Spam Assassin FAQ
- How does this thing work anyway?
- What is the Threshold?
- What should I set the Threshold value to?
- How do I check to see if a message was accidentally filtered out?
- I used to get e-mail from this person, now I don’t. I think they may be being filtered out.
- I set up the spam assassin, and now this person isn’t getting my e-mail!
- If I’m not supposed to use the Deny list for spammers, what good is it?
- I only want to get e-mail from people in my address book. How do I do that?
- I have hundreds of people in my address book! It will take too long to type each one in.
- I have my Threshold set to 1 and I am STILL getting junk mail!
- Header information? What’s that? How do I see that?
- How does Spam Assassin decide what is junk mail?
- How do I change the value of a test?
- What are all these options under the Advanced settings for?
Spam Assassin puts each e-mail through a series of tests. When Spam Assassin sees things in the message that it considers to be a characteristic of junk mail, it assigns it a numeric score. When the score reaches the threshold value, the spam assassin throws the message out as junk mail.
The Threshold number is the score a message must exceed in order to be classified as spam. The lower the number, the tighter the filter. You can set the number anywhere from 100 to -100, and have decimals as well. (For example, you could set the threshold value to -2.5) One word of caution: The lower the number, the more you risk filtering out messages you do want.
Depends on you and your e-mail habits. I would recommended setting the value to a 5, then adjust it up or down from there. If you keep getting junk mail, reduce the number. If you normally just get e-mail from friends and family, you could start at a 3 or 2.5. If you do a lot of online shopping and get sent newsletters, you might want to start off at a 7 or 8...but ultimately it’s up to you.
If you go into the e-mail controls, (found under the My Account link on our home page—www.ccountry.net) You can look at your E-mail Back-up (shows the last 100 messages that have been sent to you, filtered or not.) or Junk Mail (Shows the last 50 messages Spam Assassin has filtered out). If you are one of those folks who get several hundred junk mails per day, you will only be able to check messages that have been sent within the last couple of hours.
Mailing lists can sometimes prove problematic for the Spam Assassin. These lists usually have a lot of recipients and often look like spam. If the list comes from a single address, put that address on your allow list. If the list is propagated by multiple e-mail addresses, you run a high risk of losing messages if your threshold value is low. If you raise the threshold to accommodate the list, you will start to get more junk mail. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for this. If you are having difficulty receiving these types of lists, you may want to consider having the list sent to another e-mail address you set up specifically for this purpose--(such as a free hotmail or yahoo account)
Spam Assassin doesn’t filter outbound mail. If the person you are sending to isn’t getting your e-mail, something else is going on. If you aren’t getting an error message back, then most likely the person you are sending to has some sort of spam filter that is catching your message. We can check to see if your message was accepted by that person’s e-mail server. If the message was accepted by their server, then the problem is on their side and they will need to contact their service provider.
NOTE: If you put a person on your deny list because they are sending you large files, and you are STILL getting them, let us know...
Put their addresses on your allow list. Then set the threshold value to a negative number. (such as -10) You may still happen get junk mail, as a spammer may spoof or forge an e-mail address that happens to be on your list, but it should be rare.
We do have an option to load an address book into your allow list. However, this is for more advanced users. If you turn on the advanced options, there is a place to upload your address book. The address book has to be in a CSV format (Comma Separated Values). Use the Browse button to locate the file on your computer, and then click the Send File to load it into the Spam Assassin. If you need help with this, give us a call.
Short answer: No filter is going to be 100% effective. If you have e-mail, you will eventually get junkmail. The Spam Assassin is designed to reduce the amount of junkmail you receive. Unfortunately, it is not perfect filter. Some spam will still manage to get through.
Long Answer: That’s because the message scored under the threshold value you set—in this case, a 1. You can look at the e-mail header information and see how the spam assassin scored that message. Now, one thing to be aware of, is that a lot of spammers are now putting the text of their message in a picture. While you and I can read this, to the Spam Assassin, a picture is just a picture—it can’t “read” the text contained in an image.
