The Top 10 Ways to Survive SpamAssassin™
By Dori Friend

In honor of David Letterman, possibly the best known “Top Ten” guru of our time, below is a Top Ten list of How To Survive SpamAssassin.

First, a review:
The Internet spam filters work by reviewing incoming email and “checking” the file for certain factors. Depending on what these filters find or don’t find, points are added to or taken away from a scoring system.

These filters (you may be familiar with such names as SpamAssassin, Bogofilter, and SpamProbe) look for certain patterns in your email, and assigns "spam points" depending on certain words, phrases, or even colors! If your score is 5.0 or higher, your email subject line may be edited and "* SPAM*" appears at the start of your email, or your email is redirected to a “bulk” type of mailbox (how RUDE)!

The key point to remember about the numbers is this: the lesser the score the better (kind of like golf)! If we were to categorize the two primary areas where spam filters err, they would be in the areas of “false negatives” and “false positives.” A false negative is when an email that is indeed spam gets through the filter, and a false positive is when a legitimate email gets caught in the filtering system.

The point then, is to ensure that legitimate emails are structured in a way that will allow them to “pass” this test, and so without further delay (…ta da…fanfare!!!) the Top Ten Ways To Survive SpamAssassin:

Watch what you place in your subject line
The subject line is one area of your e-mail that is scrutinized. For example, 2.86 points will be added if the phrase “To: (username appears at the front of the subject). If the word FREE appears in caps, 1.10 points are added. If there is a lot of white space in the subject line, you get 2.64 points added to your score.

Take advantage of being a Newsletter
If your email is a newsletter, you get .22 points taken off your score. If the subject line has a date in it, you can take off .48 points. You can take off one full point if the subject contains a newsletter header!
Be a welcome guest - Have your recipients add you to their address books
By doing this, you won’t have to go through the SpamAssassin checklist at all – you proceed directly to “GO” and get your $200!!!!! (Remember MONOPOLY?)

Size does matter - keep your message size in a range of 20K to 40K
A good amount of spam is under 20K, so you can actually get .71 taken from your score if your message in within the 20K to 40K range.

Pretend you’re the government – “poll” your message
Use a Spam Checker to “test” your message. Wink, wink, I know that is why you are here ;)

Confirm your “opt-in” clients
This will help in the event that you need to verify you are not spamming, but that people you are sending email to want to receive the information you are sending them. One way to do this is to send your recipients an e-mail after they have “opted in” at you site, again to have them confirm that yes, you have permission to talk to them.

Too many capital letters can add .21 points to your score, so ONLY USE THEM WHEN YOU HAVE TO!

Calm down on those Hyperlinks
If you are going to use a hyperlink, make sure you put the almost forgotten http:// in there to – you get 1.28 points added to your score if you don’t!

Don’t use the same e-mail software that spammers use
Duh! SpamAssassin and other filtering systems are aware of some of the favorite e-mail tools of professional spammers and they tack on as many as 3 points if you use such programs as jpfree or StormPost. Be sure to check with ISPs to see what programs are constantly being added to their “hit list”.

Color Me Boring
Too many colors can cost you too. SpamAssasin adds .21 points for blue, .33 points for red and .44 for Magenta (this should be much higher for an annoying color like Magenta). Watch the background color too...anything other than white adds .317 points to your score. Just for the record, Black won’t add or take away any points.

And a BONUS – Beware The Blacklist!
Blacklists are databases of known spanners that ISPs regularly check. You may have unknowingly been added to a blacklist if one of your recipients clicked on the “this is spam” button (what were they thinking)? If you are blacklisted, contact the server provider immediately.

To summarize…
Remember, Anti-Spam software, is a moving target. Similar to Virus Protection Software, anti-spam software is only as good as the most recent activity. To be sure, the filters themselves are not perfect and often times they err on being “over protective.”

A good number of them have even become quite aggressive as of late, and the number of spam filtering options is growing as well. As many as 150 companies now offer spam filtering products. The spam filter technology is getting “smarter” too.

For example, some servers (known as challenge systems) send e-mail back to the original sender and require a reply before they forward the email onto the account holder.

The idea here is that a machine cannot reply to a request for specific information, so if the email is genuine it will be answered and then forwarded. America Online recently announced a new spam filter that can actually “learn” the preferences of each of their subscribers. This will be an interesting technology to watch. Good luck!

© Sonic-Rocket Marketing, 2003