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The Perfect Email Solution

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Owning a Translation Agency, I tend to advertise a lot on the net looking for more translators and customers, so I tend to get a lot of spam. So much so that I was spending at least half an hour a day filtering out spam, even after a paid filtering service removed about 4,000 of them a month! And this was increasing rapidly every month. Not to mention the risk that I was erasing valid emails, which could have become important clients, only to lose them just because the translator or potential customer did not bother putting text in the subject. Or a long lost friend who did the same.

Also, considering the mobility of my work, where I like to check a lot of my emails from the convenience of my pocket pc, I finally worked out what I like to consider the perfect email solution, and which I would like to extend to you.

First of all, if you get a lot of spam like me, it's not a bad idea to get some sort of filtering service. The danger in that though is that some friends might inadvertently end up on some spam list, so you would not get their emails. So if you do not get a ridiculous amount of spam like me, I would skip this option and go straight to the perfect email solution.


Stage 1 Block all emails not on your white/approved list

Your first line defense is an excellent program called Choicemail. They have a sufficiently functioning free version, and the way it works is that people who write to you who are not on your whitelist (list of email addresses you have approved that can get to you), they are automatically sent an email informing them that you are not aware of their email address and if they want to be added to your whitelist they must follow the provided weblink to go to a website and punch in the numbers they see to basically prove they are a human and willing enough to get on your whitelist. It's not a painful procedure at all. And if you are afraid this would be too complicated for them, you can always check your Choicemail inbox and scan through all the incoming emails to see if you recognise anything. You might argue that you are still spending time filtering out spam, but it is better because it does not pollute your regular email and potentially confuse you; you are scanning all the spam at once, so you are aware that it is probably spam and hence you scan a lot faster; you are doing the scanning when YOU want to and hence are not constantly distracted by incoming spam when you are trying to work; and the program marks the spam differently, whether it was addressed only to you or whether it was a BCC (blind carbon copy). Meaning it was sent to a bunch of people at once, with all their email addresses hidden, so you can scan and ignore those faster, focusing a little more on those emails which were addressed to you only. And you can also set the program to automatically ignore/delete emails which were presumably sent from yourself, a lot of the spam nowadays. So you can actually scan through as much as a thousand spam emails in less than half an hour.
Choicemail may be a little tricky to set up, and after a year of problem free operation, something happened in my Windows and I could not resolve it, so I had to look for another solution. For this I found ASK < (Active Spam Killer), which is free software but only works on UNIX or Linux. This system is good because it only requires the recipient of the challenge message to press Reply, and not to follow some weblink to punch in some numbers online, as explained in the paragraph above. Many people simply do not bother with this procedure, so you could be losing legitimate emails.
Since I do not work on these two operating systems, I was forced to hunt further, and eventually found Vanquish. This system is fairly easy to set up, but costs 34$ a year (although you can test it out for free for fourteen days). You set up an email account with them, which has 200MB of memory, and to which you either forward your regular email, or ask Vanquish to POP3 download your regular email. It works on the same principle as Choicemail above, but also uses the usual filter techniques and works on their own server. You then download your email from their server. You can log into your email account with them much like a normal web based email account (like Hotmail), but you can also check the "held" mail (those incoming emails not on your whitelist and who have been sent a challenge email). One good feature this system offers is "smart subject", where emails with a defined subject can automatically be accepted on a permanent or time-defined basis, which is good if you occasionally advertise about translation projects like I do. Their tech support is great, as shown in this Vanquish ticket response example.

Another good thing about Vanquish is you can set up temporary "disposable" emails, such as [email protected] These days one can buy domains rather cheaply. I bought kenax.cz for my business, and I can put anything before @kenax.cz and all mail will get to me. I then forward all of it to Vanquish. By putting [email protected] in the special Allow List area, any email sent to this special email address will automatically get through without being sent a challenge message. If this special email address finds its way on a spam list and starts getting bombarded by spam, I simply remove it from my Allow List area, after which it is subjected to the same filtering as other mail. This is useful when advertising for something, or when approaching many companies. Once a customer writes to this email address and you respond to them, by responding to them you automatically put their email address on your whitelist, so even if you remove the disposable email from your Allow List or the customer starts writing to your regular email address, their mail will always get through without being subject to a challenge message. This is ideal because so many people do not bother when challenged, or are too "challenged" to be challenged, so you do not lose potential customers or contacts this way.