Header information is information contained in e-mail that shows the path it took from the sender to recipient. In this case, The Spam Assassin inserts information into the e-mail so you can see how it scored the message.
Viewing the header information of an e-mail depends on your e-mail program. If you are using Outlook Express, double-click on the message to open it, click on “file” then on “properties”. Then click “details”. BE WARNED: There is a lot of technobabble and geekspeak listed here. What we are looking for is a line that says X-Spam Status. Something like this:
X-Spam-Status: No, score=1.7 required=5.0 tests=AWL,FORGED_RCVD_HELO,
HTML_MESSAGE,RCVD_NUMERIC_HELO autolearn=no version=3.1.7
This message scored a 1.7. So if you had your threshold set to a “2”, it would have come through. The “required=5.0” is what you currently have your threshold set to. All the UPPER CASE stuff is the tests that managed a score.
So what do I do with this header information?
There are a couple of things you can use this information for. If you notice that all the messages coming through are scoring on a certain test, you may want to raise the value of that test (see How do I change the value of a test?) or if you notice that the junk mail coming in are scoring around a certain number, you may want to lower your threshold below that number.
Spam assassin searches for things like certain key words, subject heading in all caps, originating from a known spam domain,etc.. You can see the tests HERE but be warned, it contains a lot of techie definitions, but it gives you an idea of what the Spam Assassin looks for.
I feel brave. How do I read these tests?
Basically, the bold item on the left tells you what part of the message is being tested. Next is a simple description of the test. After that, is the actual test name (in case you want to adjust the score of that particular test...see the next question) and the last entry is the score that it gets. For example, here is an entry:
body Meet Singles MEET_SINGLES 1.280 0.370 1.456 0.492
Body is what is being tested—text in the body of the message.
Meet Singles is what the spam assassin is looking for—in this case, the key words “meet singles”.
MEET_SINGLES is the name of the actual test.
The numbers are the actual score There are 4 scores—1.280. .370. 1.456 and 0.492. Depending on what options you have set, the spam assassin will use one of these values. Normally, you are concerned with the first number only.
So if you were sent a message that contained the text “meet singles”, it would score a 1.280. If you have your threshold value set to “1”, then this message would be thrown out as spam. If you had it set for a “2” the message would get through—assuming nothing else added to the score.
It is recommended that you don’t adjust the score of a test unless you really know what you are doing.
C’mon I know what I am doing....how do I change the score?
Ok. At the top, click the button that says “Turn advanced options on” (If the button says “Turn advanced options off, you already have the advanced options on). Scroll down to the bottom where you will see personalized test options. Type in the test name EXACTLY as it is listed (caps and all) , and then set the value to what you want. Click submit, and you are done.
They are for advanced users. If you got here accidentally, just click on the “Turn advanced settings off” button at the top. If you meant to go here, We assume you are an advanced user and know how to use Google and Wikipedia....
(Ok, ok..short answer—these are tweakable settings for those who want to fine tune the Spam assassin settings.)
Some Basic Do’s and Do Not’s...
DON’T try to deny/blacklist the e-mail addresses of spammers. Spammers rarely, if ever, use the same e-mail address twice, plus they often spoof or forge that information. Trying to block individual addresses of spammers is a waste of time and space.
DON’T put your own e-mail address in the allow list. One tactic spammers use is to forge the e-mail address so it looks like it came from you. If you have your name on the allow list, you are providing the spammers with an open door into your inbox.
DO check the e-mail back-up frequently after you activate or adjust your spam settings. That way, if you miss a message you want, you have a better chance of recovering it.
DO realize that no Spam filter is 100% effective—you can’t filter out everything you don’t want and be guaranteed to get everything you do want. The goal is to reduce the amount of junk mail to a more manageable level, while minimizing the risk of filtering out something you do.