1. Smith, Dean BSHS, RN,C, PHN

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When the Editor solicited authors to write different articles for this special CIN Plus, I readily volunteered. I also opted to evaluate two programs designed to block SPAM at the individual level. I thought this would be an interesting experience-and it was! My e-mail program allows me to set up filters, which I have done. In addition, my ISP uses BrightMail at the server level, so I have little SPAM to interfere with my day. For the evaluations, I decided to set up a dummy e-mail account at to really get a feel for how these programs work.


As a point of clarification, there are several dozen anti-SPAM programs on the market right now, ranging from freeware that can be downloaded off the Internet to corporate solutions costing several thousand dollars. A comprehensive review of many programs was beyond the scope of this article; my purpose, instead, was to try a couple and report on the experience. If you are interested in a more detailed, comparative review you may want to read "Slam the Spam" published in PC Magazine in February, 2003. 1


That said, I chose two products for a test drive: SpamArrest and SpamKiller. Both of these have free 30-day trials, meaning I didn't have to invest any money to use them. Spam Arrest is put out by SpamArrest, LLC, located in Seattle, WA, and Network Associates recently purchased McAfee SpamKiller. They have different pricing structures. SpamArrest requires a subscription ($19.95 for 6 months), and SpamKiller can be downloaded for $40 (the program on CD costs $50, but you might find cheaper pricing through an Internet search).


I downloaded the trial version of SpamArrest from its Web site ( and went to work. The program sets up what amounts to a POP mail account for you. It inserts itself between you and your ISP and filters your mail via their server before it gets to your inbox. When a message arrives, it is checked to see if the sender's address is on your approved list. If not, it automatically sends a message to the sender, asking for verification. The message requires human intervention (you need to type in a word), which is supposed to thwart SPAM that is sent by computers. Once the user has verified the message (and is thus placed on your approved list), the message is placed in your inbox. If the message is not approved, then the message is placed in a special folder on the SpamArrest Web site for review. Sounds simple enough...


Well, not quite. I subscribe to several listservs and decided to use these as a way to see the program in action. For each message I received, a responder message was sent, which in turn sent a repeat message to the listserv, which then went back to SpamArrest as an unverified message. Multiply that by 50 messages, and I had a mess on my hands. Within a few hours, I had over 200 messages in my unverified folder. Stuck in the middle of this was one message that was authorized.


Two of the major complaints about SPAM is the sheer volume of mail that is generated and the time that is necessary to determine if a message is legitimate or not. With SpamArrest, not only did some of the SPAM get through to me, I had to wade through 200+ messages to find those I wanted to authorize. After using this software for 4 days, and spending close to 2 hours on e-mail (something that usually takes me less than an hour), I decided this product was not for me. This was further reinforced by a customer who berated me that their e-mail bounced 4 times after being authorized.


Unsubscribing from SpamArrest is supposed to be quite simple, but again, it was a "not quite" experience. It took my ISP almost 3 days to wrestle control of my inbox back from SpamArrest. During those 3 days, I was blissfully unaware what was going on because I did not get any e-mail. When people started calling, asking why I wasn't replying to their messages, I knew I had a problem. I went back to the SpamArrest Web site and discovered I was still subscribed, with another 200 messages in my unverified folder. In the end, I had to reinstall my e-mail client before I finally got back to normal. To SpamArrest's credit, they did respond to my ISP and my requests for help. In the end, they acknowledged that their product did not seem to be suitable for me.


My next experience was with SpamKiller. Again, this product works on any POP mail client; it also works with MSN/Hotmail. The process SpamKiller uses is similar to SpamArrest, but instead of using a server, it does it locally on your own computer. After it scans your inbox, it sets up a system to identify a message as possible SPAM. Until you have authorized the sender, the message is labeled. Once verified, the message is left unaltered. The program was easy to install and seemed to work as advertised.


Unfortunately, I had the same time problem I had with SpamArrest: I spent hours verifying messages. I did try to preauthorize some of the participants of the listservs with limited success. Once again, as my e-mail time started to balloon, I decided this product would not be satisfactory for me. Uninstalling the program was smoother than my experience with SpamKiller; still a few registry files were left that had to be manually deleted.


I thought these products would be useful, but in the end, I learned that the filters I have set up in my e-mail client work more effectively for me. I found that both of these products required user intervention that resulted in more time dealing with SPAM, not less. I suspect that one of the reasons there are so many different software programs available is partly because none of them are mature. We haven't come up with the best way to block SPAM; as a result, many of these products are "band-aids" and not real solutions. To someone searching for a software solution for SPAM, I would suggest: wait. Given the enormousness of the problem and the very real cost to businesses and users, I think that it is only a matter of time before more effective solutions will be available on a large-scale basis.




1. Metz C. Slam the Spam. PC Magazine. February 25, 2003. Available at:,4149,849402,00.asp. Accessed February 13, 2003. [Context Link]