The Cost of Spam | October 16, 2004

So I’ve been having a bit of a connectivity nightmare of late. I’ve just moved flats, but the new place doesn’t have cable. As my phone, TV and net access are all through the cable company, this has left me a littlle stuck. I’ve been playing phone tennis with them for the last two weeks and there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnnel. However it’s very diffcult to play phone tennis if you work full time and don’t actuallly have a land line. What’s worse is that I get almost no mobile phone coverage in my house, making life really tricky.

It looks like I’ll get cable installed in the next week or two, but until then I’m forced to download my mail on my GPRS phone which is costing me a fortune. Last weekend I managed to connect to the net using my Sony Ericsson k700i and ended up downloading around 600 emails. As you can imagine about 95% of them were spam and I actually ended up with only about 35 interesting/usefull emails. After downloading the first 100 fully, I had the precense of mind to put a limit on filesizes. I would love to be able to only download headers, but Mail doesn’t seem to have that option. As such the whole process cost me around �20.

Thats right, �20 for the privelage of downloading a load of spam! Usually I see spam as just an annoyance. Mails spam filtering tends to capture 80% of it and stick it in it’s own folder to be trashed at will. The rest I sort through almost out of habit and flag as junk. However because I’m currently having to pay for everything I download, spam is actually costing me dearly. I estimate that by the time I get my net connection back, two weeks worth of spam would have cost me �50.

I’ve decided that I need to sort out my spam problem. First off I’ll be changing my email address when I get connected again. Next I’ll be looking for a new host that has server side spam filtering such as Spam Assassin. I’m thinking about Dreamhost, but if anybody has any other suggestions, please let me know. Finally I’m eager to know how much spam you folks get and what, if anything you do about it.

Posted at October 16, 2004 4:57 PM


foobah said on October 16, 2004 5:24 PM

How about actually paying 2/hr to use a Internet Cafe somewhere? Or plug-in at Virgin/Starbucks/various stations.

I’ve tried recieving mail on a GPRS connection, and its hellish; especially when your connection drops and your forced to download the same 100 spam messages again. You could always try to preview your mail hearders on the server from a website, delete the spam, and then GPRS-download the rest.


JCRogers / Buddy13 said on October 16, 2004 6:23 PM

I recently moved and had to suffer offline-ness for quite a while.

Most of my spam goes to my hotmail address, which is why I rarely check it.

When I got back online, I finally got a site online, and did it through DreamHost.
So far I’m only receiving one stream of spam, and it’s not through any emails I set up on my DreamHost-hosted site.

Through DreamHost and Thunderbird, spam is very very sparse so far. And what little I do receive is my own fault (and comes to an address on a different, non-Dreamhost site).

(I also completely understand your phone-not-working problems, as my own phone doesn’t work in certain areas of my appartment.)

Gabriel Mihalache said on October 16, 2004 6:28 PM

I’ll keep my comment short since you’re paying a lot to read it :-)

Why not surf and read your personal email at work? Doesn’t your ISP offers web mail access?

Ben Saunders said on October 16, 2004 7:13 PM

I use Mailwasher Pro (Windows only, I’m afraid!), which bounces email it identifies as spam. I get hardly any spam now - maybe 1% of my incoming mail.

Another top tip I picked up is to use different addresses for filling in online forms etc. e.g - that way you can a) see if your email address has been flogged to a spammer, b) block the address and c) bollock the company that sold it to spammers.

Lastly, I never use mailto: in (x)html - Hiveware’s superb Enkoder does a great job of hiding addresses from spam bots.

Craig C. said on October 16, 2004 9:17 PM

I only get about 2 spams per day thanks to a strict regimen of keeping my email address as private as possible.

1) Do NOT let your address appear anywhere on the Internet in any unencoded/unmunged form. This is the most important rule.

2) Use disposable addresses for any online activity (I use SpamGourmet). I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that none of the sites I’ve dealt with so far have sold my info to spammers, but better to be safe just the same.

3) You can completely block known spam on the server side. While SpamAssassin does a fine job of scoring and tagging suspected spams, it doesn’t actually prevent them from coming through, and blocking mail based on a spam score is risky (false positives always happen). However, if you get lots of spam from one source that always has some defining characteristic, you can safely reject it on the server.

4) Disable catch-all forwarding. Most hosts can forward misdirected mail to an admin address, which can just open you up to dictionary attacks when still finds its way to your inbox. I liked this at first, but once I found myself getting about 30 spams per day to various nonexistent persons at my domain, I had to switch it off. It’s possible you’ll miss some mail if the sender made a typo, but just invoke the Omelette Rule. This is war.

5) Be sure your new host keeps SpamAssassin updated. I have to nag mine to do it. It’s a constant race between the spammers and the filters, and if spam starts coming through unflagged it’s time to upgrade.

And umm… I could probably think of some more measures (I’m a rabid anti-spammer) but this is a long enough comment already.

Craig C. said on October 16, 2004 9:26 PM

Ben, I use Mailwasher as well, but just to preview what’s on the server, get the raw source of spams for reporting to their ISPs, and to delete the spam so I don’t have to download it.

