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Mac 101: Beef up your spam filters in Mail (video)


Nobody likes spam, but if you use Apple's Mail on Mountain Lion, at least you have some tools to deal with it.

Plenty of Mac users rely on Mail to read, manage and process their emails... and spam messages. If you use email, you have spam -- that's just the way it works. Following up on Kelly's how-to from a few months back, let's take a look at some ways to manage spam efficiently and decrease your email processing time.

Built-in Spam Filtering

Mail's built-in spam filtering is enabled by default. You'll find it in the Junk Mail setting in Preferences. Make sure that the box labeled "Enable junk mail filtering" is selected. You can also determine where spam messages go after detection, or add exemptions to your filter.

[Note that some online mail services -- Gmail in particular -- recommend disabling Mail's onboard spam filtering. Be sure to check the setup instructions for your service provider. --Ed.]

In the Viewing preferences tab, disable "Display remote images in HTML messages." Some spammers send out messages with web bugs -- invisible images linked to the specific message you received -- that notify the spammer that your email is an active email account once you click on the message. From the spammer's perspective, this "validates" you as a real, live address, which then generates more spam for you. Not good. Turning off this feature prevents the spammer from recognizing your email as an active email account.

Creating Rules

Mail lets you create rules to fine-tune your spam filtering. One helpful method is to create a new mailbox for messages that meet your spam criteria. Once your new mailbox is created and properly labeled (i.e., "Spam-ish"), go to the Rules setting under Preferences and create specific actions based on a predetermined set of criteria. For example:

If all the Content-Type Contains 'multipart/related' then Move Message to [the mailbox you just created].

Now that you've set that rule, messages that meet your criteria are moved to that mailbox.


No spam filter is completely foolproof, so you will get false positives and false negatives. Mail allows you to select a message and click on "Not Junk" or "Load Image" which will correct the labeling of the message. The more times you correct these errors, the better Mail gets at reducing them. A good rule of thumb is to review your Junk Mail folder periodically to make sure valid messages haven't slipped through the cracks.

Cloud Mail

If you're not using Mail on your Mac, you still have options in the cloud. An iCloud or Gmail account can act as a buffer between malicious spam and your computer. In some cases, the cloud service filters may be a bit too aggressive; if you suspect some of your inbound mail is being blocked incorrectly, be sure to check the support page for your provider and test with another account.

Third-Party Spam Utilities

Several third-party spam utilities are available to further enhance your spam-squashing powers, including SpamSieve from C-Command Software. It's been around for quite a while and works very well. A single license will cost you US$30; a free trial is also available.

SaneBox is an online application which helps to sort your email into proper boxes and reduces your email processing time. An added feature is that it runs through spam amazingly well. The Smart filtering feature of SaneBox reads your email messages, determines the level of importance and moves unimportant messages out of the inbox.

The @SaneBlackHole will not only delete your spam messages but makes sure you never receive email from the sender again and automatically unsubscribes you from the mailing list. You can also defer processing your email by placing your email in the "@SaneTomorrow" or "@SaneNextWeek" folder and it will automatically pop back into your inbox when the time comes. The cost for SaneBox is US$5/month but if you refer other people you'll receive extra credits.

The free service also can help you reduce spam along with unwanted subscriptions, newsletters and so forth. Mailstrom groups your email by big-picture criteria (sender, subject, size, etc.) and lets you archive or delete in bulk with a single click. For catalog emails or newsletters, you can also unsubscribe in only a few steps, rather than having to track down and confirm individual unsubscribe requests.

By using these techniques, hopefully the only place you will see spam is in your musubi.

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