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- Published on Amazon.com
This is the third book on email, spam and viruses and such that I've read in the last couple of weeks, and it is the best. One of the other two, Black Hat: Misfits, Criminals, and Spammers in the Internet Age (2004) by John Biggs, covers much of the same material as covered here but not in as much depth, while the other, Spam Kings (2005) by Brian McWilliams, is more a narrative about the personalities in the spam world than a how-to. (Nonetheless both books are good.)
Duntemann's book has a kind of "Dummies..." or "Idiots..." feel to it with lots of sidebars and photos of computer screens and tips and hints and numbered lists, and even some "Gunkbuster's Notebook" pages; but Duntemann's treatment is more comprehensive than usually found in an introductory book. He goes into considerable detail not only on how to "degunk" your email, but explains how email filters work and how spam, viruses and worms propagate, and what you can do about them. He also looks at various scams and the scary subject of identity theft and advises on how to not fall victim. This book will work for beginners and the experienced alike.
It will be noted that Duntemann doesn't directly address the problems that plague users of the big Internet Service Providers like Yahoo! and AOL, mainly because some of the very measures he recommends are currently being used by the big providers. One of my email addresses is at Yahoo! (Duntemann recommends that you have at least two email addresses) and it gets a lot of spam. But I don't see any of it because Yahoo! has a spam filter that puts it in my bulk folder which I almost never open. I didn't think much of this until I learned how email filters work. I used to think that somehow the ISP identified spam by the number of identical emails sent to its customers (and they may do that); but after reading Duntemann's explanation I now realize that filters usually work on key words and other bits of evidence in the actual email. Certain words like "free" and "mortgage" and especially "unsubscribe" (a near-certain indicator of spam since spammers hope you'll click on that to prove that your email address is a live one) trigger the filters. Another technique, Duntemann explains is so-called Bayesian filtering which uses a "statistical analysis of message length and the distribution of words present in a message" to arrive at a probability of the message being spam.
But this made me wonder if--and Duntemann warns about this possibility--if some legitimate emails were being caught as spam. So I checked my Yahoo! bulk filter and didn't find any. My guess is that the latest filtering tools used by the big ISPs like Yahoo! and AOL are even more sophisticated than those that Duntemann describes in this book.
Duntemann also warns against spam control methods that don't work. Surprisingly, one of these, in his opinion, is making spam illegal. I've always liked that idea, but after reading Duntemann's argument, I'm convinced that it doesn't work, can't be enforced, and only the good guys would comply with such a law. Duntemann points out that the "much ballyhooed [but gutted] CAN-SPAM Act," passed by Congress that went into effect January 1, 2004, "had no effect that can be measured."
There is also a chapter on how to "Avoid Becoming a Spam Magnet!" Naturally the first rule (and this should be the Golden Rule of the Internet) is "Don't patronize spammers." But also don't respond to "surveys" or "dating service" spams "which," as Duntemann explains, "only exist to verify your email address and will lead to even more spam." And whatever you do, DON'T EVER "unsubscribe" to a spammer's mailing list. Spammers love it when you do because that makes your email address valuable to them, either for their own spamming or to sell to other spammers. (Yes, I repeated that. Actually I should also repeat "Don't patronize spammers!" with an exclamation mark. After all, junior's not going to get any bigger no matter what pills you take, and there's no such thing as a reliable "Spanish fly," etc., etc.)
Throughout the book Duntemann gives email addresses and the names of software that can help you in your fight against spam, worms, viruses, and scams. He recommends using "disposable email addresses when dealing with all but the biggest and most reputable online commerce sites."
By the way, I always thought that the reason Microsoft's Outlook Express, its Internet Explorer, and in general Microsoft products were more subject to hacking than other software was that Microsoft's code wasn't as good as say Linux's or that of some other email providers. But if I am reading Duntemann correctly, the real reason is that Microsoft is the biggest target. Why write a virus that can only affect a fraction of the computers on the Net when you can write one that will attack the near-monopoly?
Bottom line: Internet Gunk 101 in a book. Definitely worth the plastic.