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Wash That Spam Away with MailWasher Pro
by J.A. Hitchcock
Link-Up Digital
December 15, 2004


I couldn’t find an anti-spam software service that made me happy. Vanquish and Spam Arrest were very good at cutting down the amount of spam coming into my Inbox, but I still had a problem.

These services sent “challenge” e-mails to people who were not on my approved list. These people would receive an automated message stating that I was now using an anti-spam service and that they would need to click on the link in the e-mail to be approved before I could receive their message.

I can’t tell you how many times I received another e-mail from these people telling me I had a virus or was spamming them or asking if this was a legitimate e-mail address and Web site.

I got so tired of trying to explain the challenge e-mail to people that I looked for an alternative. MailWasher Pro (http://www.mailwasher.net) was recommended by a friend. I went to the Web site, downloaded the free trial version, and installed it. What I liked most was that I could see all of my e-mail messages before they went to my e-mail program. (The messages stay on the server until you process them.) With Vanquish and Spam Arrest, you have to log in to your account on their Web site to go through your messages.

Setup was easy and similar to the other anti-spam services. I uploaded all the e-mail addresses in my address book in Eudora Pro. I then followed the step-by-step instructions to include my four e-mail addresses.

There are three panes (frames) in MailWasher Pro. The right-hand frame contains three tabs for Friends (approved e-mail addresses and/or domains), Blacklist (unapproved messages—all spam), and Filters. The top-left frame contains several columns when a message comes in and can be customized. I have mine set to show the sender’s address, subject line, date, and status (which separates incoming messages into Known Spam, Origin Blacklisted, Probably Legitimate, or Friend—or it can be left blank). Three boxes allow me to choose whether I want to delete, report, and/or bounce the message.

The bottom frame is my favorite. When a message comes in, I can click once on the basics in the top frame and part or all of the message will appear in the bottom Preview frame. This is especially handy for me because a lot of people (and I don’t know why) send me messages with absolutely no subject line. This is normally categorized as spam by other anti-spam services, but this new ability allows me to change the sender’s status to Friend if I wish or leave it blank (undecided, I suppose). Instead of clicking on Process Mail, I can also do a Quick Reply by clicking on the appropriate button in the Preview frame. This automatically opens up a reply message in Eudora (or whatever e-mail program you use). It’s a nice, but unnecessary, feature.

If the e-mail is spam and isn’t already noted as being Known Spam or Origin Blacklisted, I gleefully check the Report and Bounce boxes. Spam is determined by comparing it to databases of known spammers—FirstAlert!, SpamCop, and Open Relay Database (ORDB). If the incoming spam is in one of these databases, it’s marked as Known Spam or Origin Blacklisted.

I have MailWasher Pro set up to automatically open and gather my e-mail when I turn on my computer in the morning. I usually get quite a bit of e-mail, and sometimes I overlook a message that is legitimate. Many times I’ve deleted a message and then said, “Oops!” If I discover I really want one of those deleted messages, I can click on Tools in the main toolbar, then Statistics, and a separate window appears. I click on Mail Log, find the accidentally deleted message, click on it, and then click on the Restore button. The next time I check for messages, that e-mail will be restored. Phew!

Another nice feature in the Statistics window is the actual statistics. I’ve been using MailWasher Pro for about 3 months, and I’ve seen my spam intake decrease from an average of 200 per day to less than 100. In a 1-month span, I found that I received 16,374 e-mail messages. Of those, 12,135 (74 percent) were spam. (I reported 327 of them.) Of the spam I received: 872 were blacklisted, 566 were in the FirstAlert database, and 111 were designated as spam, according to preset filters in the program.

On a recent day, of the 112 e-mails I received, only 17 were from friends or were legitimate messages. Pretty scary.

As with all software, there are plenty of options and preferences to mull over. I spent a half hour going through all of these to customize MailWasher Pro for my needs. Then I went through the Help section to go over the basics. The MailWasher Web site is also very informative, with an extensive FAQ section and links to related subjects.

I highly recommend MailWasher Pro, mainly because you are in full control of all your messages and can retrieve any that are mistakenly deleted. This is one of the best features. I also like the preset filters and databases that are used to determine if a known spammer is sending me junk. This has made it so much easier for me to get to my legitimate messages.

What’s especially nice is that it works with any POP3, IMAP, Hotmail, or AOL account—the others don’t. And, the one time I had trouble with an update, I got a reply to my e-mail request for help within 1 hour. I was stunned. MailWasher Pro’s customer service is absolutely wonderful and is, by far, above and beyond just about any other software company’s response time.

I also like the e-mail newsletters I get once a week or so from the MailWasher folks. They have some great tips and information—sometimes I can use their advice in presentations I give on cybercrime.

With MailWasher Pro, I don’t have to worry about people freaking out about “challenge” e-mails. They don’t get them anymore—and I decide who’s a friend and who’s a spammer.

MailWasher Pro
http://www.mailwasher.net
30-day free trial
$37 ($9.95 per year after that)

System requirements:
• Works with POP3, IMAP, AOL and Hotmail/MSN
• Windows 95, 98, NT 4, ME, 2000 or XP
• File size: 2.8 MB.
• Download Time: 7 minutes @ 56kbps


Jayne Hitchcock is the author of Net Crimes & Misdemeanors.   Her Web site is www.jahitchcock.com.

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