SpamAssassin is a tool Skyway West provides to help clients minimize the pain and agony of email Spam. Unless you have requested that SpamAssassin is disabled, by default all our customers get a basic SpamAssassin service. Although this version of the product is limited it will help tag a lot of your Spam. Those wanting more control of how Spam is processed can sign up for Skyway West’s Advanced SpamAssassin service. This month I thought I would go over the features of this service and describe for you how the service can be modified to work for you.
How SpamAssassin works:
SpamAssassin is a great tool that can really help you take control of you Spam problems. SpamAssassin works by automatically scanning your email looking for pre-defined traits that look like what a Spam message may contain. A numerical value is assigned to each trait. The trait scores are added up and the numerical value is compared to a number defined as the maximum score allowed before the message is considered Spam. Once a message has been determined to be Spam, and depending on how you want the message processed, it will either be deleted, marked as Spam or put into Quarantine.
The Traits and Scoring: There are no user-modifiable traits within SpamAssassin, but our engineers frequently update these scores as the characteristics of Spam change. The scores will vary depending on the severity of the trait. Some examples of Spam traits are HTML coding, having links in the email or issues with the mail headers such as a bad domain name.
The Threshold: The threshold is a number that the end user defines as the maximum score a message can have before it is considered to be Spam. The higher the score result the more “spammy” the message will probably be. In other words, the lower you make your threshold, the more messages will be determined to be Spam. By lowering the threshold, however, you run the risk of SpamAssassin thinking legitimate email is Spam. Conversely, some Spam can have a very low Spam score. So what do you do? Read on and you’ll get some tips on optimizing the service for your needs.
Processing your Spam: Once a message have been determined to be Spam, SpamAssassin will do one of three things:
- Delete it: Messages deleted by SpamAssassin are not recoverable. Use this option with caution. Read below to get some tips on how to use this option safely.
- Tag it: Messages can be marked with a tag on the subject line of the email that looks like ***** SPAM *****. You can then use your email client’s filtering tools to move the emails to your “deleted” or “Spam” folders.
- Quarantine it: In this option SpamAssassin creates a special folder on the Skyway West mail server and your Spam mail is put in there for later review. If you are using IMAP to collect your mail you will be able to subscribe to the folder once there is mail in it. If you are using POP3 to get your email then simply log into Skyway West’s webmail service with your email address and password, subscribe to the folder there and you can review messages tagged as Spam. The site is: http://webmail.skywaywest.com/ There are some drawbacks to using Quarantine though which I’ll cover in the Optimization section below.
Whitelisting and Blacklisting: If you have certain contacts whose messages you want to make sure you receive you can “whitelist” them. Likewise, if you have people you do not want to hear from they can be blacklisted. Adding someone to the whitelist bypasses SpamAssassin and puts the message directly in your mailbox. Putting someone in the blacklist ensures the message is simply deleted. You can put single email addresses into either of these lists or you can add whole domains.
Vacation messaging: This is a bonus you get when subscribing to Advanced SpamAssassin. That is the ability to set up vacation messaging when you are away. To use this service, first turn it on. Check the box that says Keep a copy of messages on the server. Set your start date and end date. Create your away message and submit the details. That’s it!. Note that if the day you are setting the service up is not the day you want the service to start then turn vacation messaging off and hit submit again. This will tell Vacation messaging to turn the service back on once the date you selected has been reached.
The truth about SpamAssassin is it does take a little time to optimize your settings to best meet your needs. Periodically, you may find that you will have to revisit and make some adjustments to these settings, necessary because the nature of Spam changes from time to time. When configuring, here are some points to consider:
As I said earlier, the lower the threshold score, the more likely a message will get tagged as Spam. You can keep the score low, but I recommend using the tag feature until you have everyone that is getting tagged as Spam incorrectly added to your whitelist and, on the other hand, anyone unwanted still getting through added to your blacklist.
I recommend using the delete option only if you are sure that anyone you need to hear from won’t be accidentally deleted.
The quarantine option is not recommended for email accounts that forward copies of their messages to other accounts – even other Skyway West mailboxes. Doing so can have adverse results.
You can still use SpamAssassin if Skyway West hosts your DNS but not your email accounts (for example you have your own mail server) though you will only be able to tag or delete Spam mail — the Quarantine feature will be unavailable in this case.
So there you have it – SpamAssassin. It really is helpful in reducing the Spam. The features are robust and easy to work with using the Skyway West Control Panel. If you are interested in this product or have any questions about the service feel free to contact Support at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-482-1212. For further information about SpamAssassin, visit the Support section of the Skyway West web site.
Got a question or an idea for a topic you would like to see covered in one of my upcoming blogs? Write to email@example.com and sound off. I’ll do what I can to address your questions or concerns either personally in a reply email or on the blog. Until next month, take care.