Stopping SPAM where it starts

Your business could be sending SPAM and not realize it

Lori Griffiths
Wild Web Works

Did you SPAM today?

There’s an email traveling along the Internet. It will be scanned and strip searched more than once. It’s going to get classified as SPAM. The question is "Did your company send it?"

SPAM by definition is unsolicited email. This means the intended recipient has not granted verifiable permission to receive the message, and it’s likely the message is part of a larger collection sent at the same time. SPAM is really about consent, not about the email’s content.

The majority of SPAM, about 80 percent of it, has been traced to a group of 200 spam gangs. These gangs consist of 500 to 600 professional spammers. They send from so many different domains and alias accounts that no one can stop them. The fact is we can’t stop SPAM from being sent, all we can do is stop it from being delivered.

On a typical day, you will not see 80 percent to 90 percent of the email that has been sent to you. Because there is so much SPAM on the Internet, complex systems have been established to eliminate the unwanted messages before they reach your inbox.

Mail servers have the primary responsibility of determining what email should be allowed through. One of the most popular programs used is SpamAssassin. It assigns a score to each email based on a number of factors. It will check the email to see if the sender and recipient addresses are valid, if the message dates are valid, if the body contains forbidden words and a number of other tests. It will also verify that the sending IP address has not been blacklisted. Each test that the message fails adds to its total score.

Once a final score has been tallied, the system must decide the email’s fate. We have our system set up to delete any email with a score over 8. If the email is rated between five and eight, it adds the word "SPAM" to the subject line, but allows it through to the recipient. This acts as fair warning that the message may be unsolicited. An email with a score below five is allowed through unmarked.

You could be sending SPAM and not realize it. All businesses should be careful about sending any type of bulk email. If your IP address ends up on a blacklist, your email won’t get through and that could be devastating to your ability to do business.

Here are some very innocent processes that can get your business into trouble:

Mailing lists and newsletters

If you send newsletters out to people who didn’t ask for them and give them no way to unsubscribe, you’re spamming. You must implement a secure method for your recipients to opt-in and also an easy way to opt-out or unsubscribe. There are some very good mailing list manager programs available that allow you to set up legitimate mailings.

Auto responders

Many businesses allow their employees to use auto responders in their email client program, such as Outlook. These forward a message to inform email senders that you’re on vacation or out of the office. This also turns you into a spammer by forwarding SPAM. Instead of using an auto responder, have someone go through your email and respond individually.

Advertising via email

A bulk email campaign sent indiscriminately is spamming. It doesn’t matter if you do it or employ someone else, you are spamming. On the other hand, if you have clients that have asked to be kept up-to-date on your business, use a legitimate mailing list manager program. This allows them to unsubscribe at will.

Take a few moments to think before you send any email to more than one recipient. Ask yourself if you would view it as SPAM if it showed up in your inbox. If your vendors or clients ever complain about the SPAM they receive, you can confidently say, "Our company didn’t send it."

Lori Griffiths is chief finance officer of Wild Web Works, which offers quality website design and hosting services. They have been in business since 1999, relocating to Vancouver in 2005. Call 360-882-9005 or visit www.wildwebworks.com for more information.

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