But I recommend against the bounce feature. Spammers invariably forge the From: header, so you’re not bouncing back to the spammer, just bouncing spam into the ether which wastes bandwidth, or even worse bouncing it back to some innocent victim who got joe-jobbed.

Mike D. said on October 17, 2004 1:20 AM


I highly recommend Dreamhost and I even moreso recommend the change in e-mail addresses. I used to like having a ‘catch-all’ e-mail address so I could give different addresses to different people, but the problem with that is you get spam to addresses like “sales@” and “webmaster@” etc etc. Pick one address for your real mail and then use something like gmail for ALL non personal mail.

When I switched domains earlier this year (and moved to Dreamhost), I went from about 500 spams a day to usually zero. Quite nice, quite nice.

Jeff Minard said on October 17, 2004 3:24 AM

Yeah, i know this feeling. I didn’t have to actually pay for the access, but I went on vacation* for 10 days, and came back to over 2000 messages and full email accounts that continued to bounce email around for 6 days. Needless to say, I spent a long, long time downloading all that over 56k.

. * = no dsl connection, as we just moved too.

Seb said on October 17, 2004 12:19 PM

I have numerous mail domains, including some I host for clients.

I now route all incoming mail via MX Logic ( For a reasonable fee (about $20 a month for the first 20 email users, and then a nominal surcharge per extra user) it will filter everything; for an extra $5 it will also do virus checking.

It’s a very accurate system; but what I like about it is that you can set it either to discard all spam, or to quarantine it - so you can then check their website every day/week/whenever, and just check that there’s nothng been blocked that you want to receive (and then tell it to allow the sender in future).

This is essential, especially for a business, because there is nothing worse than never receiving an important email because it’s been labelled as spam…

Sian said on October 17, 2004 2:04 PM

I use very good service and prompt replies to any queries I may have. They use SpamAssassin and if you have a particular problem will monitor an account to see if they can help reduce spam.

andy said on October 17, 2004 9:33 PM

do you want to know something very strange.
all i did was search ‘Andy’ on google, as it is my name. And it came up with you.
I live in Brighton, England
And I am a web designer.
VERY strange!!!

How said on October 18, 2004 3:09 PM

Email is such an effort these days, no? I wonder how bad it has to get before it’s value is reduced to near zero by spam and the effort required to combat it. I ‘ve got pretty close to giving up due the time I was spending trying to be spam free. Sometimes I think “just use the phone”. Oh sorry… you can’t ;-)

David House said on October 18, 2004 9:05 PM

Erm… Internet Cafe? I know Britain isn’t exactly full of them, but it’s going to be cheaper than doing it by mobile phone.

Josh Bryant said on October 18, 2004 9:31 PM

Please do not go with Dreamhost. They are horrible! I used them for, a site for our student counsel and have had nothing but problems with the way they handle business, including the use of their own proprietary technologies. Their ‘own’ cpanel just sucks at best and is completely unusable.

I would recommend looking for a much better host.

Adrian said on October 18, 2004 11:59 PM

I used to be with a big name host and was inundated with 4-500 spams per day. Since moving to Textdrive it has been cut by about 75% and I could use Spam Assassin if I had the time to set it up. For the price and quality of service I think it hard to beat and have no intention of ever going back to the more commercial hosts. These guys really seem to care and that means a lot to me.

pid said on October 19, 2004 10:46 AM

get the most use out of your domain name.

I assign a different relevant email address to each registration i have to or choose to make online, and use the catch all. i block or catch separately the standard addresses like info, sales, etc.


then i know who’s sold or misused my address. it’s a bit tedious to keep track of, but it helps.

Tim said on October 19, 2004 9:48 PM

Charles Roper said on October 20, 2004 11:06 AM

I get a ton of spam, but thankfully my host - - has SpamAssassin as standard. They’ve just upgraded to version 3, which has some key improvements. This, coupled with Thunderbird’s bayesian filter means that of the 100s of spam messages headed my way each day, only very, very few seem to actually end up in my inbox; perhaps one or two a week which I quickly train as spam using TB.

The other benefit of Clook, apart from having very fast servers in the UK and US (you can choose your preferred location) is their very active and friendly community ( This sense of community is what makes TextDrive so appealing too.

Another new feature Clook have just introduced is a free account on their dedicated fallback server for thier multiple domain and reseller customers. This means that if your server does go down (which is very rare in my experience) you have a fallback in order to stay in touch with your readers/clients/whoever.

Paul said on October 21, 2004 2:35 PM supply Spam Assassin with all of their hosting accounts, and the various hosting packages are both cheap and generous in bandwidth. They’ve just upgraded their PHP to v5.0.2, so I presume they keep upgrading other stuff like Spam Assasin as well.

And yeah - Brighton has plenty of internet cafes - the one in the Curve/Komedia bar in the North Laine is quite pleasant, as you can order coffee etc to drink while browsing.

Dharmesh said on October 22, 2004 1:50 PM

  1. Use for disposable email address.
  2. Forward all catch all messages to Gmail account for storage and filtering spam.
  3. Use thunderbird to filter regular account messages.

Rob McMichael said on October 22, 2004 5:59 PM

If you tell me your MAC address you can pop onto my wireless network on the upper lewes road ;)

NTL are a bunch of ba**ards though but if you complain enough you should get a couple of months free internet access :D