What to do

The end of the Clinton campaign is afoot, droughts in California, and I can’t find a stretch of non-rainy days so that I can get my deck stained.  And now to top it all off, it appears our Internet connection is going to be fussy today, or maybe it’s just Google, it only seems to be our calendar and webmail that’s being a pain, oh, no, it’s other stuff too.  Turbo tax tells me that they value my privacy and won’t sell my email address, and the design star show starts on HGTV.  I’m still hoping to win the Green Home sweepstakes.  Oh look, books, electronics and tools would make good father’s day gifts.  I can also read about generating select statement with columns, AJAX php editing, or a coldfusion hit counter….  and something’s shipped…. but it’s not my Wii Fit.  Bummer.

All day long we’re bombarded with information, things we don’t need to read, things we may want to, and things that completely waste our time.  The stuff I mentioned above is stuff I’ve signed up to email lists for.  I have some shopping lists, some tech industry mails and some coding mails that get sent to me daily.  A lot of it I trash as soon as it makes its way to my inbox, but some of it I occasionally read.  I’m thankful these days for spam filters, more than I ever have.  Ninety percent  of my email is spam, and without it I would be wasting even more time making sure that it wasn’t actually something I wanted to read.  Thank you spam filters.

So what exactly is a spam filter and how does it work?  Well, for every flavor of spam, there is a flavor of spam filter available, or in development.  There are generally a few basics that go into spam filtration.  The first one is the use of  word filters,  which could be words you decide, or your company decides, or even your spam prevention program decides (if you have one).   Usually this is a giant list of words that you want to block, or it can be ‘fuzzy logic’ based to count the number of occurrences of certain words to determine if it might be spam.  That’s why you’ll see a ton of mails lately with horrifically spelled words, which you can still seem to read.  Another sort of filter is a check on the email origination.  Who sent it, what server sent it, and does the server exist.  The spam filter will check the headers of the email (code stuff that generally you don’t see) to find this information.  Most mails can be tracked back to their exact sending point… unless the sender is relatively clever.  The check will do a reverse dns lookup which means that it looks up the mail sender’s or mail sender’s server domain to make sure that the domain really exists, or if it’s a fake.  Sometimes it looks for special DNS records called SPF (sender policy framework) to make sure the server does indeed matches the sending domain, so that the domain is not being ‘spoofed’.   You many have seen quite a few times where you get email spam coming to you using your own email addresses.   A SPF record will usually help solve this, but not too many people use it, so it will tend to block more than help. Of course there are also mailing programs that mess around with the header information to trick the spam filter.  You just have to have a spam filter that’s smarter than those sending spam…. which isn’t easy to find.

Since we at DDA provide email services to our clients, we have had to learn all of this the hard way over the years.  Sometimes companies block our emails, and we have to find out why, and the why usually leads us to learning more about what constitutes spam, and how to correctly set up our email server and our outgoing email.  Unfortunately for us, along with everything else that moves so fast in this IT world, we can’t always keep up, which is why we have begun recommending Google for email.  Their spam filter is fantastic and the add-ons are great too.  That way we don’t have to contend with the trouble of sending or receiving spam mails.  Of course I still have to glance through what seems like a million (but probably several hundred) daily spam mails to make sure that one of our clients hasn’t been accidentally filtered off , but on the whole, I’d much rather have that than the alternative.