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Can spam: An alternative way to avoid junk emails

  • 15 February, 2007 11:42

<p>By Amy Richardson, Office Professional (www.officeprofessional.com.au)</p>
<p>SPAM. Just hearing the word provokes a mild irritation. There’s even a name coined for the overwhelming urge to throw your computer out the window when faced with an inbox full of Viagra ads – spam rage.</p>
<p>This anger has already claimed many victims. Consider poor Charlie Booher, an American testicular cancer survivor who was arrested for threatening to send a caseload of anthrax spores to the company that was relentlessly plaguing him with penis enlargement advertisements. Tragically, Booher committed suicide one week before his court appearance on charges that could have seen him imprisoned for up to five years.</p>
<p>While this case is extreme, there’s no denying it’s frustrating to have your professional and personal communication interrupted by a barrage of unsolicited emails. Conversely, not receiving expected emails because they’ve been waylaid by your spam filtering system can be time consuming and annoying.</p>
<p>Data security expert Peter Stewart explains that the problem with traditional filtering systems is that they are arbitrary.</p>
<p>“You can send me a dozen emails and they’ll all get through and then filtering will pick on the 13th and it will be sent off to a quarantine folder,” he said.</p>
<p>“You have no assurance that any mail you send to me is actually going to get to me.”</p>
<p>However, there are viable alternatives to the standard filtering process. Stewart, who is chairman of TotalBlock, believes that using a challenge-response method of blocking spam can help people minimise the time they spend dealing with nuisance emails.</p>
<p>When someone sends an email to a system that has a system such as TotalBlock in place, they receive an email from the address informing them that they are not authorised to do so. They are then prompted to follow a simple set of instructions to enable their emails to get through to the intended recipient.</p>
<p>“You’re then authorised and in you’ll come. With the challenge-response method, once you’re in, you’re in – every mail will get through. You no longer have to concern yourself that some important email has been arbitrarily [labelled] as spam and put off in a bucket somewhere,” Stewart said.</p>
<p>This process deflects machine generated junk by utilising what Bill Gates refers to as the “human puzzle” according to Stewart.</p>
<p>“The drone computers can’t respond to the challenge – they don’t understand what it is that they’ve got back, nor what they’re meant to do with it. Only a human being can respond to it – a computer can’t,” he said.</p>
<p>Challenge-response methods such as TotalBlock are particularly useful for people who deal with content that is likely to fall foul of traditional filters.</p>
<p>“They are looking for words that are common in the soliciting emails, like ‘Viagra’, or ‘medicine’ or ‘financial’. Mail that drifts into those areas can be arbitrarily quarantined,” Stewart said.</p>
<p>This in turn gives rise to a whole new set of problems. Security measures are usually relaxed and the onslaught of spam is enough to cause the office IT person to start pulling out their hair.</p>
<p>“The person who’s sitting there doing the filtering constantly has to monitor those filters to see whether they’re either too tight or too loose. Basically, you’ve got a person who is a wasted entity, fretting over what people are doing to try and get through the wall,” Stewart said.</p>
<p>“With TotalBlock, you’ve got nobody doing that; the computer’s doing all the work – which is what it’s designed to do.”</p>
<p>TotalBlock builds a list of acceptable incoming email senders, using a person’s address book in addition to replying automatically to any emailers. While not everybody may respond to the challenge, TotalBlock utilises a method of monitoring activity so that a business or individual is not in danger of losing any potential new customers or opportunities.</p>
<p>“We have a log that you can look at to see what’s going on, just in case there is someone that didn’t respond to that challenge but that you actually wanted to receive a mail from. You can release the block from that person,” Stewart explained.</p>
<p>“You can also have certain aspects of the mail presented to you, so you’re only looking at a few of those emails in your history search, and it’s consolidated on a screen with bubble help so you can go in and spend a few seconds having a look.”</p>
<p>Stewart said the feedback to TotalBlock has been positive. “We get responses from our clients saying, ‘I used to spend two hours a day wrestling with 300 emails; now I spend 10 seconds having a look and it’s all over’.”</p>
<p>But he said that some never bother to check their activity logs at all. “As one of our customers says, ‘If they don't want to respond, they really didn't want to get to me in the first place’.”</p>
<p>For more information
Peter Stewart, TotalBlock Pty Ltd
(02) 9437 9800</p>

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