Believe it or not, there is such a thing as an anti-spam system that can, with almost no effort or complex configuration, stop all unwanted email without suffering false positives. It exists and it’s called ClearMyMail, and I’ve been using it without a hitch for two months.
Instead of loading an anti-spam program on a PC and then setting up filtering manually, ClearMyMail works as a hosted service, intercepting email from a subscriber’s ISP. That’s attraction number one – it protects the email subscription, not the email client running on a particular PC, so it works on any PC, any OS (including mobile ones such as BlackBerry), and any client program used to access that account as long as it’s a POP3-based.
Attraction number two is that the service works. Prior to using it, the account I configured it to protect was receiving up to 10 spam emails a day, or perhaps 60 per week. And that was a new and lightly-used account with a relatively small spam problem. After applying ClearMyMail, that figure dropped to zero, and has continued on zero ever since.
So how does ClearMyMail weave its magic? The company describes its “unique 18-stage filtration process” applied to each message before it is forwarded, but the real innovation of the system is much, much simpler, and is based on whitelisting.
After a subscriber has set up forwarding through the Clear My Email server by entering POP3 account details, the server forwards a ‘configuration’ message listing all emails recently received on that account, asking that the user ‘allow all’ email from a particular sender, ‘block all’ from that sender, or ‘allow once’ or ‘block once’ from that sender on this occasion only (a precautionary setting for emails whose provenance is uncertain).
Once the legitimate senders have been selected and that information uploaded to ClearMyMail, the subscriber has in effect told the system which senders not to block, allowing the system to figure out which should be blocked.
These permissions can be manually adjusted though the ClearMyMail web interface, and specific contacts can be uploaded to speed up the learning process, something that might be worthwhile if you have more than a few dozen.
Ingenious as this sounds, there’s obviously more to it than whitelisting. From only a few dozen permissions, the server was able to work out that emails on similar themes (earn more money, buy Viagra, etc) should simply be junked without asking for a permission to be set, thereby avoiding the subscriber having to spend as much time choosing which email to receive as reading the legitimate stuff. After a few weeks, it worked pretty much transparently, bothering me only every now and again regarding a particular sender.
Similarly, relying on whitelisting alone would be dangerous. What if a legitimate user inadvertently forwarded a dangerous file? ClearMyMail has an anti-malware filter for such occasions.
Gratifyingly, the system didn’t suffer a single false positive. This was a personal email account with a limited number of legitimate senders so it’s hard to say how well it would have coped in a small business situation where significant numbers of legitimate emails were being received from persons unknown. However, it appeared very sure-footed.
Multiple email accounts
On the topic of SME and enterprise accounts (i.e those not wanting to run their own server), the company does offer to quote on multiple email inbox protection with discounts of 25 percent for every new inbox. Given that it costs $29.95 per account protected, per year, ClearMyMail could become relatively expensive for more than a couple of accounts. However, the company has said it is looking at this – customised quotes are offered on application.
Beyond this bias towards protecting single email accounts, the system is also designed to work with POP3 email. Webmail accounts won’t work, unless they can be run through a POP3 conversion service first.
If you are fed up with spam, then ClearMyMail is the business. It stops spam in its tracks and, from our experience, does so without causing the almost as worrisome headache of rejecting valid emails without good cause. It is simple to set up for POP3 account holders, but offers lots of control if you want it. Some ISPs perform spam filtering and so only a handful of unwanted emails get through. ClearMyEmail is probably overkill for this fairly rare type of user.
Apart from not supporting webmail (yet), the service does introduce one small unknown. All email is being run through not one but two services, namely the ISP providing the account and ClearMyEmail’s, which is two possible points of failure. This wouldn’t worry most people, but it’s worth being aware of.
Overall then, this service is highly recommended for anyone with POP3 email, a spam problem that annoys them and perhaps who wants to access email from multiple PCs, perhaps running more than one OS. Mobile users (for whom spam is expensive as well as annoying) would be a particularly good fit for the service.
Anti-spam systems come in three forms - software-based clients that live on a specific PC, server-based ones that work from inside a network, and external services such as ClearMyMail. The latter category is currently not served by many companies, but it is sure to grow. Deciding which one to adopt depends on the number of users being supported, the operating systems/email clients (including mobile ones) being used, and whether accounts are POP3-based, server-based, or webmail-based. Standalone users will benefit from the ClearMyMail approach; corporate users have very different needs. Small SMEs are in the middle somewhere. It all depends.