Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
November/December 2003, by Delia Venables

How to Avoid Spam
If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem
by Alan Tomlinson

Whilst time wasting is the main Spam related complaint of most email users, the volume of this irrelevant and sometimes offensive material has other implications. To the IT Manager or Service provider, Spam takes up "bandwidth" and thus has a bad effect on the performance and cost of its network infrastructure. Whilst everyone wants to keep users happy, to simply treat the symptoms is to miss the point, and uses up yet more network resources. Providers of desktop Anti-Virus & Anti-Spam products and services will whistle all the way to the bank whilst wholesale methods of prevention continue to be largely overlooked.

Various Anti-Spam organisations exist to try to curb unsolicited mail. When specific servers are reported to these organisations, they ultimately become "blacklisted" and ISPs can then use the lists to block mail from offenders to their customers. If Spam is properly reported and the lists are responsibly used, this is very effective and can stop the problem at its root. ISPs who become listed due to the activity of their customers must take responsibility to find and suspend the offending user accounts very quickly.

"Spammers" can, however, avoid becoming "blacklisted" themselves by using other people ' servers & Internet connections to relay mail on their behalf. By sending a few short commands over the Internet, improperly configured servers belonging to unsuspecting Internet users can be made to distribute junk mail. Such misconfigured servers are disturbingly common, in fact until quite recently the default setting for MS was to act as an "Open Mail Relay". This effectively allows anyone with sufficient knowledge to send their Spam at little or no cost, or risk of being identified. Many IT companies despite impressive looking certification by software manufacturers, are guilty of failing to secure servers by not changing default software settings, and/or not keeping them up to date on security service packs & patches.

ISPs with customers running "Open Mail Relays" face the very real prospect of being blacklisted, whilst the real offenders remain unhindered, other than having to find new servers to do their dirty work. In reality organisations responsible for spamming, compile lists of servers they can use in much the same way that they harvest email addresses. If this ability to hide their identity were curtailed, sources of spam would be relatively easy to detect and thus filter. To this end responsible parties, Lawyers Online included, have systems to scan for "Open Mail relays" among those attempting to send mail across their networks. The owners of such servers can be told get them properly configured or even reported directly to "blacklists".

The article continues with detailed suggestions as to how to avoid being spammed when building a web site or when using other peoples' web sites; also what to do with received spam; and a series of useful references for further information. Download the full article as a Microsoft Word document from here.

Alan Tomlinson is Business Director of Lawyers Online Ltd. Lawyers Online was founded in 1998 by a busy Sole Practitioner, Rosie Houghton, who was dissatisfied with the range of substandard and/or overpriced 'professional' ISP services for Lawyers. The company has grown to provide 1500+ multi-user Firms, Chambers and Legal IT companies with Dial-up, ISDN & Broadband Connections, as well as bespoke Mail delivery, Web programming and IP Security services. The company remains privately owned and is managed by Directors Alan Tomlinson and Bill Naylor.

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