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Operating Systems

Block spam, phishing attempts in Outlook

You need to look outside the application itself to bolster junk-mail filtering in Outlook 2003 and 2007.

The battle for your in-box shows no signs of waning.

Despite the efforts of software companies large and small, spammers and phishers continue to find and exploit weaknesses in junk-mail filters at the server and client levels. After years of foil and parry between these two forces, you would think that Microsoft Outlook, the most widely used e-mail program in the world, would be a paragon of in-box defenses.

Then again, this is Microsoft we're talking about, a company not noted for being the paragon of anything more than profitability.

A few years back, Service Pack 2 for Office 2003 added phishing filters for Outlook that move suspicious messages to your Junk E-mail folder automatically and turn off links in the messages. Outlook 2007 was released about a year-and-a-half later with only a few new junk-mail defenses. In fact, the Junk E-mail Options screens of the two versions are nearly identical.

Microsoft Outlook 2003 Junk E-mail Options dialog box
The junk e-mail options in Outlook 2003 don't offer many options. Microsoft
Microsoft Outlook 2007 Junk E-mail Options dialog box
The only difference between the Junk E-mail Options in Outlook 2007 and its predecessor are the bottom two options. Microsoft

In the past, I have created a series of Outlook rules to stem the flow of junk to my in-box. The process is straightforward though somewhat time-consuming: Click Tools > Rules and Alerts > New Rule, and step through the Rules Wizard. You can also right-click a message you want to base the rule on and choose Create Rule, and then either make your selections, or click Advanced Options to open the Rules Wizard.

If you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with junk e-mail, your best solution is a third-party spam and phishing filter. There are lots of free versions available for download, but the freebies either require too much work on your part to make them effective, or they work with only a single mail account, place text ads on your outgoing messages, or come up short in some other way.

Your best bet may be to bite the bullet and pay for a commercial junk-mail filter. My favorite is one that has been around for a long time: Cloudmark Desktop, which comes in versions for Outlook and Outlook Express, as well as for Mozilla Thunderbird. The program is available for a 15-day free trial. A one-year subscription for two PCs costs $40 (multiple licenses and volume discounts are available).

Cloudmark adds a toolbar to Outlook that lets you scan a folder for junk with a couple of clicks. It places spam and phishing attempts in a Spam folder and lets you block and unblock mail from specific senders. The program works quickly: It scanned a folder with more than 2,000 messages in just a couple of minutes, and I didn't notice any slowdown when I sent and received mail.

Cloudmark Desktop toolbar for Microsoft Outlook
The Cloudmark Desktop junk-mail filter adds a toolbar to Outlook that lets you scan a folder for spam, and block or unblock specific senders. Cloudmark

You get more control over how junk mail is treated via the program's Options menus, which let you scan for junk selectively rather than automatically, and change the location of your junk-mail folder. You can choose to delete the junk immediately, after a week, or after a month. Your Outlook contacts can be added to your trusted list with a single click, and you can see how many messages have been checked, how many were identified as spam automatically, and how many spam and phishing messages you've blocked.

Cloudmark Desktop for Microsoft Outlook options dialog box
Cloudmark Desktop's options let you change the folder your junk mail is stored in, and decide when to delete the junk. Cloudmark

When you're ready to get serious about locking spammers and phishers out of your Outlook in-box, Cloudmark is ready to do the heavy lifting.

Monday: simple ways to speed up Windows shutdowns.