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February 2000


OS/2 Junk Mail Filtering Hits the Big Time

Junk Spy 1.0 from Sundial Systems

by Tony Butka

Junk Spy is an application that you either don't need at all, or if you do it's that killer OS/2 app you always wanted and didn't even know existed. In short form, Junk Spy is a junk mail filtering program for your e-mail account(s). But to say that Junk Spy is simply a junk mail filter really is to shortchange the program.

Those clever devils at Sundial came up with the idea of having this program run under TCP/IP on your computer whether or not you are physically connected to a network, and this method of filtering lets you do all kinds of neat things. In effect, when you either dial in with your modem or connect through your LAN (dsl/cable modem) to your e-mail server, Junk Spy traps the messages as they are downloaded, and runs them through its magic.

If you only get a half dozen e-mail messages a day, then save your money, Junk Spy is really overkill -- just use your computers delete key for the few junk mails that you get and think bad thoughts about spammers. If, however, you get a lot of e-mails, use multiple accounts/aliases, and/or are on a home network or server, then this program is both a godsend and revenge on the junk mailers. It is also a native OS/2 solution, which ain't bad either.

Installing

Junk Spy is simple to install, using a standard install.exe program, but it does require the right TCP/IP settings to work. For those of us who can't spell network, setting up a loopback interface with the right settings can seem like a trial. Well, by golly, Sundial has gone and done Wizards, no less. The wizard guides you right through setting up your network interface, even if you don't have a nic card, and even if you don't know what the Wizard is talking about, you should be fine just accepting the program's default recommendations.

Once your TCP/IP settings are ok, the second step is to get Junk Spy to work with your favorite e-mail program. I use PMMail 1.96a (and soon 2.x), so I will be referring to it in this article, but Junk Spy provides full html help files for using JStreet/Polarbar Mailer, MR/2 Ice, Netscape (2.02 through 4.61), and Post Road Mailer.

In essence you change a couple of settings in the e-mail program to have it go through Junk Spy instead of directly contacting your e-mail server. In my case, this involved changing the user settings to include my full userid in the userid field, and 'localhost' for the pop server. That was all.

Setting Up Filters & a Temp Directory

Remember, no filtering program is going to be perfect, especially out of the box. So especially at first you need to save those messages somewhere in order to double check if you're really deleting only messages that you want to, and also to customize the program's settings. For example, using PMMail I set up a filter and folder called "Junk Mail" to send the probable junk stuff. In this way, I could examine what Junk Spy thinks is junk mail and then change the filters and detectors to make sure that mail I really want is not identified as spam, and vice versa.

When I first fired up the program, Junk Spy decided that my Microsoft Preferred Member e-mail list was spam (nice touch, folks), so I created a Global Exception to (reluctantly) say that no, it's ok to keep these e-mails. Also, my Red Rock Eater mail list got picked up because of its [RRE] header, so again I simply created a global exception (Global Exceptions -> Add). You can modify these filters at any time, so feel free to experiment. Having set up the filters, you're ready to go.

Also, particularly at first, you will get a number of junk mails that are not picked up by the program. In order to help Sundial identify how these e-mail's snuck through your defenses, you can send a copy directly to Sundial by forwarding each of these messages to junk@sundialsystems.com. The messages will get picked apart and added to their database. Conversely, if the program picks up e-mail that you do want and thinks that it is spam, you can send a copy to them for analysis by forwarding it to nojunk@sundialsystems.com.

Updates and Such

Speaking of updates, one of the nice touches to Junk Spy is that when you are setting up the program, you can enable automatic updates to the program via e-mail. This makes sense; since junk mailers and their ilk are constantly changing the devious methods by which they spam you, Sundial has created an update service for their database. You can automatically trigger these updates through Settings -> Update. They even let you log these changes, send acknowledgments, and permit reports that help Sundial keep their database current. Its really sort of like automatically updating your antivirus program, with an added bonus that when the program updates, it lets you know by displaying a yellow sun on the Junk Spy status bar. Clicking displays the message from Sundial.

I really like the feeling of being able to fight back against spammers. With around 100 messages a day, I simply don't have time to deal with their junk. Also, these days a lot of these spam messages can also be really insidious scams trying to get your credit card information or access to your computer, so there is good reason to have some concern. Hucksters and bunko artists hit the Internet, sigh.

Actually, this program is a statistic junkies dream. It maintains data on the number of bytes analyzed, number of messages, spam ratio and a host of other options. If you're into staying up late at night you can really get carried away analyzing.

Sundial also lets you enable other Internet spam resources, the MAPS (stands for Mail Abuse Prevention System) Realtime Blackhole List and Relay Spam Stopper List, using the Settings -> Detector option. These two lists help sort out networks that spammers use to broadcast their slime, and automatically treat all mail that goes through any of the listed servers as junk mail. The sender gets a nice little message pointing them to the MAPS site. While I love this kind of hard core solution, the nice thing about Junk Spy is that virtually all these options are user selectable, so you can choose whether you want to enable the MAPS stuff, and how much info you want to share with Sundial about your junk mail, if any information at all.

The Bottom Line

I have always found the programs from Sundial to be well tested, solid performers, and Junk Spy is no exception. With this type of software it is really important to have a rock solid program base, since you are not just buying a simple stand alone program, you're developing a long-term relationship with the vendor to provide ongoing updates and keep refining their database to help you fight back against increasingly sophisticated marketing schemes.

Finally (since you all know that I'm a junky for manuals) my hats off to Sundial for providing solid and comprehensive documentation for the entire program, as well as each of the e-mail program setups This company seems to be heading in the direction of providing html based documentation for their software, complete with plenty of graphic images of the relevant dialogue boxes. While I'm still addicted to hard copy (read printed) manuals, this approach works quite well for smaller programs that don't have the complexity of say, a word processor or spreadsheet. Take note, other vendors.

So, the bottom line; if you get a lot of e-mail, are on mailing lists, or get/receive e-mail from friends using those 'free' e-mail addresses, then you are going to get spammed, scammed, and downright hustled. Fight back and call Ghostbusters, er.., I mean Junk Spy!


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