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How a Spam Blocker Works

March 16th, 2021

Let’s start at the beginning: There’s you, there’s the Internet and there’s spam.

When you get targeted to receive spam, there are two places you can protect yourself:

You can remove spam once it arrives in your inbox, or…
You can remove spam from your service provider’s mail server. That way it never reaches your inbox in the first place.
OK, so far so good.

A spam blocker should also be easy to use. For example:

It should work automatically and quickly.
It should work in the background.
And another thing…

It should also not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The last thing you want is a powerful spam blocker that looks at your legitimate email and draws a false positive — and throws it in your junk or spam folder.

Of course, you can always check the junk folder for real email. But didn’t we say we wanted it to work automatically and totally in the background? Having to check your spam folder kind of defeats the purpose of that, doesn’t it? After all if you thought you were buried in spam now, try looking in that folder the next time you think you lost real mail. Talk about a needle in a haystack!

Here’s a better idea…

Sometimes, two heads are better than one. So why not rely on the opinions of other spam-haters like you? Why not become part of a large network of people who are all actively looking for spam and tagging it when they find it? Think about it: spam is always sent in huge volumes. So if one person in the network finds a spam email and tags it in the database, then the next person won’t even see it because it has already been quarantined.

Products of this sort usually involve installing a toolbar in your email software so that you can tag spam with the click of a button. That information is sent back to a central location that compiles the users’ opinions. If enough people say an email is really spam, the next time it shows up, it will automatically be blocked.

The downside to this system is that you might not consider a certain email to be spam – but if your neighbor does, you’re out of luck. In other words, spam is often in the eyes of the beholder.

For example, you might be expecting the first issue of an email newsletter you just subscribed to. But what if your neighbor has previously tagged an email from that newsletter domain as spam? You may be waiting a long time to receive that email.

The better spam blockers should give you the option to “unblock” that sender from the list. While this is good, it isn’t ideal — you still have to rummage around in the junk/spam folder to find the email in the first place.

Can spam blockers stop phishing hoaxes?

A phishing hoax is an email message that looks like it is from a trusted party like your bank — but is really an attempt to steal your account name and password. A spam blocker like the one I described above can stop these — but only if enough other people have reported the spam to the central database.

How much spam can these kinds of spam blockers catch?

Users have reported that anywhere from 90% of these hoax emails (and up) have been stopped with a good spam blocker.

What about blocking spam before it reaches your inbox?

This approach involving spotting and quarantining the spam by removing it from your service provider’s email server. The big advantage of this is that your email downloading time will be greatly reduced. These spam blockers are launched as a separate program that precedes the downloading of email to your inbox.

These spam blockers will log on to all of your chosen email accounts and show you what is waiting for you. You can then scan the list and check off the ones to delete and allow the others to download to your email box.

These kinds of spam blockers will identify some email as spam and others as legitimate. You have the option to override the spam blocker either way. If you have any doubts, you can preview the email before deciding what to do about it. The advantage, again, is that the email is still on your service provider’s mail server, not in your inbox.

When you’re done, you click a button to download your email to your inbox.

Ara Rubyan is experienced in training design and delivery and has been developing web based training for more than 10 years