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Spam Filtering

This week’s Spam article is on a more serious note. Having long been a subscriber of McAfee’s security products, including McAfee SpamKiller, I was very curious as to certain changes made in their recent update from version 7 to 8. In version 7, SpamKiller would download all your mail to a “holding area” passing through any non-spam to your email client. You could then open SpamKiller to look through the blocked messages, previewing any potentially mismarked spam in a safe preview environment where images wouldn’t load, and potentially harmful information wouldn’t be sent back to spammers.

Along comes version 8. McAfee removes the controlled environment completely, reducing the product to a glorified mail filtering rule. Anything it deems as spam gets moved to a SpamKiller folder and has [SPAM] prepended to the title. Whoop-de-frickin-doo! I thought the point of having an addon product was to actually protect me from the bad things spam could do, like validate that my email address is real when I open a spam so that I get ten times as much spam the next week. Not only that, but the spam filtering itself seemed to be far inferior to it’s predecessor.

When questioned about the changes on their support forum, I got the avoidance response. “MSK8 was completely re-architected for both performance and accuracy. We think you’ll find that it’s a dramatic improvement over MSK7 in both categories.” No, I don’t find it a dramatic improvement. I find it odd that a security company like McAfee would water down their product to the point where it introduces more vulnerabilities for the vast majority of users which we can assume are using Outlook Express as their mail client.

Based on other comments I read on their forum, I decided to give Mozilla Thunderbird a try. Boy was I impressed! Thunderbird actually makes up for the shortfalls introduced by the new version of SpamKiller. It will automatically block images in emails if the sender is not in your address book. It will “sanitize” HTML mail that is marked as Spam so you can safely view it within Thunderbird. It also includes it’s own adaptive Spam filtering, and a key mail rule missing from Outlook Express which allows you to send any email from a sender not in your address book right to the trash. This eliminates the need for SpamKiller altogether. Best of all, Thunderbird is free.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of users aren’t going to run out and switch to Thunderbird, so it’s unfortunate that McAfee has decided to go in the direction they have with MSK. It leaves current users of Outlook Express vulnerable to problems they didn’t have with MSK7. Then again, based on the responses I’ve seen by McAfee in their forum, it doesn’t appear they think their customers would care. Bad strategic decision when Microsoft themselves are planning on releasing functionality built into the next OS that essentially eliminates the need for the entire McAfee product line.

I’m trialing AVG Anti-Virus Free now, which I’ve also heard good things about, in hopes of being able to eliminate once and for all the pricy annual McAfee subscription. Conveniently, that subscription runs out this month. I’m very confident I’ll be pocketing that $50 a year.

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  1. I installed AVG free on my son’s PC about 6 months ago. It has been running flawlessly. I purchased Trend Micro’s pc-cillin internet security suite and am very happy with that. The main reason I didn’t go with AVG is the TM alerts me with a pop-up if anyone who isn’t authorized gains access to my wireless network.

  2. I’ve been using AVG Free on both of my computers for at least a year now and haven’t had any problems. It works well with Zone Alarm Free as well. Gmail seems to catch all spam and dumps it into a separate folder; I haven’t run into any problems with that either.

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