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The Enterprise:
Is This the Solution for SPAM?

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
June 2005 Issue
  By Clive Finkelstein

This column is dedicated to new technologies for the enterprise. In previous months, I have discussed enterprise architecture methods and technologies for service-oriented architecture (SOA). I will move away from these topics this month and address a solution to the scourge that afflicts us all - spam.

Only few short years ago, I still used mail and fax to communicate. Today, all the communication that I receive is by e-mail. It has been years since I last wrote a letter that was sent by postal mail. In fact, the only time our company needs to fax is when hard copy receipts are sent to accompany an invoice. Like you, today my working life is totally dependent on e-mail.

Yet also like you, I am affected by spam. This is the electronic counterpart of junk mail that used to overflow our mailbox. Or it did, until I attached a sign below the mailbox slot for the letter carrier reading: "No Junk Mail Allowed." Its affect was amazing! The junk mail problem immediately disappeared!

Spam has been growing steadily - it now afflicts us all to a greater or lesser degree at home and at work. At first, I was pleasantly surprised to find the volume of my e-mail was growing greater by the day. This is how I communicate with the world. Yet increasingly I found a growing proportion of this e-mail was unsolicited junk. Much was offensive, while some was attempted fraud - whether from Nigeria promising to share untold millions or "phishing" attempts pretending to be from my bank.

The volume of my e-mail grew until I was receiving 500 to 600 e-mail messages per day, and there was no sign of it tapering off. Yet only two to three percent was valid e-mail that was truly meant for me. Filtering out the valid messages took me more and more time until I realized I was spending more than two hours each day scanning and deleting spam. Sound familiar?

Large corporations, with financial and technical resources to draw upon, have been able to use hardware or software solutions that catch and eliminate junk before it reaches their employees' e-mail boxes, protecting them as a whole. However, small and medium enterprises have been less fortunate; they have fewer resources to allocate to solve this problem. We have had to rely on spam filtering software to separate out the spam, but it first must be downloaded to our e-mail inbox before this filtering occurs.

With permanent broadband connections at work or at home, this downloaded spam is not an out-of-pocket expense. However, on the road, using slow, dial-up connection in hotels, spam is indeed expensive. I use Global Roaming via our ISP. This provides me with a local dial-up number to make a 56K Internet connection at thousands of cities in hundreds of countries throughout the world. I can connect at any time, wherever I am. However, I pay for connect time with the local ISP. In some countries, local calls also incur timed charges, and the hotel often adds a fee for each local call. Therefore, on the road with dial-up, spam hits us all in the pocket. It typically takes an hour to download spam into my inbox, and then I need more time to eliminate it.

This became increasingly expensive - in connect fees and time. There seemed no solution to the insidious problem of spam. Then I found the answer! I am so delighted with the result that I must share it with you.

Many readers of this column have also opted-in to receive "The Enterprise Newsletter" (TEN). I publish this quarterly e-mail newsletter, which covers methods and technologies for the enterprise. When I distributed the last issue, I received in return from one subscriber a polite message saying he was trying to control the amount of spam reaching his inbox. TEN is not spam. It is only sent to those subscribers who have opted-in to receive it, and it immediately removes them if they later decide to opt-out.

The message I received asked me to validate who I was, one time; the TEN e-mail issue would then be accepted. I clicked the link that was offered to me, ready to disappear if it appeared fraudulent.

The Web site that I was taken to addressed me by name. It asked me to type a word that was displayed in an animated image, explaining that automated spam programs cannot decipher this image. And, if I was sight-impaired, the site offered to speak the word to me, which I also tried. Being human and knowing the person had opted-in to receive TEN, I typed in that word. I was immediately accepted and my e-mail address was validated. I was told that the TEN e-mail message and all future e-mail sent by me were authorized and would be delivered without any challenge.

I was curious. I took the other links offered to me on that Web page to learn about this facility. I will share what I learned.

The service is called Spam Arrest (www.spamarrest.com). When you visit their Web site, an online demo shows how Spam Arrest works and how to implement it. It does not require that you install any software on your machine. It works with most e-mail programs and with all browsers. It is inexpensive and can be evaluated in a free, 30-day trial. How does it work?

When you subscribe for a free 30-day trial or purchase a longer subscription, you are asked to nominate a username and password and supply your e-mail address. Spam Arrest needs to know the e-mail program that you use and your POP3 incoming e-mail server. A message is then e-mailed that shows you how to change your e-mail program settings to use the spamarrest.com incoming e-mail server and their SMTP outgoing e-mail server. That's it! Then Spam Arrest does the rest.

Spam Arrest immediately starts reading the e-mail already in your POP3 e-mail server inbox, polling this every two to five minutes. For the free 30-day trial, it offers a Web Mail facility that you can use from your browser. When you log in at www.spamarrest.com with your nominated username and password, you can see all of your e-mail in the "unverified folder." Much of this is junk. You leave that there and it is automatically deleted after seven days.

Valid e-mails in the unverified folder can be selected. When you click on the Authorize button, they immediately move to your "inbox folder." Any messages in your inbox that should not be there can be moved back to the unverified folder by selecting them and clicking the Block button. As with any Web Mail facility, you reply to valid e-mails in your inbox. You can also add e-mail addresses as "authorized" and also authorize complete domains.

For the free trial of the Web Mail facility, this is all that you receive. However, as soon as you subscribe, the contents of your authorized spamarrest.com inbox are automatically downloaded into the account that you add to your e-mail program as username@spamarrest.com. You receive pure, valid e-mail unsullied by any hint of spam. Let me tell you, I had not seen e-mail with out spam for many years. I was absolutely over the moon!

Just as junk mail stopped being delivered when I attached my "No Junk Mail Allowed" sign to my mailbox slot, so spam no longer reaches me. I have now been using spamarrest.com for one week, checking the unverified folder from my browser and authorizing valid e-mails. Many people have already validated themselves by responding to the animated image challenge.

Overnight my life has changed! I no longer receive 500 to 600 messages a day, of which only two to three percent are valid. Today, 100 percent of the e-mail that I receive is valid. This is simple technology, yet it works so elegantly. There may be better solutions to the spam problem out there, but I have not seen them. This seems to be the solution for me. It may also be the solution to your spam problem.

Try it now. E-mail me at cfink@ies.aust.com. You will be challenged, but respond to that challenge. Visit the Spam Arrest Web site and investigate. Then, make up your own mind. So far I have not found any problems, only blissful safety from the spam avalanche that I have been inundated with until now. I will let you know whether this truly is the solution for me in later columns.

My next column will return to the series of monthly columns on service-oriented architecture (SOA). I will continue to cover the business process management languages that are used by SOA. These are used automatically to generate XML-based executable code directly from process models, UML diagrams or workflow diagrams.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Privacy and Security.

Clive Finkelstein, the father of information engineering (IE), is an international consultant and an instructor. He is the managing director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd (IES) in Australia. You may contact Clive Finkelstein by e-mail at cfink@ies.aust.com.

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