Who Gets No Spam?

Lebkowsky posts about his mostly-rosy transition from Outlook to Thunderbird, but wonders why the spam controls aren’t more robust. “… and though the junk mail filters are clearly catching a large percentage of the umpty hundreds of spams that fall into my mail bucket every day, there’s a bunch more that the filters miss.”

What I don’t get is why people are still dealing with daily buckets of spam on the client side at all. It’s been years since most mail hosts began offering excellent server-side spam handling (Birdhouse included). I’ve found the combination of SpamAssassin + ClamAV + RulesDuJour to be tremendously effective. And don’t forget to disable your “catch-all address — probably the most powerful single spam magnet you can have. After months of not landing a single false positive, I finally stopped using a server-side “Junk box” for monitoring at all – now I just set my spam threshold to 2.5 and let the systems delete spam before it ever hits my server-side mailbox.

Result: About 90% of the mail bound for my addresses is discarded without ever being seen by a human or handled by a mail client. What finally slips through the net is a grand total of about 3-5 spams a day.

On the TWiT podcast, John Dvorak gets teased regularly — by industry experts, no less — for his claim “I get no spam.” What’s so outlandish about that? If you’re still getting spam in your mail client, you probably just need to turn on the controls your mail host probably already has set up for you. And if your mail host doesn’t offer server-side spam controls, find one that does.

Music: Half Man Half Biscuit :: Bottleneck at Capel Curig

13 Replies to “Who Gets No Spam?”

  1. A lot of MIT staff and faculty don’t want server-side filtering because they perceive it as a loss of control, as in, “What if I miss an email?” As you might expect, these are the people who still have a very high signal-to-noise ratio, netting about 80% good mail, 20% spam (or lower!). They also tend to be very “control-oriented”, or Type A, if we’re still using that term.

    When I first read the title for this post in my aggregator, I thought it was going to be about the people who get a couple spams a week and dutifully notify support, the is&t department, the local police task force, the FBI, and the Office of Homeland Security. Some people, somehow, just really do seem to get no spam and then are completely blown away when they do start getting it (and expect someone else to do something about it!).

  2. I see similar phenomenon at Berkeley — the university provides only mediocre spam controls, and no mechanism for reporting false positives or negatives. But all the faculty I deal with would love to see UC crack down much harder and just can it without asking. We do get spam folders to scan, and the incidence of false positives is so low it’s not worth bothering with. After a while, people stop looking at their server-side spam boxes and just ignore them, so what’s the point?

  3. I think it must come down to numbers. I’m at the point now where I receive approximately 10-15 good emails a day, and about 200 spam emails. The only false positives I’ve ID’d are mailing list items, anyway.

    So but ok but my point is: I think the power users are out in front with spam management. What makes sense to us doesn’t make sense to someone who’s getting a 10% noise factor… but you know, and I know: it will.

    I’m quickly learning that, in a university setting at least, if you wait long enough, the idiots will stop yapping and what needs to get done will get done.

    Now if only we could get everyone weaned off of Eudora, we’d be set. :)

  4. Eudora… yeah, that’s a tough battle. Over the past year we brought everyone over to OS X, network homes, iChat, all iMac G5s… an incredible new system. But most of them want to stay on Eudora. We’ve gotten some of them to try Mail.app or Entourage, and everyone who has made the jump has been happy. Hopefully their enthusiasm will be contagious. Eudora is a drag to use and a drag to support.

  5. What’s the big problem with Eudora? I’ve been using it for ages — I have over a decade’s worth of mail archived in my Eudora mailboxes. The only annoyances I have with it (v. 6.2 for Mac OS X) are its inability to render html email and its geeky options for attaching files to send to Windows-using recipients (I like Mail’s simple “Send windows-friendly attachment” checkbox), neither of which are dealbreakers for me. It’s so easy and fast to search through thousands of emails–whee!

