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Do-it-yourself tech support, Part two

Feb 20, 20033 mins

* Must-have spam and security utilities

Since no help desk materialized at your office over the weekend, let’s continue searching for help on the Web. This week, we’ll look at spam and security tools.

POPFile blocks unwanted e-mail as if by magic. In reality, POPFile fetches and reads messages from your e-mail server, then marks each subject line for easy filtering by your existing e-mail program. It works with every e-mail program on every PC.

Most e-mail clients have easy-to-use rules to filter specific words in the subject line, but the spammers beat them by constantly changing their subject lines. POPFile beats the spammers by reading the words in the message body, then applying probability theorems to determine the message type. I use two POPFile filters named Spam and Unfiltered (not spam) Messages with words and phrases touting diet aids, Nigerian bank accounts and lonely ladies dying to meet me get “[spam]” added to the subject line. Then my e-mail program moves all such messages to a spam folder for easy deletion.

How accurate is POPFile? Each time the software makes a mistake, and I reclassify a given message from “unfiltered” to “spam,” or vice versa, POPFile records the error in a history list and learns from the mistake. According to the POPFile statistics, nearly 60% of my e-mails are spam. POPFile claims 87% accuracy with 198 errors out of 1,594 messages filtered over five days. I only reclassified about four messages today. Great program, and it’s free.

On to security. Steve Gibson, developer of the disk maintenance tool SpinRite, offers two quick and easy security tests at Gibson Research Corporation. ShieldsUp tests your computer’s vulnerability to outside hack attacks, as well as from bad guys poking around your IP address looking for open services such as Web servers. The new LeakTest determines your computer’s security against internal Trojan virus programs sending information out. The site offers a long list of good freeware as well.

Security means constant vigilance, which means constant software upgrades. If you use the Microsoft platform, get to know Visit any time you hear about an operating system upgrade, or when news about another hack appears. Make sure you download the latest software updates, since they often include security improvements.

If you want an easier way to manage software updates, consider The site tracks your software application upgrades for free, and offers application updates as part of a subscription service. Two caveats: Since software updates are available free from the manufacturer; you’re really paying for convenience. And the site is tough to navigate, due to the sheer volume of programs it offers. Learn to use the search window or be prepared to click through tons of pages.