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Fighting your own battle against the global spam epidemic
Spam is everywhere these days. These annoying and often offensive messages are clogging mail servers and cluttering up the inboxes of every e-mail user on the Internet. The realities of the spam epidemic are too real, and have been around for some time:

Large forces are fighting the battle against the spam epidemic at a technological and regulatory level -- but a skirmish in that battle is also being waged in your inbox. Here is some helpful information for HostCentric customers to help you in the heat of combat:

HostCentric's spam filters use a set of global characteristics to identify spam. These characteristics have to do with pattern recognition (in subject lines, from addresses, bodies of messages), the volume of similar messages received, and a host of other factors, compiled in real time with advanced "Bayesian" algorithms. Our filters are continually being educated by the millions of messages they are processing. Most spam filters (like ours) have some degree of feedback built into them -- if enough people label a type of message as not-spam, the filters will pass it through. Likewise, if an unfiltered message is identified as spam, the filters will label future messages that match its patterns as spam.

Your account on the HostCentric platform gives you a degree of control over the spam filtering done to mail sent to you. When looking at each of the millions of messages received, our spam filter assigns a degree of confidence ranking to it - a message containing four references to the word "Viagra" may get a 97% ranking; one mention may merit only 75%. By changing the confidence threshold on your spam filter to Medium, for example, the filters will only treat messages with 90% or higher rankings as spam; raising it to High may change the threshold to 97%.

No spam filter is perfect, and all run the risk of falsely identifying legitimate messages as spam. There is a balance to be struck between the amount of spam one lets through and the amount of legitimate messages one might block. The more you block, the higher your risk of false positives.

But there are ways to fight back. If a legitimate message made its way through the filters with a "SPAM" prefix on the subject line, you can add that address to your personal "white list." Messages from addresses on your white list will automatically be delivered to you no matter how much they look like spam. Conversely, the from address on a spam message that made it through the filters somehow can be added to your "black list" -- and the spam filter will never deliver a message from that address again.

If you want to block the largest amount of spam, but don't want to risk not receiving a legitimate message, you can use your spam filter settings to deliver all messages below your threshold to a dedicated folder in your mailbox. Those messages will be "out of sight, out of mind", but won't be deleted for a week or so. If you get a report that a message may not have been delivered to you correctly, you can try to find it in the folder -- and immediately white list the sender's address to prevent the problem from happening again.

Unfortunately, your recipients are most likely on the receiving end of other companies' spam filters, which may or may not be smart enough to let your messages through. If you get reports that your recipients are not receiving your messages, or are receiving them with "SPAM:"-style labels, they may have to wrestle with their own settings to get them to come through.

For further information, HostCentric offers a detailed tutorial on managing your spam settings.

This is a global problem, of course. The reason legitimate messages are being labeled as spam is not because the spam filters are malfunctioning -- the problem is that the spammers are making their messages look more and more like legitimate mail. Labeling suspected spam with a tag like "SPAM" (instead of deleting it outright) is one way to reduce the risk of "false positives" -- a message may look like spam, but you still receive it.

Spam seems to be the price we pay for using the Internet these days. Until the larger battle is won, these imperfect measures are our best way of fighting back.

- 05/16/05 at 10:42 ET