Spam and how to deal with it

Spam sucks. I’m fortunate in that I only get ten to twenty per day, but I know people who receive ninety to a hundred, which is a real pain. While you can’t stop spam arriving, there are various approaches to dealing with it before it arrives in your inbox. This is what worked for me.

One program: POPFile.

POPFile is an email classification program. It sits between your email program and the email server and works by analysing the content of emails then placing them into ‘buckets’. ‘Buckets’ are essentially categories for your email. Your email program, for example Outlook Express, can then filter the emails into different folders based on their classification.

1. You open Outlook Express. OE communicates with POPFile, giving it the details of your email server.
2. POPFile downloads your email, classifies it, then changes it in a way of your choosing to indicate the classification. The standard way of doing this is to insert a [<bucket name>] into the subject line of the email.
3. Outlook Express receives the email from POPFile. You can configure OE to filter all emails with, say, [spam] in the subject line, into a separate folder.

The obvious question here is: how does POPFile classify your emails? Well, it’s not an automatic process. Once you’ve configured your ‘buckets’, the very first emails it downloads will not be classified. You need to open up the User Interface and tell POPFile which ‘bucket’ they should go into. From then on, based on the content of the email, POPFile will try to figure it out. When it gets one wrong, you need to go in and change it. It will become more and more accurate. In my case it took about a week before I didn’t have to enter the user interface on a daily basis. Having used it for a month, it gets probably one wrong per week. My current statistics:

Messages classified: 368
Classification errors: 7
Stats reset on October 30th.

A 98.09% accuracy is pretty much all you can ask for πŸ™‚

I found the setup guide on the website extremely clear and easy to follow, so haven’t tried to replicate it here. I would offer the following tips:

  • For some reason POPFile runs in a console window by default. You can change this in the ‘Configuration’ screen. ‘Show POPFile icon in Windows system tray’ is also a useful option to turn on, as it gives you a shortcut to the User Interface.
  • If you run Outlook (not OE) / Eudora / anything that can filter by the email headers, the “X-Text-Classification” header is more transparent than altering the subject line.
  • Check for new versions regularly, as they come out fairly frequently.

I thoroughly recommend this program. The last update fixed the only major problem I had with it, which was the extremely slow startup time. As it’s a classification program rather than a purpose-built spam filter it also works for other types of emails you wish to separate, although I use multiple email addresses so don’t really need this. I’ve tried various spam-filters, and this has turned out to be the best. It’s a bit more work than SpamAssassin or Cloudmark, but worth it, in my view. And it’s free πŸ™‚

All that remains is for me to point you here, and we’re done.