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Mon 2 Jan 2006 04:00 AM

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Change your diet

Two days into 2006 and I’m already receiving mails from readers expressing dismay at the huge amounts of trash clogging up their inboxes. Let’s make this our communal New Year’s resolution then, repeat after me: "We will SLAM THE SPAM!"

|~||~||~|Most of us don’t need security experts to tell us that the amount of spam (a.k.a. unsolicited e-mail) in circulation is on the rise. Just open Outlook and there it is: low-cost Viagra-style pills, kindly Nigerian benefactors, too good to be true ‘cheap’ software, rather rude new buddies looking for fun friends ad infinitum… The trick is not to find this stuff, in fact sometimes it’s harder trying to escape it and track down the ‘real’ mails.

Whilst I’ll admit I’ve not discovered a way to eliminate every last bit of dirge, I have managed to chop down my spam of late. How? Well, by being sensible and getting organised of course. Follow these then and you’ll be surprised at how many of your new friends disappear.

1. First and foremost - don’t go anywhere near the internet without some seriously sturdy anti-virus software on-board your PC. An internet connection equals potential trouble, both in terms of you receiving e-mail and – if you’re not careful what you click on - leading to your PC being transformed into a spam-sending ‘zombie’ system. Not what you want at all…

Most such packages include anti-spam features, with the latest security suites from the likes of Symantec, McAfee, NOD32 and so on all very easy-to-use and configure.

If you’ve overspent during the festive period, you can get started without spending a jot. The free edition of AVG Anti-Virus (see www.grisoft.com) is a fine app to start with. If you’re not using the firewall featured in Windows XP, turn this ON. (If you’re using an older OS, try downloading ZoneAlarm from http://dw.com.com/ as this includes a decent equivalent.)

2. Be prudent and cautious with your e-mail address. Don’t register for product or promotional updates from every website you come across and be ultra wary of two-bit e-zines that you can’t be sure won’t pass or sell your address to every dodgy netizen out there.

If you do decide to sign up for an e-zine or specific product/service information from a company, always make sure you check or uncheck other ‘accept further information or offers’ type options so that you only get the data you want. What you’re trying to do here is to avoid letting any company pass you e-mail address onto third parties.

3. Make sure your e-mail client is not set to ‘preview’ messages. Spammers want to know who reads their messages and in some cases if your e-mail program shows you the contents of a message in the window below your inbox, then a spammer might be able to see that a message has been received. In addition to its allowing Trojans to wreak havoc with your rig, this in turn tells spammers that your e-mail address is indeed active and from there you can expect much more of the same electronic drivel.

4. Similarly, if you’re using Outlook 2003 (or earlier) as your e-mail client, make sure you’re not responding to every message without even realising it. This option isn’t enabled by default, but it’s worth checking just to be sure, especially if you’re using a second-hand system. In Outlook, first head for Tools/Options. Click the ‘E-mail Options’ button, then hit the very first button, entitled ‘Tracking Options’. Make sure ‘Always send a response’ is not checked.

4. Don’t reply to spam or even click a message’s Unsubscribe link (unless that is you distinctly remember having subscribed). Both these actions tell a spammer that your address is a ‘go’ and thereafter you’ll receive more.

5. Never buy anything you've found out about via spam. This effectively funds the spammers: why try to fight them off whilst simultaneously lining their pockets?

Do feel free to let me know how much of an effect following these five steps has on the amount of tripe you receive (on windows@itp.com). It should, I believe, help a fair bit. In the meantime, a very Happy New Year to every Windows reader. May 2006 be spam-free.

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