These words are from a song called "Everybody Must Get Spammed," parodying the deluge of junk mail flooding the Net. But this spoof is real: Today everybody with an email account is being targeted by the X-rated solicitations and get-rich-quick marketing schemes that are the hallmark of spam messages.
In Usenet discussions, spam has become so widespread that junk messages now outnumber legitimate messages by an estimated two-to-one margin. Besides putting a damper on conversations, the growing number of messages has prompted fears of a spam overload that could bring Usenet down.
For businesses, spam gobbles up server space and untold amounts of cash as companies seek ways to defend their email systems from unwanted intrusion. For individual users, it's an annoyance that wastes time, intrudes on privacy and slows down email delivery.
"Spam" originally referred to nonsense or commercial messages that were mass-posted on Usenet to thousands of users at a time. Today, the definition has expanded to include all unsolicited commercial or junk e-messages delivered electronically.
Fortunately, an arsenal of software, tricks, and tools are available to zap spam before it ever gets to your mailbox. Our Protect Yourself section introduces you to the first line of defense, filtering software. Quick and Easy Tricks tells how to stay off junk e-mail lists, how to reply to spam messages, and more.
Also, what to do about spam is one of the hottest ongoing debates on the Net today. We'll look at legislation and other remedies in Fighting Back. The easiest way to shield yourself from unwanted messages is to zap them before they ever get to your mailbox. There are dozens of email filtering programs on the market that identify and destroy unwanted messages automatically. Most current e-mail clients also allow you to apply rules to filter out unwanted messages.
Filtering programs allow you to define the subjects you don't want to know about, and the senders you wish to avoid. Using your criteria, the program scans the header area of your messages and automatically sends unwanted subjects to the trash.
The best programs allow you to easily customize your preferences. The trick is to filter out the subjects you don't want (MAKE CASH FAST) without going too far and blocking messages you do want (YOU'VE WON CASH).
ZDNet's Roundup evaluates seven of the most popular shareware filtering programs, including the free Eudora Light and Free Agent. All are available for immediate downloading from the Software Library, along with dozens of other spam busters.
Softwiz Software's SPAM Attack Pro not only filters your mail, it has "complain" option that lets you reply to the originator or report the incident to Abuse.Net, a service that passes on your complaints to known spammers.
For networks, the best programs filter both the header field and the entire contents of each message. BSDI's Mail Filter blocks e-mail at the Internet gateway, blacklists certain senders and eliminates mail with improperly formatted headers. Spam Fighter works on Lotus Notes and other mail servers, and automatically scans every message from the Internet, discarding spam before it touches the network.
Besides filtering software, there are many ways to rid yourself of unwanted mail that don't take a lot of time and effort.
If you receive offensive spam, avoid a flame response -- or any response at all. Many people believe flaming antagonizes spammers and results in them sending even more mail your way. Plus, a reply will only confirm your email address as an active account.
Spammers get their mailing lists from various sites on the web. To stay off junk e-mail lists, avoid giving out your email address except to businesses and sites you know are legitimate.
When joining a newsgroup or chat group, consider using an alias address. If you do want to leave an e-mail address, don't put it in the click-to-email link where it can easily be found by scavenger bots.
Many people add the words "NOSPAM" to their email addresses. Hopefully this will fool the scavenger bots, but not humans who want to reply.
With the abundance of free Web-based email services available, it may be wise to grab a couple of disposable addresses and use these especially when posting to Usenet groups, or filling out surveys and registrations.
Two excellent sources of help on the net are Yahoo's junk e-mail page and the Junkbusters Web site. Junkbusters offers a wealth of free advice on how to stop telemarketers, direct mailers, and junk faxers in their tracks, and even includes drafts of complaint letters you can send. What to do about spam is one of the most controversial issues facing the Net community today. Without question, unsolicited e-mail extracts a high price from everyone on the Net. It uses up valuable bandwidth, curbs the free flow of ideas and information, and costs all users time, money, and aggravation.
Lawmakers and businesses have stepped up to the plate with ideas for curbing junk mail without banning it entirely.
In Washington state they passed House Bill 2752, which makes it illegal to send email to a state resident that has either a forged header or a misleading subject line. At the federal level, California Congressman Gary Miller has introduced the "Can Spam Act" which gives ISPs a right of action against spammers and creates criminal penalties for hijacking domain names.
Check out CAUCE, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, for updates on current Anti-Spam legislation around the world.
Let your voice be heard
If you want to speak out against spam, you can find help at a special Web site that is dedicated to complaining about spam -- to your ISP, your legislator, and to the spammers themselves.
If you connect to the Net using an Internet Service Provider (ISP), ask your ISP for help. Save any spam messages you receive and forward them to the ISP with a note asking them to block incoming mail from that address and complain to the offender on your behalf.
Also, the Federal Trade Commission has set up a special e-mail box at firstname.lastname@example.org where you can send your spam complaints.
If all else fails, you may want to forward the names of spammers to the Blacklist of Internet Advertisers. This site "describes offenders and their offensive behavior, expecting that people who read it will punish the offenders in one way or another."
Bruce Stewart also contributed to this article.