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Blocking spam is a huge job. The state of the art in spam fighting these days is complex technology that analyzes characteristics in each email based on what users have marked as spam.

I'm using Windows 7 and have Hotmail as my main email provider. I'm constantly getting spam as most of us do. However, I've attempted to block the spammers by blocking the IP address, the domain, the email and still no luck. Is there a way to block emails coming from a certain country? Or have Hotmail reject all email from a certain time to a certain time? Say at night when I'm getting the most junk email?

In this excerpt from Answercast #73, I look at the possibility of lowering spam by blocking emails from a certain country or by time of day.

Blocking spam

The short answer to your question is no.

Particularly with Hotmail, there is actually no way to configure those kinds of options in any way that would be helpful. And in fact, my sense is that blocking in general simply does not work.

Blocking specific email addresses makes you feel better, but in fact, spammers are sending from a variety of email addresses and you can't block them all. Heck, they could be faking the email address, so that it looks like it's coming from you!

Spammers constantly change & hide

Along those lines, we end up with the same problem for any technique you might want to use to block email based on the domain or the email address or even the IP address.

All of these things are routinely spoofed by the spammers or misused by spammers, so it looks like the spam is coming from other places than it actually is.

For all you know, even though it may be coming from China, the spam could look like it's coming from the machine in your neighbor's house next door. That's really frustrating! But that means that these kind of blanket attempts to block spam based on those simple characteristics of IP address or domain or email address are all pretty much doomed to failure. Spammers have known for a long time how to work around that kind of stuff.

As a result, there's simply no consistency in the spam that would make that kind of blocking useful.

Block spam for time of day

Now, the "time of day" thing. You know, to be honest, I wouldn't use it if I had it. But I'm not aware of any spam-fighting solution that uses the time of day as a criteria for blocking spam.

So I don't think that's on the table at all.

"This is spam" button

The best thing you can do for spam, particularly with an account like a Hotmail account, is to make use of the junk button; make use of the "This is spam" button.

I think it's called Junk in Hotmail.

What that does is it allows Hotmail to learn from you what spam looks like. Hotmail then uses significantly more complex detection algorithms to determine exactly what is and is not spam. And like I said, it learns based on the kinds of things that you say are spam.

It will look at the content of the email. It will look at the language of the email. It will certainly look at the IP addresses of the email.

But, it won't look at them all in isolation: it will look at them in combination and compare those combinations of characteristics to things that people have already marked as spam The more similar it is to what people have said is spam, the more likely it is that Hotmail will mark it as spam for you, and throw it into your junk mail folder.

Retrieving false positives

Now, the one caveat is that it's not enough to just mark spam as spam when it shows up in your inbox. It's important to also periodically go take a look at the junk mail folder, the spam folder, and make sure that something that isn't spam wasn't falsely placed there.

When it is (and it will happen), make sure to open that email and mark it as "not junk" or "not spam."

That also tells Hotmail that this type of email, with all the characteristics that Hotmail might be able to analyze that email for, represents something that to you is not spam - and should not be marked as spam in the future. In other words, we're also teaching Hotmail what is not spam.

By doing that fairly consistently, you're improving Hotmail's spam detection algorithm. Over time, the amount of spam that actually makes it into your inbox will decrease.

Fighting spam

That's really the state of the art in spam fighting these days. Hotmail is good, Gmail happens to be a little bit better, but both of them rely on the same fundamental technology that analyzes a number of characteristics of spam (everything from it's origin to its content) and then based on the similarity of that to other spam that it's detected in the past, it will decide whether or not something is or is not spam and make it go away for you.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6068 - November 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
GlenLW
November 27, 2012 9:27 AM

i get anywhere from 5 to 20 scam emails everyday. i looked up numerous agencies to report them to and they just keep coming. hotmail has blocked my account about 5 times, i think, because forwarding scam emails to the companies they use as bait hotmail views as "suspicious activity". i`ve resorted to opening 2 other accounts for sending and leaving hotmail blocked to receive. i`m wondering how long this will last.

AJPeabody
November 27, 2012 9:49 AM

I am now regularly getting spam from the future! The date is somehow spoofed to the next day or the day after or even a future year, guaranteeing it will appear first when I look at my email.

Is there any way to automatically send to junk anything emailed from the future? I am using Mozilla (after you recommended it).

Thanks,

AJ

LeeD
November 27, 2012 9:55 AM

Hotmail is not the best at blocking spam. GMail is! Very little spam gets through GMail. Also Cloudmark free is a great spam blocker app. Works for me!

Alex Dow
November 27, 2012 11:41 AM

Evening GlenLW

Other than identifying messages as SPAM, as Leo has stated, then deleting, there is no point in forwarding them to anywhere.

You are simply cluttering up the WEB, with useless traffic.

Say you "report" one SPAM message to five different "agencies", you have increased the SPAM traffic by about six to seven times, as you have repeated the SPAM message five times, with your own address, comments etc added to each copy.

The one caveat, be carefull to distinguish between "genuine" SPAM and messages from genuine sources which you are not interested in.

Mark Jacobs (Team Leo)
November 27, 2012 12:40 PM

@AJPeabody
I'm assuming you mean Mozilla Thunderbird which has a filter rule where you can specify Age.
Click "Tools" from the menu bar then select "Message rules" from there choose:
"Age" "is less than" "O" "move to" "Junk email".

I haven't tried it, but I imagine it should work. Let me know if it works.

Update: Recent versions of MS Outlook allow you to block emails from specified countries.

James
November 27, 2012 6:23 PM

If you don't normally expect email from strangers, the best thing I have found is to create a filter that says that if the sender is not in your address book, then mark the email as spam and move it to the Junk folder.

Firefox will let me create such a filter. I can't vouch for other programs or webmail clients.

Of course this doesn't stop all spam. It doesn't stop spam from being sent from your friends' hi-jacked email accounts, or from an email account that appears to be from someone in your address book.

Don
November 27, 2012 10:23 PM

There might be a way of spoofing the country of origin but when do a search on the originating IP address in Karen's WhoIs, it reports most of it comes from eastern Europe or Asia. Blocking/filtering by country of origin should be a tool available to help reduce the crap coming from these places.

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