Digital Fever

By Mike Kroll

Spam Sucks

Let’s not mince any words here–SPAM SUCKS!

Now that we’ve got that out of our system let’s discuss the increasingly disturbing problem of unsolicited e-mail messages. Anyone with an e-mail box for more than a month or two has undoubtedly experienced spam. You know what I mean, those amazing deals for software, diet secrets, cell phone accessories, enhanced sexual performance, etc. What’s most amazing is how quickly your e-mail address seems to get on every bulk mailing list in existence. Recent studies show that spam is increasing at an alarming rate. The only thing growing faster than the volume of spam finding its way into your e-mail box is your level of frustration.

Today spam is estimated to account for more than 25 percent of all business e-mail messages and an even higher percentage of personal e-mail. Not only does this waste your time sorting through piles of junk e-mail to find the messages you actually want to read–it is actually beginning to lead some to forsake e-mail. And what a tragedy that would be as e-mail is undoubtedly the best cost justification of non-recreational Internet access.

What is needed is a strategy to combat this flood of unwanted, frequently offensive, commercial e-mail. For sometime I used the filtering mechanism built in to my e-mail client. As I received spam messages I would take the time to add the salient characteristics to my filter, which would then divert similar future messages to my deleted message folder. Obviously, this was a tedious, time-consuming activity that was never completely successful either. When I recommended this tactic to friends and customers they would either never figure it out or give up the process after a brief trial period.

I came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way. This is exactly the kind of repetitive process at which computers are supposed to excel. This led me in search of software on the Internet that claimed to help fight spam. I was initially surprised to find that there were at least a dozen or more anti-spam programs available. All promised ease-of-use and simple setup, two critical features if I was to recommend them to customers (or my wife). A third factor that was important in my initial selection was inexpensive easy availability (preferably free).

I narrowed my pool down to about a half dozen programs and began to download them. Some of these were so clearly wrong that I quickly disposed of them and one never even installed after repeated download/install attempts. Others were too complicated to use or assumed too much of a deity role (I want the final say on which messages get erased without reading). I finally settled on a nifty freeware program by Nick Bolton called MailWasher (

MailWasher is an amazingly easy-to-use program that works in such a straightforward manner you’ll hardly need to read the help file. The same download will work with any version of Microsoft Windows from Win95 on. It requires few system resources and runs well even on modest machines. It makes absolutely no difference what e-mail client you currently use (although I hope you don’t use any of the Microsoft Outlook variants), since MailWasher works completely independent of your e-mail client. Of course it supports the ubiquitous POP3 but also HotMail and MSN but not IMAP (yet, Bolton says he’s working on IMAP support).

Setting it up requires that you execute the program. MailWasher will try to find your existing e-mail client and import the settings automatically. If you’re mail settings aren’t automatically detected (and my Pegasus settings were not) you simply need to go to the "Tools-Accounts" menu and add as many e-mail accounts as you wish. You will need to know the POP3 server address (where your e-mail is stored), user name and password for each e-mail account. You should use the SMTP server address (for outgoing e-mail) corresponding to your primary ISP. As a means of fighting spam most ISPs block the use of their SMTP servers through indirect connections. Either way you will have to type-in the account password for each account as it is not automatically imported. To get the most utility out of MailWasher you will also need to turn off automatic mail checking in your mail client (the reason will soon become obvious).

MailWasher is designed to be run immediately prior to a mail check with you regular e-mail client. The program will connect to each of the POP3 servers and download the headers for every message at the server. It then compares these headers to lists of known spammers as well as lists you create during use and spam identifying heuristics. MailWasher presents a list of message headers identified as spam, probable spam or awaiting classification by you. You can then go through the list and decide which items you wish flagged as spam and deleted and those that are from "friends" and should never again show up in the list. You are also given the choice to send a fake "bounce" message to the spam originator mimicking a non-existent mailbox.

A neat feature of MailWasher is that it can clean as many e-mail accounts as you wish (Bolton claims there is no limit). Nothing is deleted until you give MailWasher the go ahead to process the list of messages. It will then erase the spam messages directly at the server and send bounce messages to those you so designate. If you have a persistent Internet connection such as cable or DSL you should set MailWasher to run continuously checking your e-mail boxes automatically every x minutes. Dial-up users should simply get in the habit of running MailWasher immediately prior to their regular e-mail client.

Once you have run MailWasher for a while and it has developed pretty good spam and friends lists you even have the option of letting it go full automatic–deleting suspected spam on its own with no intervention from you. This is in fact the sole mode of operation for many competitive products and not something I would recommend. Such an automatic mode will almost certainly result in MailWasher deleting messages you would have wanted to receive solely because they resembled spam.

I run MailWasher minimized in the background on my office computer. A small icon shows up in the Windows tray whenever there are messages to be screened. Pop up the program with a mouse click and a quick scan coupled with a few more mouse clicks is all that’s left. I can then startup Pegasus to check my e-mail and rest assured that nearly all of that annoying spam is history. I love this program. It works just as described and solves a real need. Highly recommended.

Programmer Bolton is from New Zealand (also home to a favorite e-mail program of mine called Pegasus by David Harris) and offers this program to anyone interested in using it and recommending it. Bolton explains "This software is free to use and will never expire. I would like to get paid for my efforts but realize that not everyone likes to contribute to something they can get for free. Therefore, if you do decide to pay I’d like you to choose the amount. Anything from as low as $3 to whatever you wish." If you register the program and send Bolton at least $3 you get rid of a nag screen and are eligible for support and upgrade notification from Bolton.

Mike Kroll ( is also known as Dr. Mike Computer Therapist. He operates a small computer shop in downtown Galesburg where he sells and services computers of all kinds and offers computer advice. If you are experiencing computer problems our recommendation it that you …Get Therapy!