Gizmo Richards' Support Alert Newsletter

"Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"

 Free Edition
Issue
134, 15th June, 2006


IN THIS FREE EDITION ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: Windows Security Plague
1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Gizmo Really Needs Your Help
1.2 Google Adds Spreadsheets to Online Office Arsenal
1.3 How to Secure an XP PC
1.4 How Malicious Programs Attack Your PC
1.5 Run Windows Programs on a Linux Thin Client
1.6 Virus Threats Explained
1.7 Get Back Lost XP Passwords
1.8 Free Programs Galore (SE Edition)
1.9 Good Tips for Securing Your Web Site (SE Edition)
1.10 Free Computer Books (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Utility for Project Task List Management
2.2 Lots Of Free Media Utilities
2.3 The Best Homebrew (Beer Recipe) Software
2.4 How to Keep Connected to the Internet
2.5 Why You Should Abandon Email Filing
2.6 Free Online Alternative to Microsoft Office (SE Edition)
2.7 The Best Free Wi-Fi Network Finder Utility (SE Edition)
2.8 Windows Manager Goes to Top of Class (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 New Version of IceSword Released
3.3 Firefox V1.5.04 Released
3.4 Microsoft OneCare Security Product Goes Live
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 A Really Good Reason to Change Your Router Password
4.2 Help for Carpal Tunnel Sufferers
4.3 Share Your Computer Software Blues
4.4 How to Make A Scratched CD Playable
4.5 Can You Reliably Pick Out a Phishing Letter?
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.7 Free PhotoShop Goodies (SE Edition)
4.8 How to Take Good Lecture Notes (SE Edition)
4.9 Great Optical Illusion (SE Edition)
4.10 How to Make the Best Quality MP3s (SE Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Reduce Spam
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Best Free Boilerplate Text Manager
6.2 The Best Free Drive Imaging Program (SE Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
0.0 EDITORIAL

I'm hopping mad. Angry to the point that my face is red with rage.

The cause of this wrath? A statement I've just read from Microsoft.

In the last month I've spent over 100 hours testing computer security products. It's part of a massive evaluation I'm undertaking into the adequacy of modern security software.

I've got a lot more research to do but even now I can tell you the news is not good. It's really tough to protect your computer against the latest malware threats.

The reason it's tough is, from a security point of view, the basic design of Windows is fundamentally flawed. The operating system just doesn't provide enough protection for key system processes.

Not only is the design flawed, so is the implementation. Windows is full of defects. I know them well because I've been seeing a lot of them in the last month while visiting hostile sites that exploit them.

The number of hostile sites that use Windows flaws to infect unsuspecting visitors with drive-by downloads is increasing. A couple of years ago I had to search really hard to find one. Today I can locate several in minutes.

The reason for the increase is there is money to be made from infecting PCs. Money from serving you ads you don't want to see, money from installing programs you don't want to have and lots of money from stealing your financial passwords or even your identity.

Most of these sites work by exploiting Windows flaws that have been patched. The notorious IFRAME exploit is popular as is the WMF vulnerability. However, some sites exploit unpatched flaws, so-called zero-day vulnerabilities.

A few weeks ago a really serious flaw was discovered in fully patched versions of MS Word 2002/2003. Within days, the flaw was being exploited by hostile web sites to infect tens of thousands of machines.

Microsoft has now released a patch as part of their scheduled June patch release. That's great, I applaud its unusually speedy response but this is small comfort for all those who became infected.

And it's even less comfort to those tens of millions of poor innocent folks who don't know about the Windows Update service.

You can't write off users who don't use the Windows Update service as "ignorant." They are not ignorant at all - naïve perhaps. Naïve that is, for believing that the Microsoft ads that Windows XP was safe.

These folks are no different, in fact, to purchasers of automobiles with safety defects. We don't call these people ignorant, we call them victims. And make no mistake: Windows XP is as clearly defective as any early model Corvaire or Ford Pinto.

In this context what has got me really hopping mad is a statement I just read from Microsoft. How's this for arrogance? Microsoft has announced they have no intention of fixing in Windows 98 the critical flaw covered in MS06-015 bulletin. This flaw exposes all Windows 98 users to having their computer compromised simply by visiting a hostile site.

The flaw has been fixed for other more recent versions of Windows. Windows 98 users have however been left in the lurch; fixing it "is not practicable," Microsoft says.

