Not spam and chips!

4th July 2003 at 01:00
HERE'S the bottom line: I do not want any of the following - a loan, Viagra, the world's smallest digital camera, a herbal diet patch, a free pass to a porn site, a safe way to enlarge any part of my anatomy, a set of "Deck of Weasels" playing cards with Jacques Chirac as the ace of spades .

. . I could go on.

What I have is a bad case of spam. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of signing an internet site's guest book, giving my e-mail address. Since then, first a trickle and now a cataract of junk has invaded my inbox. It ranges from the laughably fraudulent to the sickening.

A couple of months ago a porn spam, complete with pictures, opened up in my mailer's preview pane. I deleted it but was appalled to find that the images were still in my hard drive (in a place called the Temporary Internet folder, for those who are interested).

It was a time when polismen were daily carrying off celebrity PCs following accusations both true and false. Though not yet a celebrity, I nevertheless wanted a computer whose contents did not at best mark me down as one of the dirty raincoat brigade and at worst suggested that I was unsuitable to be left in charge of children, be they my own or someone else's. It was time for action.

Though usually reluctant to buy a computer magazine in case anybody I know sees me, I sneaked into a newsagent's and bought a plain English one, concealed between the covers of the People's Friend. It had "Stop Spam" on the cover (look, you know I'm referring to the computer magazine here, not the People's Friend, so stop pretending). There was a useful article inside that didn't even quote a single line of the Monty Python song.

Following the piece's advice, I downloaded an application called Mailwasher (www.mailwasher.net) and started to train its filters and blacklists to separate the sheep from the goats. Given the nature of some of the spam I was getting, that statement is more literal than you might care to imagine.

It works. I get as much spam as I ever did, but when I check my mail I see a list of those waiting to be received, categorised as legitimate or possible spam. I then delete the ones I don't want and rejoice in a porn-free computer.

This not only makes me feel much more secure, it saves download time too, giving me more valuable minutes to launder ex-Niger-ian government money or to try my new anti-baldness gel.

Gregor Steele has an online presence at www.steele3.freeserve.co.uk.

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