Both of the above options offer Domain listing. For example, let us say you have an important customer IBM. But one day the person who sends you work writes from [email protected], and the next day someone from accounting writes you an email concerning payment, from [email protected] You can just put @ibm.com on your Approved Domain List and anything before @ibm.com will get to you.

The above systems offer other neat little tricks and services, so all in all, this is an excellent and necessary first stage filter if you are being bombarded by lots of spam.
However, over time, I discovered there could be other problems with it, explained below, where you will also find links to other such services and programs.




Stage 2 A central email server you can check from you PocketPC (Optional)

After this stage, you have essentially knocked out all spam. Very rarely do I get a real human who would go through all the trouble to get their spam to me. If they do, I can just knock them onto my blacklist and that's the last time I've heard from them!
Once you have your approved emails, so that you can focus on them and not be constantly distracted during your important work, you can begin downloading some real email. The systems above can be set up with various email clients/programs, like Outlook. I personally do not like Outlook because it is a resource hog, opens up slow, is prone to getting viruses (although some remedies may exist for this < ), and it doesn't have the functionality I prefer to have and available in my email client (below).

But before I get to my preferred email program, I still have a stage TWO! This is because I like to check my email on my pocketpc when I am not in the office. For this I use Desknow. It can also be free, but you have to get the paid version if you want to use the pocketpc feature (although it has a one month free period to test out this feature). Essentially it is an email server and functions like Hotmail (although with Desknow you'd have to have it running on a computer connected to the internet with a fixed IP address), where with the paid version you can set up several accounts for your friends or co-workers. It has many features and even its own spam filtering system, but I turn all that off, since I have already taken care of that problem and don't want emails from people on my whitelist considered as spam by the program, which can happen. You will find instructions how to turn off the filter feature and how to set up the programs below < .

Here are the basic points about Desknow:


