A new tool for combating Spam

Unsolicited Commercial e-mail or what is so commonly known has spam has increased in volume in recent times. For those who have the daily duty of accessing mails from different mail boxes (both POP accessible as well as web-based) the volume of spam is increasing alarmingly. Users on GNU/Linux boxes have long enjoyed the comfort of battling spam using tools like SpamAssasin. Those living life on Redmond way have not been fortunate. The company’s flagship products OutlookExpress and Microsoft Outlook are ill-equipped to filter out spam. The ‘Rule’ logic is woefully inadequate.

However, fear no more for help is at hand. A windows based UCE killer POPFile is available for download here and it seems to work quite well. The project aims to be (as quoted from the site) :

POPFile is an automatic mail classification tool. Once properly set up and trained, it will work in the background of your computer, scanning mail as it arrives and filing it however you wish. You can give it a simple job, like separating out junk e-mail, or a complicated one - like filing mail into a dozen folders. Think of it as a personal assistant for your inbox

POPFile (which also works with Secure Password authentication) is available as an easy to install Windows version as well as a cross platform version for those who are technically competent and possess a bit high skill set. The program (or program files) occupies around 1 MB of diskspace. The word lists (called the corpus) utilised for mail classification takes up some additional space depending on how much mail is used to train POPFile and how many ‘buckets’ are created.

POPFile is in fact a series of Perl scripts that work in conjuction with the mail client (for Windows platforms these include OutlookExpress, Outlook, Eudora, Pegasus etc) and classifies mail into buckets. These buckets are similar to mail folders which hold the classified and filtered mail. The control interface is through a web-browser and thus it can be loaded using the following URL in the browser http://127.0.0.1:. The Windows version however also has a ‘POPFile Web Interface’ link in the Start Menu.

The site states that:

POPFile works as a proxy server. Your email program talks to POPFile, which talks to your email server on its behalf. Instead of your email program getting messages directly, POPFile grabs them first, and scans them to decide what bucket they should go into.

Once it’s decided - which takes only a fraction of a second - POPFile does one of two things: it can add a tag like [this] to the start of the subject line; which means that simple filtering programs like Microsoft Outlook Express can deliver your mail where it’s supposed to - or, for more advanced email programs like Eudora, it can add a new email header like this:

X-Text-Classification: personal - which your email program can use as a filter.

The best part about POPFile is that it can be made to ‘learn’. An out-of-the-box install of the software is ’stupid’, yet with ‘training’ the classification system is slowly honed to recognise spam and differentiate from personal/business mail.

Any incident of misclassification is an opportunity to make the program ‘learn’. The History tab on the WebInterface makes it possible to ‘teach’ POPFile to classify mail.

For a change in the mailbox configuration settings take a good look at the following pictures/

This figure shows the OutlookExpress v6.x mailbox before POPFile installation. Take a look at the settings for incoming and outgoing mail servers as well as the account name settings.

Take a look at the change in the setting for the mail servers as well the account name.

Further details as to how POPFile works with different mail clients can be obtained from the POPFile manual available with the download here.
Check out the bug database as well as POPFile Forums
POPFile sure has some rough edges, but for Windows users who have been carrying on an uphill fight against spam, it works and works quite nicely.
Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay is a Free Software enthusiast and a member of Indian Linux Users Group-Kolkata. His personal weblog is ‘Random Thoughts‘ and he can be reached here.

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