Will this flaw be exploited? You bet. It could become the most popular exploit for hostile sites ever.

There's other bad security news for Windows 98 users. As of July 12, all Microsoft public and technical support for Windows 98, Windows 98 SE and Windows ME comes to an end. No more security patches for you. Goodbye and good luck.

While I regret Microsoft pulling the plug, I accept that all products have a use-by date. However what gets me angry though is Microsoft pulling support for fixes before the product expiry date. Pragmatic perhaps, but also arrogant and dismissive of its customers.

Cynics could properly observe that all the security concerns over current and older versions of Windows can only encourage users to buy Windows Vista, Microsoft's latest "safe" version of Windows, when it is released in early 2007. If so, I guess Microsoft is hoping that its users will have forgotten that this is exactly the same advertising line used to promote Windows XP when it was launched.

Now for something a little more positive. Next month, unless I burn out from overwork, I'll have the first results of my security survey. By the time the survey is finished I hope to be able to give you some solid advice on how to best protect your PC against Windows deficiencies. And, unlike Microsoft, I won't leave Windows 98 users in the lurch.

The sad thing is this advice will only be listened to by the relatively tech-savvy audience that reads this newsletter and similar publications.

The average Windows user, I'm afraid, will be increasingly predated on by the malware scoundrels. Like lambs to slaughter...

However, let's not forget, dear reader, just where the responsibility for this terrible mess lies.

See you next month.

Gizmo
editor@techsupportalert.com

PS This month I'm giving away six free copies of the the top rated Anti virus NOD32 plus lots of Google GMail invites. For details, see below.

Support Alert relies on paid subscriptions to survive. If you feel that you've benefited from reading this newsletter perhaps you would like to consider donating by subscribing to the premium "Supporters' Edition" of this newsletter.

The Premium SE Edition contains almost twice the number of great tech sites, free utilities, tips and other content as the free edition. It's also ad-free.

You'll also get immediate access to the archive of all past issues of the Premium Supporters' Edition of the newsletter where you can catch up on the hundreds of great utilities you missed in the free edition. The SE Edition is a great deal and at $10 per year it's a bargain.

This month I'm giving away to new subscribers, six free copies of the the top rated Anti virus NOD32.

NOD32 is a brilliant program for protecting your PC yet it only consumes a modest amount of your computing resources. That's why I use it on my key work computers. At $39 it's good value but it's even better value when you can get it for free.

The six copies I'm giving away will be allocated at random but your chances of scoring one are actually quite good. So if you have been thinking of subscribing, now's the time.

I'm also giving away invites to Google Gmail to new SE subscribers. Last month everyone who wanted one got one and I expect the same to happen this month. Just email me at editor@techsupportalert.com after subscribing to the Premium SE Edition and I'll send your invitation.

Even if you don't win anything you'll still get my special report "Gizmo's Desert Island Utilities" which outlines the software I use myself, including many free product

How to Subscribe to the Premium SE Edition

12 months subscription to the Supporters' Edition costs $10 which can be made by check or credit card using either ClickBank or PayPal or simply send cash.

Use the link below to subscribe now:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/se-edition.htm

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Gizmo Really Needs Your Help

A small favor; if you enjoy this free newsletter could you please recommend it to a friend? I'd really appreciate it and you benefit as well as it helps ensure the newsletter's survival. Just send the free subscription page link below to anyone you think might benefit. It won't cost them a cent and you may well get their lasting gratitude. Do it now, just cut paste the link and email it to all.
http://techsupportalert.com/al_subscribe.htm

1.2 Google Adds Spreadsheets to Online Office Arsenal

In March Google acquired Writely, the zippy Ajax-based online word processor. Now they have just released a test version of Google Spreadsheet, a free online program that allows you create, store and share spreadsheets on the web. It's a limited trial so you need to register to use it. I did and, while it's no Excel, I saw enough to convince me that I should sell my Microsoft shares. But wait a minute; I sold them last year ;>)
http://spreadsheets.google.com/

1.3 How to Secure an XP PC

Using good security software is important but so is good PC administration. This site features an excellent checklist of ways to tighten your security using Windows XP settings.
http://labmice.techtarget.com/articles/winxpsecuritychecklist.htm

