|Forbes.Com - Ten O'Clock Tech - Anti-Spam Countermeasures |
Arik Hesseldahl, 12.12.02, 10:00 AM ET
NEW YORK - The next time you check your e-mail and want to curse the lowlife responsible for all that unwanted commercial e-mail--aka spam--you might start cursing into a mirror.
Hate the sender all you want, the sad fact is that you may very well be the person ultimately responsible for the spam you receive by giving your address out to various Web sites, posting it to newsgroups or mailing lists, or otherwise exposing it in places where anyone can find it.
It's pretty common these days to use a decoy account. Use one account on a free service like Microsoft's (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) Hotmail or Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ) to give out to Web sites and mailing lists, while keeping your "real" e-mail account--that is, the one you want your friends and family to actually use--a secret given only to trusted people. That works to a point. But it means keeping track of more than a single e-mail account, which can present its own set of organizational challenges.
But a Web service called Spamex gives you a new weapon: A disposable e-mail address. The minute spammers get their grubby little paws on it, you can turn it off so that the next time they try to spam you, the message bounces back as though your address was never there.
The service costs about $10 but also offers a free 30-day trial. It works like this: You create a new address that ends with the domain name "spamex.com." The address can be randomly generated by the Spamex system--an address like email@example.com is the result--or you can think up your own. The Spamex address automatically forwards mail received by that address to whatever address you want.
When you want to sign up for services with a given Web site that requires you to hand over an e-mail address, you can give your Spamex address. If that site sells your address to someone you'd rather not hear from, you can quickly shut off the address in question.
By keeping in mind which disposable addresses you give out to given Web sites or mailing lists, you can determine which site gave our your address in the first place. You can also assign a new disposable address to that site if you want to continue using it and turn off the old disposable address. The site's account management area helps you keep track of all this.
And there doesn't seem to be a limit to how many disposable addresses you can create. We've created about a dozen disposable addresses just by clicking the "create account" button in the spamex account services area after signing up for the free trial.
Another nice feature is the ability send e-mail from any of the disposable addresses directly from the Spamex interface itself, giving you the power to correspond with someone a few times if you need to without revealing your real e-mail address. And it also has a blacklist/whitelist feature that lets you block certain people from sending you mail while allowing others to specific disposable accounts, in case you're not quite ready for whatever reason to dispose of that address.
As with so many aspects of online life, no solution to a problem like spam is perfect. Spammers have turned out to be a resourceful bunch. By some accounts, e-mail spam dates back to 1978 when the only a select few had access to what was then called the ARPANet. It was an invitation to a product demo for a family of computers made by the Digital Equipment Corporation. The reaction was swift. The network was for official government business only.
Of course it's an uncontrollable flood of e-mail now. According to one study by the U.K.-based MessageLabs, one in every 12 e-mail messages is unwanted spam. This comes down, the firm says, to about two spam messages being transmitted every second. And the amount of spam will outstrip legitimate mail by July 2003 if current trends continue. Another estimate, this one by U.S.-based Brightmail, counted more than 5.5 million unique spam incidents in November, up from about 879,000 in June of 2001.
Before it gets better, it's only going to get worse.
Spamex works with any Internet e-mail address and it doesn't seem to care what computing platform you use. The only thing actually installed on your computer is a bookmark so that you can easily return to the site and use your account. If you feel like you're drowning under a mountain of unwanted e-mail, Spamex.com may be worth a visit.