Spam Be Gone

Part II of my series on privacy tools; see Part I if you’re searching for ways to foil spammers of the telephone type.
E-mail spam is, of course, evil, and must, of course, be destroyed. After years of mostly ignoring it, I finally reached a point recently where I decided to do something about it, and, in typical Bear fashion, went on a hunt for the picks, axes, and implements of destruction that might aide me in my task.
I am sad to say that I was not impressed with the crop of spam-filtering software I encountered; at least, not with the ones I wouldn’t have to pay for. Unlike other product categories (say, firewalls) there didn’t seem to be a clear freeware tool that was widely recognized as robust and complete.
But I did encounter one commercial tool that integrates with Microsoft Outlook that struck my fancy, and which I’ve been trying under a 30-day demo. It’s called ValiMail, and it solves spam problems by avoiding entirely the idea of “filters”.
Instead, it takes the draconian approach of assuming that anybody you haven’t explicitly told it to accept mail from is a potential spammer, who must be stopped. If you get an email from a new, unidentified source, the mail is intercepted as it hits your Outlook inbox. ValiMail hides it from your view, and sends the source a preformatted message that gives the instructions on how to request permission to send you email (the instructions include a special step designed to ensure they cannot be completed by a machine).
If the source decides to comply, you get a request in your Valimail toolbar (which sits up on the Outlook bar) from them to be approved. You can either accept, or decide to block them entirely (both steps you can also take in advance right when you received the message, if you choose).
It’s fairly spiffy stuff, and I like the concept a lot. It is, however, fairly new, and that shows in a few limitations. Notably, if you are protecting multiple E-mail accounts, you need to make sure that your default Outlook mail account is OK for all your mail correspondents to receive notifications from — because that’s the one ValiMail uses to send its messages for all accounts. This is a problem for me, for instance, because I have my real-life personal mail, and my N.Z. Bear mail, and I don’t want the two to mix. And also: it’s Microsoft Outlook only; which I know makes it useless for many folks.
So, for the moment, ValiMail is protecting my personal mail, not my Bearmail. But I didn’t want to leave BearMail completely exposed — and I’ve got that nice big fat target of a mail link right below my picture on the front page here.
So I finally got around to checking out my friend Mean Dean’s Anti-Spam E-Mail Address Obfuscator . Dean provides a nice discussion of email masking techniques, and then shows his own tool: a handy little web form that generates an “a href=” link for your E-mail address suitable for use on a web page that, in theory, will confuse the devil out of any spambots searching for new victims. (If you want to go straight to Dean’s tool, use this link).
I just implemented it last night, so can’t vouch for its efficacy firsthand yet, but I figure Dean’s got friends in high places, so that will count for something.
I’d welcome more suggestions on folks’ favorite tools — I’m still particularly interested in any solid freeware antispam solutions. Look forward to hearing from y’all…
Update 10/16: Dean points out an interesting tool for those of you who don’t just want to stop spam — but want to hunt it back to its source…