1.4 How Malicious Programs Attack Your PC

"How many ways do I hate thee?" They are all listed here:
http://diamondcs.com.au/processguard/index.php?page=attacks

1.5 Run Windows Programs on a Linux Thin Client

2X is an interesting corporate product that could solve a lot of user workstation management problems. Users run a Linux thin client with Windows programs on their desktop; applications are tunneled to users' desktops via an application server. I haven't tried it but if it delivers it could be a neat solution.
http://www.2x.com/thinclientserver/free-thin-clients.htm

1.6 Virus Threats Explained

Want to know the difference between a polymorphic and metamorphic virus? What's a zoo virus and why should you be worried about such things? You'll find the answer to these questions here in clear, plain-English.
http://www.securityfocus.com/infocus/1813

1.7 Get Back Lost XP Passwords

Most techies know the trick of using a Windows 2000 installation CD to get access to a password locked XP PC [1] but here's a way of doing it using an XP installation CD [2]. What's more, you can even change the password! On the same page you'll also find instructions how to make a password reset disk that allows you to easily recover your XP password should you forget it.
[1] http://www.windowssecrets.com/comp/030213/
[2] http://pubs.logicalexpressions.com/pub0009/LPMArticle.asp?ID=305

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

1.8  Free Programs Galore


1.9  Good Tips for Securing Your Web Site


1.10 Free Computer Books

Got some great tech sites to suggest? Send them to: editor@techsupportalert.com

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Free Utility for Project Task List Management

Here's a program geared towards folks who work on multiple projects at one time where each project has multiple sub-tasks requiring completion in a particular sequence. Its name, "ToDoList," may be plain vanilla but the program sure isn't; it can do pretty well anything with task lists you could want. Sure, there are no fancy calendar displays or Gantt charts but this is a task list manager not a project manager. While it may not have the features of a project management utility, it is, however, much more than a to-do list program; it's so capable it could be used to help manage quite large projects. I recommend everyone involved in project work to check out "ToDoList." It could be just what you are looking for. Thanks to subscriber Robin Brandt for letting me know about this utility. Note: registration is required to download the program. Freeware, 330KB.
http://www.codeproject.com/tools/todolist2.asp

2.2 Lots of Free Media Utilities

Subscriber Luke Stanford recently sent me a massive list of mostly free audio and video tools. I checked out a couple (DVD Decrypter and dvd43) and they appeared to be excellent choices. I didn't have time to check them all out so here's Luke's full list for you to use as you see fit:

* Best free MP3 codec
Lame - http://rarewares.org/mp3.html

* Best free lossless audio codecs:
Monkeys Audio: http://www.monkeysaudio.com/
FLAC: http://flac.sourceforge.net/

* Best free audio file normalizers
MP3Gain: http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net/
WaveGain: http://members.home.nl/w.speek/wavegain.htm

* Best UDF/ISO file creator
IMGTool Classic: http://www.coujo.de/

* Best free lossless video codecs
Lagarith: http://lags.leetcode.net/codec.html
Huffyuv: http://neuron2.net/www.math.berkeley.edu/benrg/huffyuv.html

* Best DVD Copy protection remover
dvd43: http://www.dvd43.com/
DVDFab Decrypter: http://www.dvdidle.com/free.htm

* Best free DVD Ripper
DVDDecrypter: http://www.mpegx.com/view.php?detail=323http://fileforum.betanews.com/detail/DVD_Decrypter/1011845169/1
SmartRipper: http://www.mpegx.com/view.php?detail=323

* Best Free video file conversion
Super: http://www.erightsoft.com
MediaCoder: http://mediacoder.sourceforge.net/download.htm

* Best desktop video capture
CamStudio: http://www.camstudio.org/

* Best free IFO/VOB editors
VobBlanker: http://www.videohelp.com/%7Ejsoto/vobblanker.htm
PgcEdit: http://www.videohelp.com/%7Er0lZ/pgcedit/

* Best free disc quality check utilities
K-Probe: http://www.k-probe.com/
Nero CD-DVD Speed: http://www.cdspeed2000.com/
DVDInfoPro: http://www.dvdinfopro.com/

* Best free media file information utility
AVICodec: http://avicodec.duby.info/
GSpot: http://www.free-codecs.com/download/GSpot.htm
MediaInfo: http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=86862&package_id=90341

2.3 The Best Homebrew (Beer Recipe) Software

One of the key aspects of homebrew is recipe formulation and management. Creating a tasty brew that meets the characteristics of its target style is no easy task since it involves many calculations and variables (color, bitterness, specific gravity, etc.). Not surprisingly, there are several homebrew software programs available to assist with these crucial tasks, including: BeerSmith, CyberBrau, DrewBrew, ProMash, QBrew, Strangebrew, and SUDS. After reviewing all of these programs, three are recommended.

