Email Goes Unlimited

First there was Gmail, with its 1 gigabyte email storage service. Now unveiled today, there’s AlienCamel, an Australian email service claiming to be the first to offer unlimited email storage.

First off, a declaration of interest: I’ve been using AlienCamel for a while, and have gotten to the know the guy behind the service, Sydney Low. But I have to say it’s a pretty good offer for $16 a half year, along with very good spam filtering and virus-free emails, courtesy of Bayesian filtering, a neat system of advising you when there’s email that appears to not be spam but from someone who’s not on your whitelist, and two virus engines (Kaspersky and ClamAV) to keep your emails free of nasties.

I’d recommend a tryout. It’s not a perfect world when you have to pay extra for an email service on top of your ISP account, but unless your ISP offers good customer support, good spam filtering, decent online storage and virus-free email, services like this make a lot of sense.

Spammers’ Shopfront Vigilantism, Part II

Further to my previous posting, here’s another way to keep the spammers out by checking out the links they want you to go to.

Sophos, the British virus people, say that their year old URL filtering “continues to prove to be an enormous success”. The filtering basically collects known spam sites and bans any email which contains them somewhere in the message. Today, Sophos says, the URL filter identifies over 50% of the spam detected by Sophos PureMessage email software.

An innovation, Spammer Asset Tracking, goes further by looking at the source and destination locations of the email, sniffing for suspicious spammer activity. This speeds up adding spam sites to the blocked list.

Not a bad idea, and a feature that home-based spam filtering, such as Bayesian filters, couldn’t really manage to do. No mention is made of scam emails in the press release, but I assume they must be in there somewhere, given Sophos’ interest in such matters. (Stopping them, I mean, not sending them.)

Wendy, Greg and Mimail

 Got my first Mimail-L virus email this morning. The social engineering is excellent. The header looks credible, the subject and address line plausible and the email itself is readable, literate and, while pornographic, a compelling storyline. It also got past my Bayesian spam filter which is unusual.
My conclusion: this could be a nasty one.

News: Microsoft Takes Aim At Junk, Document Search

 Microsoft’s Bill Gates has announced new junk e-mail filtering technology called SmartScreen. AP reports the technology will use algorithms to judge whether incoming e-mail messages qualify as junk e-mail and filter them out before they get to the end user’s e-mailbox.
More interesting, Gates demonstrated Microsoft Research’s Stuff I’ve Seen project, which is developing a tool for rapidly finding material that users have seen ? whether it was an e-mail, Web site or document. The tool is not to be incorporated in any products anytime soon, but shows people some of where Microsoft’s billions of dollars in research is going.

Mail: Apple Chomps Spam

 This from reader Rulf Neigenfind about Windows, Macs and Spam: “You have certainly heard about the built-in mail client in Mac OS X that
comes with an AI equipped spam filter. This filter uses “adaptive latent semantic analysis” to identify junk mail and works amazingly well. Once more I can only state how lucky I am that I’m not forced to bear with Windows.”
Thanks Rulf. I’ve tried the filter and while it’s very good, I don’t see it as vastly better than the Bayesian Filters available for Windows-based email. What’s good, I guess, is that it comes preloaded, and it’s very easy to use.

News: Seems A Lot Of Folk Get Fired Over Email

A new survey, the 2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies and Practices Survey from the American Management Association, Clearswift and The ePolicy Institute, reckons that 22% of employers have fired employees for violating email policy. That seems kinda harsh. What are people doing with their email? Here are some stats:

