How To Fight Spam
Are you fed up with receiving spam & virus emails in your mailbox?
Spam is becoming an increasing problem on the web. Spammers are getting more & more persistent, & small business people are becoming overwhelmed with spam. One of the questions we are often asked is: "How do I fight spam"?
With this in mind we have written this guide on some techniques that we have adopted to help limit the amount of spam & virus emails we receive in our mailbox.
As well as this guide, if you have a cPanel web hosting account with us, there are some valuable tools included to help you to fight spam. Read our 10 spam fighting tips first, & then click here to get information on the tools included in cPanel that will help to further reduce spam from your mailbox.
Spam fighting tip no. 1.: Never put your email address on your web site.
The mistake many webmasters make when building their web site, is to take the easy option & have a link to their email address on their web pages, rather than having a form for visitors to contact them.
Having your email address encoded anywhere on your web site is an open invitation to spammers to include your email address in their database. Spammers 'spider' the internet, & include any email addresses found on web sites in their spam database.
Your Alternatives: There are several alternatives to having your email address encoded into your web site. The best method is to have a form designed, which your site visitors fill in to request information or to contact you. The form is submitted using either a CGI, PHP or ASP script, where the email address is hidden inside the script code (NOT included in the form code on your web page). An example of this is the ContactUs form on our own web site.
A CGI script that we recommend is NMS formmail, which can be downloaded at: http://nms-cgi.sourceforge.net/scripts.shtml The script allows you to hide your email address within the form code, out of the reach of spammers 'spiders'.
Other methods you can use are having your email address as an image file as in this example: instead of encoded into your site as firstname.lastname@example.org. Spiders cannot read the email address that is in the image, but they can read the email address coded as plain text on your site.
Another method some webmasters use is to have their email address written as: myemail@NOSPAMmydomain.com (please remove NOSPAM from the email address). The idea of this method is to fool the spam spiders, however site visitors have to remember to remove NOSPAM from the address before sending an email.
Of the above methods, using a form in combination with a CGI, PHP or ASP script is by far the best & most professional way of hiding your email address from the spammers, while still allowing your site visitors an easy & convenient way of contacting you.
Spam fighting tip no. 2.: Never subscribe to lists or newsletters with your business email address.
We have all done it at some time. We subscribe to a list or a newsletter with our email address, & find out that we have ended up on not just one, but tens or even hundreds of email lists. If you are going to subscribe to a list, make certain that you use a 'disposable' email address. A disposable email address is an address such as a Hotmail or yahoo address that can be discarded when spam starts to overwhelm your mailbox.
There are many legitimate mailing lists & newsletters out there who do respect your privacy & who do not divulge your email address to any other party, however there are also plenty of 'internet cowboys' out in cyberspace as well.
When in doubt, always use your disposable email address. Legitimate mailing lists will usually have some way to change your email address if you want to remain a subscriber when it is time to dispose of your 'disposable' email address.
Spam fighting tip no. 3.: Do not use common names as email addresses.
Even if you do not have your email address published on your web site, or subscribe to any lists, sometimes you will still be hit with spam. This is because spammers spiders will still index your web site name, even when they cannot find a legitimate email address on your web site. The spammer will then send spam to the most commonly used email names, such as email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc. When spammers send out bulk email, they usually do it in the 10's of millions at a time. They figure that most web sites will have at least one of the common email names in use, so their ads will still end up in your mail box.
You can avoid this spammer tactic by avoiding the commonly used email names. Try something like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of just email@example.com to try to foil the spammers.
Spam fighting tip no. 4.: Do NOT enable the email 'catch-all' on your web hosting plan.
Most of our web hosting plans have a 'catch-all' available that you can enable to catch any emails sent to your domain, even when the email address does not actually exist. The way the catch all works is that an email sent to a non-existant email address of say firstname.lastname@example.org will be re-directed to a valid email address of say email@example.com.
Unfortunately enabling your catch-all will also catch a lot of spam, particularly spam targeted at common names. For this reason you should turn off the catch-all feature in your control panel (on most plans the catch-all is turned off by default)
Spam fighting tip no. 5.: Never unsubscribe to spam using unsubscribe links in spam emails.
You will often find an 'unsubscribe' option at the bottom of many spam emails. Attempting to unsubscribe from the spam database will usually have the opposite effect of what you intended. Rather than unsubscribing you, your email address will usually end up in hundreds of other spam databases. Clicking on any link in a spam email also puts your computer at risk of becoming infected with spyware, or a virus.
Spam fighting tip no. 6.: Never ever purchase anything from a spammer, or click on any links in spam emails.
Spammers are usually not in any legitimate business for the long haul. They are usually not in any legitimate business at all, preferring to run cons & scams to make a living. Anybody who thinks they can grow a legitimate business by sending out spam emails will find themselves out of business very quickly.
