We all know about the gigantic problem of spam: somehow the wretched calls for assistance with retrieving millions of dollars gone astray, or offering to sell pills and potions sneak past the anti-spam filters and into our In Boxes.
If our email service provider offers it, we use spam filters, spam traps and blacklists to fend off the foul torrent.
The reverse problem also is a nuisance: legitimate emails that trigger filters and are diverted away from their course, only to be found hours or days later, if at all, in the junk folder.
Use a whitelist
You may find that you can set up a ‘whitelist’, also known as an ‘approved senders’ or ‘friends’ list. That’s a list of trusted addresses or domains that are allowed a free pass. The software ushers those emails straight to your In Box, as priority visitors.
Set up a whitelist
Unfortunately there are thousands of email providers, systems and software, so there’s no single easy way to explain how to whitelist an address.
Also, anti-spam filtering may take place anywhere along the email transmission process.
How emails are transmitted
If I send you an email the message goes from my computer to my email provider’s software for sending mail. It may be filtered for possible spam or malware at this point.
Then the message is bounced from one host computer to the next until it finally fetches up at your email provider. Your email provider may have anti-spam measures in place.
Then your computer collects (or synchronises) emails with the email provider’s server, and your email software may have its own anti-spam filters.
Find the filters
This means that your email address may be protected from spam by your email provider, such as Xtra, TelstraClear or Gmail, and in addition by your software, such as Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook.
You need to use whitelisting techniques at the first point in the process where spam filtering takes place.
Since even totally legitimate emails can be trapped by anti-spam filters you should always use the ‘Not Spam’ or ‘Not Junk’ feature on your email software to retrieve legitimate emails from the spam trap. This helps teach the software what you do and do not consider spam.
Information from clicks on Gmail’s Not Spam button helps build up a picture across millions of Gmail users, enormously increasing the accuracy of Gmail’s filters. In standalone software such as Apple Mail the ‘Not Junk’ button increases your software’s accuracy.
Much modern email software accepts mail from addresses in your email Address Book. For example, add the sender ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ to your email’s Address Book to help keep this Panui out of the spam folder.
Ask your email provider’s Helpdesk about how you may whitelist addresses to bypass their anti-spam measures.
While Gmail itself is free, there is a paid version that also gives you the services of a business called Postini to help protect your email. Postini not only catches a huge amount of spam, but allows you to add specific addresses and more general domains to its Whitelist.
For example, I can whitelist the domain ‘community.net.nz’ to be sure I receive email from any address at Communitynet Aotearoa.
As spam and malware continue to increase in frequency and intensity it becomes more and more usual to locate ‘missing’ and expected emails caught in anti-spam traps. If you’ve ‘lost’ an email you were expecting, check your spam filters. Mark that email as ‘not-spam’, add the sender to your email address book, and explore the possibility of whitelisting that sender to ensure a smoother flow of email in future.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, March 2009. This article has been modified for publication here.