Saturday, January 08, 2005

My Favorite Anti-Spam System

I receive about 300-400 spam messages a day at my personal email address, but I hardly ever see any of them, because of the anti-spam system SafetyBar (formerly SpamNet), which I've been using for a few years now.

A news release from a few days ago brings it to mind. This is from Cloudmark, the developers of SafetyBar:

Cloudmark Closes 2004 on a Winning Note

The news they're touting is that Network World has selected Cloudmark as one of the top email security systems. Primarily the emphasis here is on their enterprise solutions, but I know them best for their single-user application, the SafeyBar add-on for Microsoft Outlook.

The unique characteristic of SafetyBar is that it flags spam, not by individual filters or whitelists but by the actions of a network of over a million users who collectively and seamlessly identify spam and delete it on each others' behalf.

Here's what the add-in looks like in my Outlook client:

I have to say that this is not a perfect solution. I have known SafetyBar to generate false-positives -- in other words, it has filtered out email that I opted in for -- newsletters and alerts -- commercial email of various kinds. At this point, though, the spam problem is so serious that I am willing to put up with losing some email newsletters that I subscribed to.

I also ran into a problem with the application a couple of months ago and had a hard time getting Cloudmark tech support to believe that it was happening. The application likes it if you agree to add a promotional signature to all of your outgoing emails. I never use those kinds of promotional sigs, but when I tried to say no, SafetyBar forced me to add the signature anyway. (I pay a monthly fee to use SafetyBar, so I shouldn't be forced to use the sig.)

One of the worst things a tech support rep can do is to be condescending and dismissive to a customer, but that is what happened when I tried to get Cloudmark to fix the problem with their program. Finally I had to start copying one of the company principals on my emails and to (shall we say) elevate the emotional level of my complaints to get taken seriously. After that, they started taking my problem seriously and trying to help.

Anyway, in spite of the problems mentioned above, I think it is worth sticking with SafetyBar. Here's are some reasons:

1. Most spam gets eliminated automatically, so it disappears into my Spam folder as it enters my inbox.

2. Ease of use -- Basically all I have to do is select a message in my inbox, then click the "Block" button. The message automatically goes into my Spam folder and SafetyBar records a "vote" from me into the network to help delete that spam automatically for other users.

3. No keyword filtering or whitelists or blacklists or any of that baloney to worry about.

4. The value and power of the human factor in the million+ network of users who collectively identify and block spam. The human spam-fighting network adds a dimension of intelligence that is just not replicable using conventional filtering methods.

AB -- 1/8/05

Friday, January 07, 2005

Appeal From Arthur C. Clarke for Tsunami Relief Assistance

Since scientist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke lives in Sri Lanka, I had been wondering whether he was all right and whether he had any comments about the tsunami disaster. So I was pleased to find a message from him on the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation Web site:

I have a particular interest in Clarke, as I enjoyed his writings as a teenager and also heard a lecture by him and met him in the mid-1960s when he spoke in Raleigh, NC, at NCSU. He was very kind to a young geek and signed a couple of his books for me, which I still have.

As far as supporting disaster relief, Clarke recommends donating to international organizations such as Care and Oxfam. However, he especially recommends a Sri Lankan organization that is particularly suited to helping in this situation:

"Alternatively, consider supporting Sarvodaya, the largest development charity in Sri Lanka, which has a 45-year track record in reaching out and helping the poorest of the poor. Sarvodaya has mounted a well organised, countrywide relief effort using their countrywide network of offices and volunteers who work in all parts of the country, well above ethnic and other divisions."

Sarvodaya's Web site is at

AB -- 1/7/05