Saturday, November 24, 2007

Drowning in a sea of spam

Since Thursday afternoon I have received around 3,000 pieces of spam in my inbox. Some computer-savvy little bastard has appropriated my email address (with random names before the @) and placed it in the "from" line of their millions of spam emails, instead of their own address.

The spam I'm now getting is the thousands of bounced emails coming to me from the recipients of the original spam who have spam filters (auto-responders) on their servers. And there appears to be nothing I can do about it.

I called ihug on Thursday evening when it first started, and the help desk guy initially went into a mad panic, told me to switch off my computer straight away, change my password, blah blah blah, "...because someone's hacked into your computer and is using it to send spam emails!" "Oh really? Does that happen often with macs then?" I asked. After he'd calmed down a bit he went to ask his supervisor what he should do to help fix the problem, came back and told me he'd stop the spam, and concluded our phone call.

The next morning there were over 1000 pieces of spam in my inbox. Hmmmm. Maybe he didn't fix it after all...

I called ihug again. The help desk guy couldn't find a record of me having called the previous evening (which means the first guy didn't bother to log the call), and we spent the next 30 minutes on the phone trying to figure out what he could do.

The first thing he did was go into my inbox and trash ALL my mail - without asking me first. As I had been checking my email on my browser at work that day, rather than downloading it to my computer at home, this meant I lost a bunch of legitimate email I hadn't downloaded the previous day, plus anything that had come in overnight that I hadn't even had a chance to check for and sort out from all the spam. Great. If you emailed me yesterday and I haven't replied, that'll be why.

His next suggestion was to change my email address. Er yeah, that's a brilliant idea! NOT! My email address is derived from my primary domain name, I've been using it for 12 years and it's how every person I know in the world contacts me. Not going to change it, Mr ihug man!

After half an hour of him trying to figure out what to do, he came to the conclusion that ihug can't do anything about it, because I have the "catch-all" setting activated on my account (by choice). Any email sent to is accepted by my inbox. I do this because I'm on a bunch of mailing lists, group emails etc, which tend to get filtered out if my actual name doesn't appear first on the "to" list - or if the "to" list has been compiled under a different title by the sender.

Seems to me that ihug needs to get their act together here. I can change the "catch-all" setting online via my account login at ihug's website. I can reject or redirect emails coming to Why can't I also enter a range of subject lines that I want to reject? Most of the bounced emails I'm getting have similar subject lines - like "Delivery Failure", "[SUSPECTED SPAM] failure notice", "Returned mail: see transcript for details" etc - why can't I choose to reject these? At least in the short term while I'm being subjected to spam avalanches like this one?

It would cut down on the volume of spam I'm having to wade through, and I don't mind missing the odd legitimate failure notice along the way. It's certainly better than having to continually empty my Junk mail folder at home. And it would definitely be way better than having to delete a thousand emails one by one off ihug's fancy new javascripty browser-based email interface because it's too damned slow to be able to handle the sheer volume of email I'm trying to get rid of.

I suppose the other thing I want to rant about (while I'm at it!) is the selfishness of the way many companies' spam filters (auto-responders) have been set up. By bouncing the email to me instead of checking and deleting it themselves, they are not only creating YET MORE spam that clogs up the "tubes", but they are also passing on the responsibility to me to check and delete their bounced email instead of doing it themselves. Here's SpamCop's take on it.

Bloody hell. Hopefully the avalanche will slow down and stop over the next few days (it's happened to me before and that's usually the pattern). In the meantime I think I'll call ihug every day just to see if I can persuade them to add more functionality to the way we can filter our email inboxes.

And while I'm at it, I think I might mention the fact that, from a usability point of view the "please give us feedback on your helpdesk experience" form on their website absolutely SUCKS. The form field where you make your comments is literally only 3 lines deep and about 200px wide. It's ridiculous! I guess they made it that small to put people off writing too much. I wrote an essay anyway :)

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Steve Baker said...

Why don't you use google apps for domains as your email provider? All the cool kids are doing it. Its free, comes with a good webmail interface and is good at filtering spam.