Probably the most feature rich homebrew program available is BeerSmith [1]. It has an integrated recipe database for formulating and tracking recipes. It also has a user friendly interface, an integrated ingredient management system and shopping list, and many other tools including: water profiles, mash profiles, hop bitterness and aging calculator, hydrometer correction, various unit converters, and much more! BeerSmith will create a detailed brewing instruction sheet based on the recipe, equipment profile, mash profile, efficiency rating, and other options selected. To top it all off, it is one of only two homebrew recipe programs that support the BeerXML [*] standard that allows users to easily share recipes and associated information.

For an excellent freeware homebrew recipe program, QBrew [2] is the only, but very deserving, choice. It has an intuitive and simple interface and is excellent for formulating recipes quickly (about half the time as BeerSmith). Recipe entry and ingredient database management is extremely simple in QBrew. Each recipe is stored in a separate file and can be exported in BeerXML [*] format for sharing and/or importing into other BeerXML enabled applications such as BeerSmith. QBrew's recipe calculations seem to be more accurate than BeerSmith's, but don't accept that as a guarantee! After all, home brewing systems vary in efficiencies and the calculation results are meant to serve as guidelines. Both BeerSmith and QBrew can be extracted from the installation archive and run from a USB flash drive.

However, for web-savvy users that are interested in a web-based beer recipe application that can be setup on a personal web site and then accessed from anywhere, CyberBrau [3] is a very capable option. It features recipe formulation and management, batch tracking, a reviewing system, and other useful utilities. It also supports multiple users and is great for sharing recipes, tracking batches through the entire process, and sharing comments on recipes. Note from Gizmo: Many thanks to Craig Vollmar for submitting this review.

[1] http://www.beersmith.com/ Shareware (21 day trial), Windows 98 or newer, 2.6 MB
[2] http://www.usermode.org/code.html Freeware, 3.1 MB
[3] http://cyberbrau.sourceforge.net/ Freeware, Web-based (PHP and MySQL),
[*] http://www.beerxml.com/

2.4 How to Keep Connected to the Internet

Subscriber Chris Mar writes "Gizmo, I'm among a huge number of disappointed Internet users who keep losing internet connectivity. It seems that this may be a function of the ISP as well as other unnecessarily complex or redundant security measures in the Administrative Services. Normally to resolve this I have to use the Network Connection Repair tool to re- establish the seemingly broken link but recently I ran across an excellent app called Connection Keeper by Greg Wittmeyer, CEO of Gammadyne Corporation [1]. It is a free download and has solved my connection problems. What a joy; no more endless cycles with the Repair tool or getting stuck after I get up to stretch my legs to come back to find the little Network Connection icons lifelessly staring into blank space." Thanks for that, Chris. You are quite right; internet disconnection problems are very common. However the causes are many and range from simple ISP based inactivity timeouts and line noise problems right through to complex TCP stack issues. Using Connection Keeper is an excellent first line of attack. It keeps connections alive by regularly communicating with your ISP even during periods of sustained inactivity. It won't solve all disconnection problems but many users will find it provides a simple free solution. Freeware, all Windows versions, 2.56MB.
[1] http://www.gammadyne.com

2.5 Why You Should Abandon Email Filing

Subscriber Mark Rosenberger recently emailed me about a free tutorial he has written [1] that outlines an alternative to using email folders for filing. It's well worth reading and fits in nicely with my own experience. I now regard filing email as an anachronism, a make-work activity that has no relevance to the current computer era where email search using a desktop search engine provides better access to your email than any classification system using folders. All my email is held is either in my Inbox, my Deleted items or Sent. What's more I can find anything in seconds using X1 search. I suggest you read Mark's tutorial and give some serious thought to simplifying your email filing. If you do, you'll not only save time but find your email messages faster than ever. If you don't already have a mail search program I suggest you download Yahoo's free desktop search [2]. It uses the excellent X1 search engine (the free version of the commercial product I use) and can index email from most email clients. It requires Windows 2000 or later but users of earlier Windows versions can use the free Copernic Desktop Search Program [3], another top class indexer.
[1] http://cnxn.ca/NoFoldersTutorial.html
[2] http://desktop.yahoo.com/ (Windows 2000 SP3 or later, 5.3MB)
[3] http://www.copernic.com/ (Windows 98 or later, 3.1MB)

