Keeping the puck out

Are we all sick of talking about spam yet? I'm trying make a point of not being upset by it anymore. It's a constant, an inevitability, a simple irrefutable fact of having a digital life and, like other things that you can't do much about, it's better just to take a deep breath and get over it. Isn't it?

Wahoo! It’s Stanley Cup finals time! I’m not a big fan of either the Ducks or the Devils but finals hockey is always exciting stuff. Even more excitingly, my own season finally got underway last Saturday night.

I didn’t exactly set the rink alight but I still managed to play hard enough to achieve a couple of minutes in the box (and at least all the bones in my hand stayed together). The rest of the team managed to put the puck in the back of the net enough times that we won, so it was a pretty good result really. Roll on next Saturday night.

Speaking about things getting past the goalie, are we all sick of talking about spam yet? I’m trying make a point of not being upset by it anymore. It’s a constant, an inevitability, a simple irrefutable fact of having a digital life and, like other things that you can’t do much about, it’s better just to take a deep breath and get over it. Isn’t it?

However (there’s always a “however”, isn’t there?), I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. Some of the porn/impotence drug/penis growth merchants are now sending their spam in HTML format and including some pretty explicit images so that you get full in-your-face stuff in your mail client’s preview panel.

The porno-spam phenomenon is a very nasty thing for businesses that use email (are there any who don't?). We’ve had several staff extremely upset by the unsolicited contents of their inboxes. It’s a risky thing for a business to expose their people to this kind of thing, so we really do have to take it seriously.

Sending explicit content like this unsolicited surely has to be illegal or at least in contravention of most reputable ISPs' acceptable use policies. Surely all you’d have to do is complain to the spammer’s ISP and local law enforcement and you’ll have got it sorted. Nope. It’s fine in theory but (a) the law is an ass and doesn’t care about spam (actually, even in places which actually have anti-spam laws, I don’t think the law has time or really the teeth to deal with this epidemic), (b) spammers don’t tend to use reputable ISPs and (c) who has all day to spend sending complaints off to coppers and ISPs on the off-chance you’ll shut a spammer down?

I, for one, don’t. Every working day is a desperate triage of competing demands and spam just doesn’t feature high on the list of stuff I need to get sorted out. That said, I will occasionally have a crack at a particularly stupid spammer, though usually the return just isn’t worth the effort.

Then there’s plan B – block the stuff. This too is easier said than done. Through very carefully setting up a bunch of what I thought were devilishly clever rules in Outlook to route dodgy looking email to a junk folder, I recently managed to miss out reading half of a reasonably important email conversation. Bugger. I know there are smarter tools out there but, frankly, no tool will ever be 100% accurate or effective.

So that leaves the tried and true method – the Delete key. That means you need to educate your people. Make them aware of what spam is and why they’re receiving it. Teach them to delete and to never, ever respond, especially to those bogus opt-out addresses that spammers use to confirm that (a) you exist and (b) you are stupid enough that you might just buy something off them.

Which brings me to my last point – don’t ever buy anything off a spammer.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons in South Auckland. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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