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?Spam' frustrates computer users

By Clay Wilson

Spam – it isn't just the butt of Monty Python jokes anymore.

Techies several years ago co-opted the name of the oft-chided luncheon meat to designate the even less-appreciated unsolicited e-mails that clog the inboxes of users everywhere.

The unwanted bits of information are gaining new attention as the Microsoft Corp. – one of the world's largest e-mail providers through its "Hotmail" service - earlier this week announced that it plans to take some "spammers" to court.

According to an Associated Press article of June 17, the suit, filed in Washington State and the United Kingdom, charges that the defendants sent more than 2 billion unsolicited e-mails through Microsoft's servers.

Other published reports indicate that Congress is once again trying to pass anti-spam legislation similar to the national "no-call list."

But for now, business, individuals and even governments must live with the annoyance – or take measures to lessen it.

"I detest it," said McDonough resident Joy McClelland. "I think (it's) probably about the Internet version of telemarketers calling you at dinner."

McClelland said that when she first got Internet access she dealt with a lot of unwanted e-mails.

"I endured it for probably the first year I had a PC, because it was so exciting that someone was sending me something," she said.

It wasn't long, though, before the newness wore off. McClelland switched to a high-speed Internet provider – one that offers better spam filtering. She also set the security options on her Hotmail account so high that now she's afraid she might miss a message from someone to whom she gave her address.

" – But that's a chance I take," she said.

McClelland, of course, isn't the only local citizen who fights the battle of the bulk mail.

"It's a problem for anyone who has an Internet connection," said Larry Hutson.

As information systems manager for the Henry County government, Hutson handles around 500 computers that are susceptible to spamming.

He said the county takes measures to try to avoid spam, through special hardware and software. Still, though, the unwanted messages get through.

In fact, Hutson said, around the first of the year three major Internet service providers blocked Henry County from e-mailing through their systems after the county's server became a "relay point" for unsolicited mail.

As with computer viruses, Hutson said one of the problems in effectively eliminating spam is the ingenuity of those sending it.

"Every time the developers find a way to block (spam), spammers come up with 10 ways to get around it," he said.

Mike Jerrell, owner of Major Computer Industries in Jonesboro, also said there currently is no foolproof way to block all unwanted e-mail.

"It's very much a developing industry," he said of spam-blocking software, which is available for purchase on the Internet.

Jerrell said his 17-year-old company administers networks for clients from Suwanee to Thomaston. He said he tries to keep up with what is going on with anti-spam efforts, as he is an authorized Microsoft dealer.

And while he said his company uses anti-spam measures in the mail servers it administers, he also said many clients have simply learned to live with the annoyance.

"It's just kind of considered a fact of life," he said. "People just go down their e-mail list and hit "delete," "delete," "delete," "delete."