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

2.6 Free Online Alternative to Microsoft Office


2.7 The Best Free Wi-Fi Network Finder Utility


2.8 Windows Manager Goes to Top of Class

Got some top utilities to suggest? Send them to
editor@techsupportalert.com

3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News

On June 13 (Patch Tuesday) Microsoft released a dozen security patches [1] for its products, one of the largest batches for some time. Included were fixes for eight flaws rated "critical" by Microsoft. Prominent among these was a fix for a very serious zero-day flaw in Microsoft Word [2] discovered a few weeks earlier that was already being widely exploited by hostile web sites to compromise the PCs of site visitors. Several of the other critical rated fixes relate to serious problems in Internet Explorer. All Windows updates are distributed automatically by Microsoft Update Service. It is extremely important that users who do not have automatic updates enabled visit the Update Service [3] now.
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-jun.mspx
[2] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/MS06-027.mspx
[3] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 New Version of IceSword Released

In the hands of an experienced user, IceSword is one of the most powerful tools available for detecting rootkits. A new version, 1.18 has just been released with some enhanced detection features designed to detect the latest generation of rootkits. The developer's site is in China but the link below is to the RapidShare download service. This version has an English help file. Note: some folks have reported stability problems with the latest version so backup before installing.
http://rapidshare.de/files/21011497/IceSword1.18en.7z.html

3.3 Firefox V1.5.04 Released

Another month, another Firefox security update. As with previous patches this is a proactive update to prevent bugs from being exploited rather than a retrospective update to fix currently circulating exploits. It's a big patch, too, covering 12 separate problems so make sure you get it. Users of Firefox 1.5 and later will have the update automatically delivered, others will need to update manually from the Firefox site.
http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

3.4 Microsoft OneCare Security Product Goes Live

Microsoft's managed "Windows Live OneCare" security service has just been launched. For $49.95 per year home users can protect up to three PCs with Microsoft's anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall products. It all looks a bit minimal but I'll hold my opinion until next month by which time I hope to have tested the product fully.
http://www.windowsonecare.com/


----------------- sponsored links -----------------------

The Best Windows Backup Software
We are in the process of updating all the backup reviews at our site but I can tell you right now that the top product has blitzed the field for a second year in row. In fact, it's improved so much that it's now a one horse race for our "editor's choice." The updated review of the top product is now online. If you have been looking for a backup program, this is the one.
http://www.backup-software-reviews.com/

The Best Spyware Detector
PC Magazine 10.31.05 "WebRoot's Spy Sweeper 4.5 is the most powerful anti-spyware tool we've seen yet. Its Comprehensive Removal Technology attempts to remove spyware completely in a single pass, and its behavior-based Active Shields prevent the installation of new threats on the cleaned system. Fancy names aside, our testing shows that the utility really works."
If you use Ad-aware or SpyBot you will be surprised just how more effectively SpySweeper detects and protects your PC from Adware, Spyware, Trojans and other malicious products. It's also one of the few anti-spyware programs that can reliably detect rootkits. Try the free evaluation copy of the new Version 4.5 and see for yourself.
http://www.webroot.com/consumer/products/spysweeper/index.html?acode=af1&rc=1132

The Best Remote Access Software
Our reviewer had given this product category away as "too slow, tool clumsy and too unreliable" but after reviewing this product he's changed his mind; "at long last a remote access solution that actually works! Quite frankly we agree with him, it's an impressive product. Read the full review here:
http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/best_remote_access_software.htm

The Best Anti-trojan Scanner
Most users are not aware that their anti-virus scanner can only provide a moderate level of protection against trojan programs that try and take control of your PC. To really protect your computer, you need a dedicated anti-trojan program. Our editors have reviewed every major product on the market and have concluded that two scanners stand head and shoulders above the other contenders.
http://www.anti-trojan-software-reviews.com

------------- end of sponsored links --------------------------

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 A Really Good Reason to Change Your Router Password