Other PPC Options

It can cost money to run your own server above (a paid service at a "PC hotel", as I like to call it). If you have your own business or a solid internet connection at home, with a fixed IP address, then it can be fairly cheap, assuming you are already paying for nonstop internet. But one potential issue is that a constantly running PC can occasionally fail, and its not easy to set up a fancy backup system with a second computer with own, backup battery power source. In which case there are various online servers. If you have a BlackBerry, they apparently have a free server now if it's only for one user, but again you'd have to install it on a PC. Another option is Microsoft Exchange, which can synchronize with Outlook and do much that Desknow can do, but you will have to pay something per month. For my Hypermart.net webhosting package [eventually link to] it works out to something like 15 bucks, which isn't so bad if you use it for business.
Otherwise, I found the ever powerful gmail a pretty good option. Heck, it's free! You get 7 gigs of space, you can pop3 download, forward mail, once I even accidentally clicked on an attachment and I got a message that it saved it to googledocs, so it seems feasible you could even save attachments on their server and use the service that way as well.
But it even offers an IMAP service which you can use with your mobile phone. IMAP is better than pop3 because you can synchronize things without downloading all sorts of stuff, and view emails without downloading the attachments. You can set how much of each email to download by default, and if you want to read the rest of a message, you just press the link at the bottom of the email. When you respond to an email, I believe the system remembers the previous correspondence, so you are not actually uploading the previous messages. For example, to conserve expensive GPRS data transfer through my mobile when I was using Desknow above, I would always delete much of the email I was responding to. The stuff that usually gets added after the > character. But with gmail, if I want to edit the message I'm responding to, I have to press an edit link, which leads me to believe that any changes to that message would be synchronized once I send the message, so I'm only actually paying to upload the changes. And it was surprisingly easy to set up. Gotta love google! They have easy instructions for different phones, and even offer a little free program so that it could work with a BlackBerry, so hats off to them!
One downside though is that, unlike their full online version when you login with your PC (by the way, you can even use your account as an smtp server to send mail directly from your PC!), when responding to mail from your mobile the Reply To address becomes your gmail email address and you cannot set it to your regular one. So the way I worked around that is the following: I asked my [email protected] provider to set it such that all mail sent to that gets forwarded to my Vanquish spam protection account (explained above) AND my gmail account. Gmail's spam protection is pretty good, so you don't have to worry too much about that, unless you send out a lot of mail from it and alert the spammers. For my gmail account I set up two extra folders: Download Later and Probably Delete. If through my mobile I read some email and it looks like regular spam from the same source, I'll move it to the Probably Delete folder (you can do this offline and it will synchronize later the next time you send/receive). Later, once I'm online with my PC, I'll go to the Probably Delete folder and set up filters on my gmail account to automatically delete such emails as soon as they come in. Otherwise, I might get certain mail from news sources etc. that I'll want to download to my PC but don't need to hog up GPRS bandwidth on my mobile, so I'll set up delete filters for those messages as well. They are getting forwarded to my Vanquish account already, so I don't need them on my gmail account and will download them to my PC the next time I hook it up to the internet and pop3 download from Vanquish.
If I get some important email that gets through gmail's spam protection, I might move it to the Download Later folder, so that next time I'm online, I can go to my Vanquish "Held Mail" folder and manually let that message through. For example, it occasionally happens that a new customer writes me an email but doesn't bother to put anything useful in the subject, even leaving it blank. That email gets to my gmail account but gets stuck in my Held Mail section in Vanquish because it is from a new email address. But because the subject is blank I'll probably overlook and ignore it when checking my Held Mail. And because most people are lazy and don't always bother to confirm the challenge request from Vanquish, the mail remains held and it may result in valuable, lost business. But when I read it on my mobile, I can respond immediately, move it to my Download Later folder, and then use those saved emails to help me release mail from Vanquishe's Held Mail. Hope this isn't getting too complicated for you! But it's fairly easy to understand once you actually have it set up.
One problem though, as I mentioned above, is that now when I respond to this new customer from my mobile, if they write back to me and send me a file to translate, it goes to my gmail account, and I have to remember to forward that to my regular account or download the message manually the next time I'm at PC internet. So the fancy way I worked around this is that I set up another filter on gmail to forward any messages sent to it that are NOT sent/forwarded from my regular [email protected] address, and forward them directly to my special Vanquish email account, in order to avoid some horrible loop whereby if it was sent to [email protected] it would get sent back to gmail and they would be busy bombarding each other to death. (But I haven't set up this filter yet, since I'm writing this offline, and hope the "NOT" function is there).
Anyway, with this approach everything gets forwarded nicely, easy to organize, and I actually have a good backup system. And it's free! Nifty huh?


Stage 3 Your choice of email client

So after I've checked my email in Desknow while out of the office and I am ready to download everything once at a fast internet connection (or once I am back at the running computer, since all three stages can be on the same computer), I like to download my emails to Pegasus (free as well here you can find Pegasus Help instructions). The Desknow program has its own POP3 service, so you simply download your email from that server like you would any other, erasing them from that account and downloading them to your email program of choice. Desknow or Vanquish/Choicemail can download from any number of external accounts, and then you download to end email client from there.

