Help! How Can I Stop All This Spam?

stop spamAt OurChurch.Com we provide web hosting services for thousands of organization and that includes email services for many of them. With nearly 75% of all email message traversing the interwebs being spam these days, it’s a major problem, consuming time and resources and putting users at risk for viruses and scams. It’s also an issue we’re asked about frequently.

Here’s an in-depth explanation of how to combat spam, including…

4 Recommended Ways to Reduce the Spam Email You Receive

1) Get your email address off the web.

A lot of spammers get their lists using bots that scour the web for email addresses. Don’t put your email address online anywhere.

  • Do a Google search for your email address to find pages where your email address has been published.
  • If your email address is shown on pages of your website, replace it with a link to a contact form.
  • If you feel like you absolutely must post your email address on your website, use a Javascript encoder or write it in a non-standard format like “name (at) domain (dot) com”
  • If your email address is shown on pages of other sites, contact the owner and ask it to be removed.

This will not stop the spam, but it will reduce the chances of your email being added to new spam lists.

2) Adjust settings in your server-side spam filter.

Many web hosting companies provide some spam filtering tools for their hosting clients. Login to your control panel and check to be sure the spam filter is turned on and has the optimal settings for your organization.

At OurChurch.Com we use SpamAssassin. If you’re an OCC hosting client you can login to your cPanel control panel and look for the SpamAssassin settings in the mail section. SpamAssassin allows you to adjust the filtering level between 1 and 10 with 5 as the default.

You can lower the number to filter out more spam, but there are several problems with this:

  • You increase the likelihood for false-positives, legitimate email being mistakenly identified as spam and blocked.
  • Your selecting that setting for all email accounts @YourDomain. Even if you’re ok with not getting some legit mail in the effort to reduce spam, not everyone in your organization may agree. For that reason, it’s probably better to be less aggressive in your filtering at the server level.
  • Messages flagged as spam by server-side filters are usually left on the server in spam folder. The first problem with this is most people don’t check the messages in this folder. The second problem is that spam builds up and counts against your disk space allocation, so you could eventually run out of space for your website, media and legit email.

When it comes to server-side filtering, the bottom line is that it can help eliminate some spam, but it’s not going to be your most effective option.

3) Import your mail into a web based email service that has good filtering.

I use Gmail for my work and personal email. The benefits of using Gmail are that…

  • Gmail enables me to import email from multiple email accounts
  • It enables me to set the from address so mail sent from Gmail comes from my work or personal email address.
  • Gmail has an excellent spam filter. I estimate that only about 1% of spam end up in my inbox.
  • Unlike a computer-based spam filtering program, I don’t have to worry about whether my subscription is filtering software is up to date.
  • Gmail puts all messages in thinks are spam into a spam folder which I can easily scan any time I want if I want to make sure it hasn’t mistakenly filtered out a legit email.

I have not used Hotmail, YahooMail or other online email services much recently, so it’s possible they can do the same things just as effectively.

4) If you insist on using email software (like Outlook) that runs on your computer and downloads email to your computer, buy spam filtering software for your computer

Because I don’t personally use or recommend this option, I can’t recommend anything specific here.

How big a problem is spam for you personally and your organization?  What steps have you taken to combat spam?  Which have you found to be most effective?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

6 Responses to “Help! How Can I Stop All This Spam?”

  1. The number one method of reducing spam in our organization is grey listing. When you first get an e-mail in issue a temporarily unavailable at the mail server level. After a delay, which can be adjusted based on the domain or country, the e-mail is allowed in and the sender is white listed for a specified interval so further e-mails won’t be delayed. You can create permanent white lists by scouring the mail logs and seeing who the employees have e-mailed. You can also get creative and scan the mails to develop black listed domains that are spamming you and block them completely with the grey list software.

    Some mail servers don’t retry and some mailing lists don’t retry so it isn’t a perfect solution. Very little spam retries though so our spam load dropped from a range of 2 to 6 thousand per day to 70 to 200 per day.

    Spam Assassin is great once they get in, but if they can be handled by the mail server and not get in at all, that’s even better.

  2. The biggest change that really helped me with this came several years ago when I switched to a Mac. I was getting tons of spam with my PC and lots of stuff that my anti-virus was calling viruses. That all ended. Then my web site host had a filter that cleared away a lot of it. I have a new host now, so not sure how that works. I have noticed that I'm getting stuff again. I do have my business email posted on my web site and I know other sites have it posted as well so that people can contact me about script writing. So, I figure I'm fighting a losing battle with this issue, being that I have had the same business email for 11 years now.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 13, 2012 at 6:36 am

      Warren, are you using anti-spam software on your Mac? If so, what is it?

      Instead of listing your email address on your site and others, why not link it to a contact form, encode it with Javascript or at least display it as username (at) host (dot) com?

  3. I still use Outlook. I probably should switch to gmail, but I have a system of folders that I've been using for years in Outlook, and I'm used to it. I use free Cactus Spam filter to help manage the spam, which works well once you've tainted it as to what is and is not spam.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Sep 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks Chris. I appreciate you giving some feedback as an Outlook user and recommending Cactus. I'm sure there are other Outlook users who don't want to switch or can't because their office requires it.