I hate to think how many routers in home systems use the default user ID and passwords set at the factory. My guess would be more than 90%. Using the defaults makes you highly vulnerable to attack so please change them using the instructions provided with your router. If you can't find them, go the vendor's web site. To underline the risks you face by using default values, here's a public list of default passwords and user IDs for thousands of router and switches.
http://www.phenoelit.de/dpl/dpl.htm

4.2 Help for Carpal Tunnel Sufferers

Last month I featured an article about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and got dozens of informative emails from sufferers. Thanks to all who wrote. This email from subscriber Gary Richter offers some excellent advice: "Hi Gizmo, I recently began suffering from Carpal Tunnel and have looked for non-surgical ways to reduce the pain. Workrave [1] is a program that assists in the recovery and prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). The program frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. It's free and a much better designed than 'Break time' and 'VDU tachograph'. The Evoluent VerticalMouse [2] supports your hand in a relaxed handshake position and eliminates arm twisting. Not free but worth considering. A website by Paul Marxhausen [3] provides a brief introduction to RSI for the benefit of those who may not be aware of the potential for a life-altering injury. It includes book references and links to Internet resources that may be helpful in educating readers."
[1] http://www.workrave.org/welcome/
[2] http://www.evoluent.com/vmouse2.html
[3] http://eeshop.unl.edu/rsi.html

4.3 Share Your Computer Software Blues

Fed up with the poor quality of computer software? Then visit this site and take some solace.
http://www.computergripes.com/

4.4 How to Make a Scratched CD Playable

The technique in this article works fine but so do the alternatives suggested in the reader comments.
http://www.instructables.com/ex/i/2EC632F40B1E1029BC4A001143E7E506/?ALLSTEPS

4.5 Can You Reliably Pick Out a Phishing Letter?

Well, I can't; that's why I treat any email requesting that I login to a financial site as phishy and verify the content by phone. Test out your Phishing detection abilities at this site. Be prepared for the possibility of a little ego deflation.
http://survey.mailfrontier.com/survey/quiztest.html

4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department

At this site [1] you'll find everything you didn't know about your birthday. At the second site [2] you can find out even more, provided, that is, you are younger than 50. ;>) Many thanks to subscriber Michael Colynuck.
[1] http://www.paulsadowski.com/birthday.asp
[2] http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/member/birthdayno1.php

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

4.7  Free PhotoShop Goodies

4.8  How to Take Good Lecture Notes

4.9  Great Optical Illusion

4.10 How to Make the Best Quality MP3s

5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Reduce Spam

As spam recipients go, I'm a class act. I get over 1,000 every day and on some days, more than 2,000. Yet in my mail box I hardly see any. Here's how I do it.

First, a little history. I used to use a Bayesian spam filter running on my PC. The product I used was an Outlook add-in called JunkOut. Like most Bayesian filters it took a while to train but once trained it worked just fine. The spam detection rate was around 98% and the number of false positives (good mail wrongly classified as spam) was vanishingly small.

But there was a problem. As my spam mail volume grew, the time taken by the spam filter to process my mail was growing to the point of being unacceptable. Some days it was taking 10 minutes or more to process my mail.

I needed a different solution. I tried rule-based spam filters that used less processing than Bayesian filters. I tried setting up my own mail server on a dedicated PC. I tried various commercial spam filtering services and other options as well. None of these gave me what I was looking for. But then I tried Google's GMail and bingo! I found what I had been looking for.

Unlike some other webmail services, Gmail provides spam filtering for free. That's no big deal; Yahoo!, Hotmail and others do that as well. What's different about Gmail is that it also provides free POP3 mail access.

Most of my spam mail is sent to the address editor@techsupportalert.com. That's no surprise; that address appears in every issue of this newsletter and on my website as well.

What I do is to forward all mail from that address to my Gmail account where it is spam filtered automatically.

The GMail spam filter detection rate is good, around 95%, so around 950 of the 1000 spam messages I receive daily never get to my Google Inbox.

I then use POP3 access to download the contents of my Google Inbox to Outlook. The incoming mail is then filtered using the excellent network-based Cloudmark spam filter that is installed on my PC.

Cloudmark's detection rate is around 92%. So of the 50 or so spam emails in my Google Inbox each day, fewer than five make it through to my Outlook Inbox.