The reason why I like Pegasus is because it's fast and light, and essentially virus proof, if you know some basics about emailing that is. Like to never double click on an attached file with endings .exe, .com, .bat and the usual (list of unsafe file extensions). Even if you get such attachments from your friends, because your friends might be using Outlook and sending these viruses to everyone on their contact list, which Outlook so generously allows. But this Pegasus will never open an attachment for you automatically, even if you double click on an email itself and read the email. Neither will it automatically show .gif images, which can also contain viruses. The program is geared greatly against such vulnerabilities and the only time I caught a virus over eight years of constant emailing was when I received a self executing .zip file from a translation agency. They usually sent me .exe files as translations, and one day caught a virus, and I as well, because I double clicked on the .exe file they sent me, thinking it was a translation. So that was the last time I accepted such work.
Another good thing about Pegasus is its programmability, meaning I can write scripts which can create template responses, such as Dear <sender>, followed by some text, perhaps their original email, with an attachment. Something I need for my business considering I spend so much time processing emails.
Whatever email client you prefer to use, whether it is Outlook, Pegasus or Bat, simply POP3 download your email like from any other service.

All in all, no spam, the ability to check your email on a ppc while manipulating with attached files at basically zero cost, and an email client at the end which can process the rest automatically! The perfect email solution.

The above is for receiving emails, and sending out individual emails. If you would like to know a good way how to send out many emails, check out our mass emails to multiple recipients page.
If you would like to purchase our email form for 20$, which automatically prevents spamming or hacking by spammers, please contact us directly.

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At one point I wasn't happy with Vanquish's service above (did I mention the word "perfect" somewhere?), because it seemed that not all my emails were getting delivered, I was not reliably receiving emails from certain people, and Vanquish's support staff was not responding, so I spent two days looking for an alternative service. Unfortunately I could not find a better one I would be happy with but I did find a lot of services, and some interesting information. Below you will find links to services I tested out myself and some of my comments. But first...

Potential Problems with the Challenge/Response System

In any offline email client, such as Microsoft Outlook, you set up your own identity. For example, mine is "KENAX - Karel Kosman". You also set up your email address and Reply To email address. Therefore anyone out there can masquerade themselves as your own identity. You might have already received emails "from yourself", appearing as if you had sent it.

One of the greatest ways that this happens is when people forward retarded messages like "Microsoft and AOL have teamed up against Yahoo to provide a full service. As part of its promotion they will pay you 3 dollars for every person you forward this promotional email to, and 1 dollar for every person they subsequently forward this message to. It's unbelievable but I have a friend who has already made 250$!!". Or, "Poor little 13 year old Tina is lying on her deathbed with one arm and no liver, but you can save her life by forwarding this email to every one of your friends, because the American Cancer Society will donate for her cause 3 cents for every such forwarded email." Wake up people, there is no way that these companies can tell how many people you forward such mail to and it is only a crock of hogwash invented by spammers in the hopes of getting a list of all your friend's emails. And how is this possible? Because most people just press Forward, Select All Addresses, and blast off, meaning that everyone's email addresses and identities are visible in the forwarding email. Same with those supposed petitions. "Forward and sign this email to all your friends, and once it reaches a million, we will print it out and submit it to Congress, and as such hopefully stop the fighting in Darfur." Legitimate such petitions are usually online and you should be wary of all such statements. If any of your friends forward you such nonsense, you should forward back to them this explanation and tell them to forward that to their friends, so that we can educate the internet community in this way. Because this is one of the main ways that all our emails end up on spammer lists, which get sold to spammers. It is a very large industry. By forwarding such nonsense you will expose the email addresses and identities of all your friends. Not smart my friend.

The way that email providers have begun to circumnavigate this mess is by bonding emails, or digital signatures. When they receive an email from the identity "KENAX - Karel Kosman" and the email address kenax [AT] kenax.cz, they can check the smtp server if it is digitally signed and prove whether it was actually me who sent that email and not someone else in my name. If it is not digitally signed, a red flag goes up and that email might be marked as spam, not making it past their filter. My domain has already been hijacked by spammers and my address probably added to many spam filters, hence I am having problems whereby some people are not getting my emails. (Did I say perfect solution?)

