my mail box.

At home, I've had the same address for 11 years. For a while, I was getting 50 to 100 junk mail per day. My ISP started offering SpamAssassin and I turned that on. My junk mail decreased to about 20-25 per day. Then I started using Thunderbird again (I used it when it was very early alpha but it had problems) and now that it is more mature it does a great job. The junk mail feature catches most of what makes it this far - I have to check one or two junk that get through and I have one or two false positives every couple of weeks.

I can deal with this.

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