Most spammers are con artists. No matter how compelling an offer looks, never ever purchase anything from a spammer. Spam emails also often have hidden code, or link to web pages that contain hidden code that can install spyware, malaware or viruses onto your computer.
Often if you click on a link in a spam email, spyware or malaware is secretly installed on your computer. If you give a spammer your credit card information, your credit card will usually be kept on file to be used for fraudulent purposes at a later date.
It is also very unlikely that you will receive the product you have paid for. Even if you do, it is unlikely the product will do what it was claimed it would do.
Even if the business IS legitimate, you should not reward their unethical & illegal marketing efforts by purchasing products or services from them. Most legitimate businesses who attempt to gain market share by using spam email find themselves out of business very quickly.
Most ethical web hosting companies will not tolerate spam being sent from their servers, & will disable the offending web site from their servers. The company will also be blacklisted from using other ethical web hosting companies to host their web site, so you are putting your money at risk by purchasing from them.
Spam fighting tip no. 7.: Always keep an up to date virus scanner & spyware scanning tools on your computer, & keep your operating system patched with the latest security patches.
If you download emails & surf the internet on a regular basis, at some time or other your computer WILL be infected with a virus or spyware, unless you have up to date tools installed on your computer to combat these threats.
Back when 28.8K modems were the fastest way to connect to the internet, you could possibly get away without having virus scanning & spyware tools on your computer, as they were not all that prevalent back then.
However that time has long passed, & having virus & spyware scanning tools on your home or work computer is an absolute must. These tools must also be kept up to date. You must also keep your operating system patched with the latest security updates.
If the subscription for your virus scanner has expired, & you no longer get regular updates, then do yourself (& everybody else) a favour. Subscribe again today, & keep your subscription up to date, so that you are protected against the latest threats.
If your virus scanner is out of date, & you never update your operating system with the latest security patches, & have never scanned your computer for spyware or adware, then your computer is probably already compromised, & your data & privacy is at risk!
Spam fighting tip no. 8.: Be prepared to change your business email address on a regular basis.
Even if you religiously follow all of the steps above, unfortunately other people do not, so it is still possible that you will be hit by spam & virus emails, especially if your email address has been in use for some time.
The problem is, every time you reply to some bodies email address who has sent a request for information or made a purchase from your web site, etc. your email address ends up on the other parties computer, & often in their email address book.
If you have been in business for sometime, your email address could be in hundreds of peoples email address books, & one or several of these people could have a virus or spyware on their computer.
If it is spyware, then the spyware can often retrieve your email address from their address book & register it in spam databases.
Viruses will often use the email address book to replicate itself. How this works is like this:
- You reply to a request for information that a visitor to your web site has sent you in a form submission.
- The visitor then replies to the email you have sent them. Your email address then automatically goes into the address book on their computer.
- The visitors computer already is, or becomes infected with a virus.
- The virus uses your email addresses in their address book to send copies of itself to other email addresses in their address book.
- Your email address, along with the virus, ends up on hundreds, if not thousands of other computer computers connected to the internet, as the virus continues to replicate itself & infect other computers.
- The virus then attempts to send itself back to your computer, using the hundreds of other computers that your email address has now found itself on.
- You may be hit with hundreds of virus emails over a period of days, as the virus uses these other computers to send itself to your email address. You have no way of tracking where the virus is coming from, because the reply email address is not related to the computers where the virus is coming from.
When you start to receive viruses or spam on a regular basis to your business email address, then it is usually time to change your email address. This can be a major problem for most business, especially if they have their email address embedded in scripts on their web site, & printed on their business stationary etc.
One way to help is to always have a reply email address that is different to your regular email address. It is the reply email address that is changed on a regular basis, not your regular email address.
For example, lets say your regular email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, & this is the email address that is embedded in your scripts to email to you the form data is used to capture customer information on your web site, such as a contact form.
When you receive the form data in your mail box, it will be emailed to email@example.com. When you reply to the person requesting the information, you should reply with a different email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. This way email@example.com never ends up on the other persons computer, only firstname.lastname@example.org does, & this is the email address that you change on a regular basis (say every 6 - 12 months).
Spam fighting tip no. 9: Use the spam fighting tools provided in your cPanel control panel
If you have a cPanel based web hosting account with us, there are extensive tools contained in your cPanel control panel. You can use these to help fight spam. For further information on the spam tools available in cPanel & how to use them, click here.
Spam fighting tip no. 10: Use all of the above tips in combination, & even invent some of your own
If you use all of the tips above, you should eliminate a good deal of the spam & virus emails you receive every day. Unfortunately spammers & viruses are always evolving & getting more & more cunning, so you may be able to invent some ideas of your own to help fight spam. If you know of any good ideas that has helped you to eliminate spam from your email inbox, we would love to hear them.