Now the problem with the challenge/response approach is that, because a majority of spam mail is sent under a false identity (in someone else's name and email address), such automatic challenge responses sent to the Reply To address can bombard those poor people with something that may appear to them as spam. I used to use a catchall address, meaning that [email protected] would be forwarded to my main email address, where anything.before can truly be anything (such as [email protected]). Last I checked I was getting about one thousand spam messages a day, thankfully diverted into quarantine through the challenge/response system explained at the top of this page, but which meant that I was sending out a thousand emails a day, mostly to people who did not even send the original email. So I was technically becoming a spammer myself!! And the annoyed recipients of these unwanted challenge/response requests might have put in a request to such services as spamcop to add my email address to their list of spammers, which could be why some people would not receive my emails (I am forced to approach such services to remove my email address from their blacklist).

The ideal solution, as explained by boxsentry below, is to use the challenge/response method in combination with a filter. Vanquish also offers this to a certain degree. If I get a thousand spam emails a day, an intelligent filter could knock out perhaps 800 of them and throw them into the junk box. The remaining 200 could be diverted to the quarantine box and automatically sent a challenge message. All emails on your whitelist would blast through straight to you automatically. This can also be combined with the digital signature thing, so that if someone uses your friend's identity to get past your spamguard, the system could tell it was not him, and throw that into the junkbox, for example. A very smart system like boxsentry could use all these tools in some combination to effectively remove true spam, not end up spamming others unnecessarily with a blanket challenge/response approach, and make sure that real emails always get through.

Another simple way to reduce spam is to be selective which email addresses I publish on the internet. For example, removing the catchall was a first step. I only have certain email addresses now, so if anyone were to send an email to [email protected], it wouldn't even get to me, because that automatic forward has been turned off.
Now lets say I want to advertise on the internet, like if I were looking for translators or customers. I might use the address [email protected] If at some point I see that I am receiving a lot of spam to that email address, I remove the automatic forward from my system. Or I could get more sophisticated whereby I would first set it so that emails sent to that address would automatically get accepted without being subject to a challenge response. This is useful for a short-term advertising campaign, because many people are not interested in responding to such challenges. After a while, once such an advertised email gets added to some spammer's list and I start receiving too many spam emails to it, I can shift the address to the challenge/response mode, whereby any real person belatedly responding to my ad will have to respond to the challenge in order for their email to get through to me. And further down the road, when the advertising campaign has long ended, no real person is responding to it anymore, and I see I am getting tons of spam on it, I can remove the automatic forward, meaning the address does not exist anymore and email sent to it will disappear somewhere into cyberspace and evaporate.

The last effective way how you could help reduce spam is by not advertising your email on the internet. Spammers will use a simple robot which automatically scours the internet looking for the "MAILTO:" html code, which would produce the link [email protected] It would find such a link (or just search for the "@" character) and automatically add that email to their spam list. They are certainly welcome to add my email to the left, because it doesn't exist, heh heh. It will only help bog down their smtp (sending) server. Heck, this industry is so developed, they even send out emails offering someone money just by following some weblink. Once you manually press on the link, or respond to such an email, you have proven you are a real person, adding much greater value to your email address and it gets bumped up on their spam list. So if you really need to advertise your main email address, you can put up a picture like , which can't be scanned, or employ such simple tricks as writing kenax [AT] kenax.cz and hope your potential future customer can figure it out, or write out your email address properly without a spelling mistake. Or use a temporary email address as explained above, to make it easier for your potential customers to contact you. Or use a contact form like mine. Speaking of contact form, I got my programmers to develop that for me, but even that was hacked into by spammers, so they developed it further to make it hack-proof. I can sell this contact form for a small fee.
 

