updated 05:05 pm EDT, Mon March 31, 2008
First Look: Antispam
Nobody likes spam clogging their e-mail accounts. Although nearly every e-mail program comes with its own spam filters, a dedicated spam filter can often work more effectively while giving you greater control. If spam is overwhelming your current e-mail program, consider Intego's Personal Antispam X5. When you first install the software, you can configure it with Mail, Entourage, or both. If you use a different e-mail program, such as Thunderbird, you won't be able to use X5.
The default settings of the software are designed to filter out most common types of spam, using five different criteria. By using a combination of techniques to recognize spam, X5 tries to identify spam while letting legitimate messages pass through.
The first technique, called lexical analysis, searches a message for keywords such as "Viagra" or "jackpot." To avoid lexical analysis, many spammers now embed their messages as graphic files, which spam filters can't read. Another technique, blacklists, let you identify a specific e-mail address to ban completely. While somewhat effective, spammers easily circumvent this by hijacking other people's computers and sending spam through these proxies, called zombies. By sending spam through different hijacked computers, spammers render blacklists obsolete.
More useful are whitelists, which configure the program to only let messages from specific e-mail addresses through. This guarantees that you'll always receive messages from people you trust, but may inadvertently block messages from new people trying to contact you for the first time.
URL filtering scans a message for certain web domains commonly found in spam, such as the .ru, .biz, and .info addresses. Attachment filtering scans for file attachments that may contain malicious commands, such as ones that end with the .scr or .bat file extensions.
X5 works in the background so once you finish configuring and (optionally) customizing it for your e-mail program, the program starts filtering your messages with no further intervention. When the program finds suspected spam, it automatically routes it into a special spam folder and color-codes the message. Now you can examine the messages individually, and determine if they really are spam or legitimate messages.
If you find a legitimate message identified as spam, you can tell the program to recognize all similar messages as valid. Likewise if spam slips through the filter and winds up in your normal inbox, you can tell the program to scrutinize similar messages more closely. Such training eventually configures the program to filter out messages you consider spam.
In case you want to check up on the effectiveness of the program, you can view a graph that identifies how many messages the program has analyzed and how many it determined were spam.
Using any spam filter, such as X5, requires time to train the program to recognize spam and identify valid messages. Once you get past this initial training period, you'll find the software routing more spam away from your inbox and leaving you free to focus on reading legitimate content.
Since this training period can be so troublesome, X5 offers a unique feature that allows you to export your spam filter settings. Now if someone else installs X5 for the first time, they can import your spam filter settings and have a fully-trained and configured spam filter right away. Of course, they may still need to do some minor tweaking to identify the messages they consider spam and legitimate messages, but customizing an imported spam filter is still much easier and faster than training the program from scratch.
If your e-mail program's spam filter isn't doing enough to shield you from a barrage of unwanted messages, a $49.95 investment in X5 may be what you need. After using a more powerful spam filter than the one included with your e-mail program, you may soon wonder how you ever got along without a program like Personal Antispam to protect you.