E-mail Spam

If you’re like me, you might remember days before e-mail spam.  My inbox never got mail from people I didn’t know containing links to things I didn’t want.  You didn’t need filters.  It just didn’t happen.  Today is a very different story.  Hotmail (or Live) used to be pretty good at keeping spam out but in the past few months, I have received significant amounts of it that has been passing through Microsoft’s filters.  I went from getting one every few months to getting several per day.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to stop them.  They always contain links to sites that had their domain name recently registered.  Someone must be spending a fortune getting those or found a way to get them really really cheap.  It’s obvious that all the e-mails are related because they contain no text.  They only contain three inline images with the “text” that they’re pushing along with a fake unsubscribe link.  The even say they’re in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act.  It’s comical.  I’ve tried blocking the sender’s name when I see there’s more than one from “Fidelity Direct” or whatever but they found a way to get around that by padding the space between the words with characters that don’t display but do confuse the filter enough to make it ineffective.  The e-mails always have a style tag at the end with many random words (sometimes nonsense words).  I’m guessing that helps it to get through Microsoft’s filters.  I’ve always marked them as junk but they continue to steadily come.

I’ve seen several e-mails have their images blocked even when in my inbox but others showed up.  I thought the latter happened because the image was from an attached jpg but it turned out that it was actually displaying the inline image from the website.  The act of pulling that image can let the spammer know that someone (namely me) is reading their e-mail.

After a long search, I did find an option in Hotmail under “Filters and reporting” –> “Block content from unknown senders” that blocks attachments, pictures, and links from anyone not in my safe senders list.  I can’t believe I didn’t check that before.  I also can’t believe it’s not checked by default.

I went through a bunch of the spam messages yesterday and viewed the message source to see if I can come up with some solution.  A commonality I found between many of them is that their IPs are related (though not the same) and seem to be from Colorado.    Unfortunately Hotmail does not give the option to block a range of IPs which would largely solve the problem as I could just blacklist the provider’s range.

So after looking at a bunch of those spam messages yesterday, and pulling their inline images as a result, I found a whole slew of spam in my junk folder today.  Having this batch of spam come in is significant for two reasons.  First, the sheer number of messages is easily 4-5 times what I got before in a single day. That shows spammers are really paying attention to who views their spam.  Let be be clear, I did not click on the links; Hotmail itself only pulled the inline images. Second, it’s actually in my junk folder and not my inbox.  That’s a big change from what I’ve been seeing before.  It seems that the act of choosing to block images, etc. from people who are not in my safe senders list makes Hotmail “smarter” whereby it throws them in the junk folder instead of happily putting it in my inbox.

Hopefully Hotmail will continue to properly filter my mail.  Over time I imagine the spammers will see I am no longer pulling in their images and will eventually slow down or even give up trying to advertise to me in favor of spamming more lucrative targets.