I Don't Get Spam, I Use a Macintosh

I heard this argument before, but email spamming has nothing to do with your computer, or your operating system. Macintoshes and operating systems like Linux are less susceptible to VIRUSES, but that is a totally different issue from spam emails (you can read about computer virus protection for more info). These systems can still get viruses, which have been written just to prove a point, but they are much less likely to get viruses mostly because such programmers simply do not bother writing viruses for these systems, for two reasons: 1) primarily because most people use Windows, meaning that's where all the money is. Many programmers also detest Microsoft, possibly out of envy, and will write such software for their own feeling of power; 2) the other systems are better designed against such hacking, so the programmers don't bother.
But emailing is entirely different and depends on the propagation of your email address on spammers' lists and on the ability of your spam filter and all issues explained above. Once a spam email does get through, if it is also a virus, then things depend on the ability of your offline email client (such as MS Outlook) or your virus protection software to recognise and protect your system from such a virus. If you know what you are doing, you can use a PC and not have any problems, like me. But generally I'd give a thumbs up for Macintosh and Linux, if you have the money or know how to use a Linux. For my business though they pose too many limitations.


Related Links and Info

Because of my dissatisfaction with Vanquish I spent two days looking for better third party spam protection, unfortunately without success. If you know of any please tell me about it. In any case, thought I'd copy below what research and testing I did manage to accomplish.

http://www.lakessoftware.com/Saavor/Saavor.htm

    looks like some simple program. Would need an smtp server.

http://www.spam-gate.com/

    could be interesting, check out and prices etc.

    looks a bit cheesy and cheap, 50$ a year. Asking about smtp (didn't get response).

http://www.approvemail.com/

    40$/year for their premium service (only one anyway?) looks a bit cheesy

    15 day free trial

http://spameater.com/

    30 day free trial, looks fairly serious

    18$/year to protect one address, 36 for two addresses

    responded to with customer package (although expensive)

    doesn’t seem that I send through it etc. but some external filter?

    seems good in terms of tweaking the level of spamblocking, but I guess you need an external smtp server..

http://en.www.spamarrest.com/howitworks/

    30 day free trial, 50$ a year. Looks like the standard good package.

    responded almost immediately, so potentially good support (asked me to just try it)

    tried out but too simple for my needs. Good and regular support though.

http://spam.abuse.net/userhelp/

    many links to other services… I think I checked them all out

http://spamlinks.net/filter-cr.htm

    many links to other services… drew some links here, but has a bunch of other good links it seems:


Third Party POP3 or Network POP3 Proxy Challenge/Response

CleanMyMailbox http://www.cleanmymailbox.com/ (Reviews: 1) Nah

GoodbyeSpam http://www.goodbyespam.com/ ok

iPermitMail http://www.ipermitmail.com/ looks ok

0Spam.com http://www.0spam.com/ (Reviews: 1) seems half decent, free with one email account, verification can be in different languages couldn’t get it working…

Bluebottle http://www.bluebottle.com/ seems half decent

Affini http://www.affini.com/ (Reviews: 1) forces a payment for verification

Spam Snag http://spamsnag.com/

SpamBlocks http://www.spamblocks.net/ seems half decent


Challenge/Response Accounts

MailCircuit http://www.mailcircuit.com/ (Reviews: 1) expensive

myprivacy .ca http://www.myprivacy.ca/ for .ca domain registrations free service?

Email Validation Service http://www.evsmail.com/ seems junky?

Spam Wall http://www.spamwall.net/ seems okay

BoxSentry http://www.boxsentry.com/ seems darn good! Multiple languages, hierarchy filters etc. I think it can guarantee delivery? Teamed up with Habeas (http://www.habeas.com/en-US/Home/), is an email Reputation Services Provider that offers solutions for legitimate senders to monitor and manage their email reputation to ensure maximum deliverability. Unfortunately, seems all high end stuff and not for little ol’ me. :0(

AlienCamel http://aliencamel.com/ (Reviews: 1) could be rock solid but expensive (80$ without digital signature?). Apparently doesn’t send challenge message.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Challenge-response_spam_filtering

checked the external links at the bottom… directed to:
http://www.spamhelp.org/services/listings/challenge-response/

On google got to end of 1st page in search
spam block challenge response
seemed fairly good keywords


Based on all my findings I submitted the following proposals to my existing provider:

 

< direct webserver if some problem
< instructions for setting up at bottom
 


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