– 52% of U.S. companies monitor incoming and outgoing e-mail
– Only 19% of employers monitor internal e-mail communications among employees
– 40% of employers use software to control employees’ written e-mail content
– 14% of organizations have had employee e-mail subpoenaed by a court or regulatory body. That’s an increase of 5% over 2001, when 9% of respondents reported employee e-mail had been subpoenaed.
– 1 in 20 organizations has battled a lawsuit triggered by employee e-mail
– 76% of e-mail users have lost time in the last year due to e-mail system problems
– 35% estimate they lost only half a day, but 24% think they have lost more than two days
– The average e-mail user spends about 25% of the workday on e-mail
– 8% of e-mail users spend more than four hours (half the work day) on e-mail
– 92% of respondents receive spam mail at work
– 47% say spam constitutes more than 10% of all their e-mail
– 7% report spam represents over 50% of all e-mail received
– 75% of respondents said they were fed up with receiving surveys like this via e-mail (I made that up, but they don’t make clear how they did this survey, which involved 1,100 U.S. employers, or whether some of the surveys got mistagged as spam and trashed.)

News: Outlaw Spam Or Else

Seems like I stand corrected. Spam is evil and filters are not doing their job. U.S. senators will today release a new national survey showing that email users overwhelmingly favor a federal do-not-spam list. The survey, conducted by ePrivacy Group and the Ponemon Institute, also shows that almost 80% of consumers want a federal law banning spam.

Other key findings indicate current solutions to stop unwanted email, such as filtering and opt-out mechanisms, are not working. Many consumers spend 30 minutes or more each day just dealing with spam. On the hot topic of spoofed email, over 60% of persons surveyed had received fake or spoofed email from a trusted brand, with many reporting that such messages contained pornography, a computer virus, or a false message. Electronic copies will be available later today.

Well, this is all true, and some laws might be a good thing. But won’t that just shove everything offshore? I hate spam as much as the next guy, but I reckon the secret is just to make it so unprofitable for them that they slink away and train spot, or whatever it was they did before. That means not just laws, but assiduous spam filtering.

News: More Spam Tricks

I don’t feel like I’ve passed on anything about spam for at least half an hour so here goes. ActiveState, “the leader in enterprise email management software”, has released an ActiveState Field Guide to Spam, which details advanced tricks used by spammers to hide their messages from spam filters.

Regular readers of this blog — or folk who spend their weekends inspecting spam — will be familiar with most of these tricks, but it’s an education nonetheless. However, I am beginning to think that however clever spammers are, there’s a point beyond which it’s just not worth the effort for them. That’s when we all get Bayesian filters running and tune them. The only spam I worry about these days are press releases like this one from ActiveState. I swear it’s taken me longer to find the right link to their website than it would be to clean the one or two bits of spam that get past by my spamblocker (POPFile, in case you haven’t been paying attention). Or am I missing something?

Update: Consider Changing Your Email Software

 A few weeks back I reported on the revival of Calypso, an excellent email program, by the folks at Rose City Software. Their rechristened Courier does everything Calypso did, but it’s got one or two features that may help tip the balance for those of you not sure it’s worth the hassle switching. My favourite feature is its integration with POPFile, which, coincidentally, is my spam filter of choice (and now 99.18% accurate, I’m glad to report.) Anyway, this is the neat bit: Courier allows you to reclassify email that POPFile may have got wrong — marking it as spam, for example, instead of legit email) just be rightclicking on the email in question. Superb.
One gripe for Rose City: Can we have better icons? I can’t see the yellow envelope in the system tray, especially after a couple of beers.

Software: Spam Bully out of beta

 Spam Bully, an email spam filter that integrates into Outlook and Outlook Express, is now out of beta and officially ready to go.
I haven’t given Spam Bully a test run, but it uses Bayesian Filters, an approach I wrote about a few weeks back, so in theory should work well.
From their press release: “Spam Bully’s self-learning email filter uses a probability based mathematical theory developed by 18th century British clergyman Thomas Bayes. Bayes’ theorem is based on the number of times an event has or has not occurred and the likelihood it will occur in the future. Using Bayes’ theories in conjunction with email filtration allows Spam Bully to determine the probability that an email is “spam” based on the words it contains. Spam Bully’s Bayesian filter was created from over 35,000 spam messages, allowing it to intelligently learn which words spammers are likely to use. Spam Bully will adapt itself to a user’s own email preferences and over time continually adjusts to new types of spam.”
Spam Bully costs $30.