Of all the various parts of the Internet it is probably e-mail that has had the most positive impact on people's lives. Its speed, ease and reliability have made it almost essential for modern living. But as its popularity has spread, so too has its shadow companion, junk mail. Whether we call it junk, spam, unsolicited or merely unwanted, it has grown vastly over the years until it now threatens the utility of e-mail itself. In this article I will explain some basic strategies for controlling junk mail in Outlook Express.
Blocking a sender
Outlook Express has an easy Block Sender feature that allows you to block a specific sender based on the sender's e-mail address. To block a sender, just select the offending message and click Block Sender on the Message menu. Outlook Express will then ask if you wish to delete all messages from that sender that are in the current folder. Any new message you receive from that sender will be immediately moved to the Deleted Items folder.
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Blocking a sender is easy, but not always effective when a spammer changes his address.
While Block Sender is easy and fast to use, it does have drawbacks. It downloads the complete message, rather than deleting it directly on the server. It blocks only by e-mail address, but spammers seldom use the same address more than once anyway. For a greater level of control you need to filter mail using message rules.
Message rules offer many more options than Block Sender. Not only can a rule delete messages from a particular address, but also those containing certain words or phrases in the Subject line or message body, or those above a certain size. They can also block messages by what they do not contain, such as those without your own address in the To or CC lines.
Creating a message rule to block a specific sender is almost as easy as using Block Sender.
- Select a message from the sender for whom you wish to create a rule.
- On the Message menu, click Create Rule From Message. A new message rule window will open with the From address of the sender already entered as the rule's condition.
- In the Actions box, scroll to the bottom of the list of possible actions and select Delete it from the server.
- Type a name for the rule in the Name box, then click OK.
- An info box will inform you that the rule has been successfully added.
Remember that Block Sender simply moves the filtered message to the Deleted Items folder. This rule deletes the message directly on the server, thus saving you the trouble of downloading it before deleting it. Be very careful therefore that you really do mean to block that sender. Once the message is deleted from the server it is too late to change your mind.
You can also create message rules from scratch, as well as copy or edit existing rules.
- On the Tools menu, point to Message Rules, and then click Mail.
- To create a new, blank rule, click the New button.
- To create a new rule based on an existing rule, select a rule and click the Copy button.
- Use the Modify button to change an existing rule.
- Use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to arrange rules in the proper order.
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Message Rules offer a more powerful way of controlling mail than the simple Block Sender feature. Tip:
Our first reaction to an onslaught of spam is to filter out all the junk. But sometimes it is actually easier and more effective to filter in valid mail. The easiest way to filter in valid mail is to choose "stop processing more rules" as the only action in a rule. Then set the conditions that you desire, such as "when the message is from grandma or grandpa or friend or boss". Then all messages caught by the rule will simply be left in the Inbox and will not be acted upon by any other rules.
Understanding rules logic
Message rules can seem intimidating at first simply because they offer so many possibilities. However keep in mind that rules are completely logical, in fact sometimes annoyingly so, since most of us do not think in logical terms when faced with an Inbox full of junk.
- An incoming message is tested against message rules sequentially in the order the rules are listed. Therefore the order in which rules appear is important.
- If a message fits the conditions of a rule, the message is still checked against subsequent rules unless the message is deleted from the server, blocked from download, or encounters the action "stop processing more rules". Note that these are the last three actions in the Actions box of a rule.
- Filters are simple string matches, so filtering on "free" will also catch "freedom".
- Complex conditions can be created with AND logic (such as, the subject line contains "free" AND "software"), or with OR logic (such as, the subject line contains "free" OR "software"). A condition cannot include AND and OR logic, but it can include NOR logic (such as, the subject does not contain "free" or "software").
- Multiple actions can be combined in a single rule except for delete from server and do not download.
- Some conditions require that the entire message be downloaded in order to determine if the conditions are met. These conditions are where the message has an attachment, where the message is secure, and where the message body contains specific text. Therefore these conditions should not be used in combination with the actions delete from server or do not download.
- If the rule includes the action move to folder, then the rule must include stop processing more rules or the move will never be executed, unless the rule happens to be the last rule on the list.
As you might expect, questions about message rules are frequently asked in the Outlook Express community
Third Party Spam Blockers
Sometimes the junk problem becomes simply overwhelming, and Outlook Express needs outside help to stem the tide. Sadly, this seems to happen more and more frequently now that most junk mail is sent not by real people trying to make a quick buck, but by automated spambots and Trojan Horses hiding on infected computers. The more automated the spam becomes, the more automated any solution will have to be. Luckily there are several third-party tools already available for Outlook Express users.
Third-party spamblocker tools usually work by inserting themselves between Outlook Express and the mail server by creating a proxy server. The spamblocker checks the mail server first and processes whatever mail it finds. Outlook Express then checks the proxy server and downloads the mail from there, just as if it were on the real mail server. That means that using a third-party tool does not necessarily mean you have to stop using Outlook Express message rules. For example, you could use a spamblocker to control junk and still use message rules to color and sort messages.