Do-It-Yourself Spam Fighting

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-09-16 Print this article Print

AlienCamel provides a decent filtered e-mail account, although it's not a solution for everyone.

Some e-mail services provide spam filtering, but perhaps the better approach is a spam-filtering service that also gives you an e-mail account. For $15.99 for six months, AlienCamel gives you a spam-filtered POP3 or IMAP mail account. And we found that AlienCamels innovative, proprietary approach to spam filtering works fairly well.

At the core of the service are server-based whitelists and blacklists. Mail from users on your whitelist goes straight to your in-box. Mail from users on your blacklist goes to the Spam folder. Mail from other users is stored in a Pending folder, and you are notified by an e-mail (called the Pending Messages Advisory) that contains a list of those senders and the subject lines of the pending mail.

The Advisory is not just a message but an HTML form in which AlienCamel classifies each e-mail either as probably spam or probably not spam, using two different spam-filtering algorithms. For each pending message, you can whitelist the sender and accept the mail, blacklist the sender and send the mail to the spam folder, retrieve the mail without whitelisting, or reject the message without blacklisting.

We set up an IMAP account and used AlienCamel for almost a month. By the end, we were still seeing some spam listed as probably legitimate mail, but we hadnt seen a real message classified as spam in weeks.

We like that the Pending Messages Advisory interface let us filter spam without having to look at the actual messages, but sometimes the sender name and subject line can be ambiguous indicators of whether a message is spam. And there is no way to preview the message except by opening the Pending folder in your mail client.

The other problem, which may be a deal breaker for some users, is that AlienCamel works only with POP3 and IMAP software. If you want to use AOL or Web-based mail, youre out of luck. But since you can read POP3 mail into an AlienCamel account, you can continue to use an existing POP3 account.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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