  6. Hey Laree –

    To each their own, of course, but my complaints about Eudora:

    – Likes to open every mailbox in a new window (Mac version only)

    – Address book not integrated with system address book

    – Stores addresses in a format that’s really hard to parse/integrate (this is a problem that mostly affects sysadmins)

    – Strange/confusing IMAP support

    – Preferences and controls scattered all over the place

    – Message searching not integrated with Spotlight (not a huge deal)

    – No built-in client-side spam filtering

    That said, it does have its strengths. One thing I miss about Eudora is its “Reply with stationery” option, which is great when you have to answer the same question over and over again. And I also like that it lets you edit the Subject and body of already received messages (Entourage allows, this Mail.app does not).

    All of the mail clients these days seem to handle arbitrarily large mail stores equally well.

  7. Scot, some of your points are well-taken. Not being an administrator, I can’t comment on things like IMAP support (my ISP uses POP) or its address format. Its preferences window does need a redesign, and it is a pain in the butt that you can’t save a contact from Eudora to Mac OS X Address Book. I’m confused about what you mean by “No built-in client-side spam filtering”–it does have built-in junk mail filtering, but my ISP has pretty good spam blocking, so I very rarely get any spam anyway.

    My best to Amy and the chronic-passing little fella. ;-)

  8. I’ve been pondering a switch from Eudora to T’bird for a couple of months. Unfortunately I’m all pc nowadays and have to use Outlook to interact with coworkers, however keep a second client app for my personal account.

    What does it mean to: “disable your catch-all address — probably the most powerful single spam magnet you can have”?
    This sounds like something I should take advantage of… or is this sysadmin-only stuff?

  9. Steve, the comment “disable your catch-all address” refers, I believe, to the email setup a domain owner might have that says, “if an email comes in addressed as somename@mydomain.org, and there’s no email acct for somename, then route that email to root@mydomain.org (or some, other real acct).”

    I host the web site and email accts for a domain I administer at Scot’s birdhouse.org hosting service (natch!) and my domain registrar (not birdhouse) does just this sort of catch-all address thing. Doesn’t usually cause me problems, but on occasion I get a minor flood of spam to delete.

  10. Every email client has its strengths and weaknesses, of course, and if Eudora works for you, I can’t make a strong case for you to switch to anything else, but I will say that from a support perspective:

    * Eudora breaks more than any other client I’ve seen, and when it does break, it breaks for weird reasons and is hard to fix. Half the problems in our case queue at any given time are Eudora problems.

    * Historically, I’ve never seen Eudora handle large mailboxes or large numbers of mailboxes very well. If you have a large amount of mail (>250mb), Eudora will eventually implode.

    * MIT has historically been very Eudora-oriented, but we finally had to throw up our hands in disgust because Qualcomm was so uncooperative when we’d point out bugs or things that should be fixed/changed. How long will they remain in business when they snub a 15,000-client strong user base??

    I’m not saying it’s a bad product, just that I don’t want to support it. Ever.

  11. Larree – Hmm, guess I’m wrong about Eudora not having client-side spam filtering. Maybe it’s our university distribution of it that doesn’t? Not sure. Can you click a Junk/Not Junk button for any message to train Eudora?

    Steve – David’s got it right. In the old days it was convenient to be able to say “You can write me at [anything]@birdhouse.org – I own the whole domain!” But the preponderance of that practice has encouraged spammers to bombard domains with [every-word-in-the-dictionary] and [every name and nickname in a name dictionary]@birdhouse.org. Which means your domain will end up handling thousands of times more mail than it should have to. So these days I strongly recommend that customers set up the addresses and forwarders/aliases they want and discard everything else at the server level, before it even enters the mail queue: http://hosting.birdhouse.org/show.php?ID=33

  12. “Can you click a Junk/Not Junk button for any message to train Eudora?”

    You sure can. I rarely do that these days, as I use a .Mac account for email, and Apple seems to have very good spam filtering. My work email ISP on the other hand…

  13. “Can you click a Junk/Not Junk button for any message to train Eudora?”
    Yes, but (at least on PC) button react SOOOO slow.

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