Now here's the crunch. Both the Google GMail spam filter and the Cloudmark spam filter have the same characteristic; they virtually never classify my real mail as spam. That means I don't need to regularly check my spam folders to see if they contain genuine correspondence. That's a real plus with large spam folders.

The spam detection rates for GMail and Cloudmark are good, though a long way from the best in their class. But that doesn't matter. By chaining the two systems together I increase my aggregate spam detection rate to 99% plus and that rate IS right up there with the best.

So the end result is that of 1,000 spam emails per day I see fewer than five. At the same time my real mail is virtually never sent to a spam folder. Problem solved.

Forwarding my editor@techsupportalert.com to GMail is easy for me as I control the email to my website. Other users, however, may not have the facility to redirect mail from their normal mail account to a GMail account. Some mail services provide this feature, others don't; you'll have to check your service to find out.

Even if your account doesn't allow mail forwarding you can do it yourself using a free utility called ERC. This runs on your PC and can be scheduled to automatically log into your mail account and forward the mail to another account. In fact, it can forward mail from up to three different accounts.

A better solution in the long run, though, may be to shift your permanent email address to Gmail.

I use Cloudmark for my secondary spam filter but a good Bayesian filter would perform well in the role provided you have the patience to train it. SpamBayes and K9 are good examples and both are free. The Thunderbird mail client of course has its own built in Bayesian spam filter so there is no need for another.

Whatever product you chose, I do suggest you try this combination of remote and local spam filtering. It could be just what you have been looking for.

JunkOut: http://www.theofficemaven.com/junkout/download.html
ERC: http://www.chimera.co.nz/index.html
GMail: http://gmail.google.com/
Cloudmark Desktop: http://www.cloudmark.com/homeoffice/
SpamBayes: http://spambayes.sourceforge.net/
K9: http://keir.net/k9.html

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 Best Free Boilerplate Text Manager

Boilerplate managers are utilities that allow you to store and insert commonly used phrases into your email, documents and other programs. For example rather than type "We have received your order," you can select the phrase from a list and then it will be automatically inserted without you typing a thing.

These things are immensely useful. I save about 30 minutes a day by using one.

I use a commercial product called PS Tray Factory which is excellent but I've just discovered a free utility called PhraseExpress that's just as good.

PhraseExpress's feature list is impressive: it has no limit to the number of insertion items, it allows multi-line inserts, it can handle nesting of inserts within inserts, it allows the insertion of names, dates and other variables within inserts, it allows abbreviations to be automatically expanded, and more.

It also allows you launch a program or go to a web page instead of inserting text and that's really handy.

Also handy is the built-in auto-correct feature similar to the one in Microsoft Office. It automatically fixes common typing errors like "adn" instead of "and". Unlike the Microsoft version it works in any program not just Office.

Usage is simple. To create an item just highlight and copy the text, click the PhraseExpress tray icon and select "Create phrase from clipboard." To insert text you simply click the tray icon and select the phrase from the list shown. It will then be automatically inserted.

Phrases can also be inserted by assignable hotkey or by automatic expansion, i.e. abbreviations you type like "BTW" can be automatically expanded to "by the way."

So what's wrong with it? Nothing actually, apart from the fact that it can't handle formatted text or image inserts. Apparently that will be remedied in the next version.

Free for personal use, all Windows versions, 1.3MB

http://www.phraseexpress.com

** Bonus Freebie in the Premium SE Edition **

Acronis True Image may be the best drive imaging program on the market [1] but at $79 it's not within everyone's budget. In this review I looked at five free alternatives.

Unfortunately, not one of the freeware drive imaging programs comes close to matching the extensive feature sets of True Image but there are several competent and highly usable products to choose from. They will all efficiently carry out your imaging needs without costing you a cent.

One product though stands out. With its attractive GUI interface, it will be an easy first choice for many XP users.


... full details in the Premium SE Edition of this newsletter.


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This month I'm giving away to new subscribers, six free copies of the the top rated Anti virus NOD32.

NOD32 is a brilliant program for protecting your PC yet it only consumes a modest amount of your computing resources. That's why I use it on my key work computers. At $39 it's good value but it's even better value when you can get it for free.

The six copies I'm giving away will be allocated at random but your chances of scoring one are actually quite good. So if you have been thinking of subscribing, now's the time.

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See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com