Pros: Uses several techniques (Bayesian filters, public black lists, feedback from other users) to nail spam.
Cons: ActiveSync can keep SpamCatcher from running in Outlook.
Allume Systems SpamCatcher 4 is one of many options available for filtering spam from your POP3 email account. I recently started using SpamCatcher, after using Norton Antispam (NAS 2004 and 2005) for more than a year. I use Outlook 2002 for reading email, and with Norton Antispam integrated into it, NAS only identified about 85% of the spam sent to me, even after I had used Norton Antispam for several months and it had learned what I considered spam. When my PocketPC was connected to my PC, it was also syncd with Outlook using Microsoft ActiveSync, it conflicted with Norton Antispam, limiting its effectiveness. When ActiveSync was running, Norton Antispam would tag spam email, but would not divert spam email to the spam folder. This was a long known problem to Symantec, and I finally gave up waiting on a fix that worked. After reading a recent arcticle in Consumer Reports recommending Allume Spamcatcher 4, I decided to give it a try, and purchased a download copy and license key from Tekdealers.com (a purchase that did not go well) for $19 (list price is $30). Although I found SpamCatcher to be more effective than NAS at catching Spam, it had the same problems working with ActiveSync.
During the installation SpamCatcher 4 integrates with Outlook and Outlook Express to filter email from POP3 email servers, or if you use those programs to read mail from AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo accounts. Each email SpamCatcher identifies is then diverted to a spam folder. A toolbar is also installed in your email program, from which you can change settings, including how aggressively SpamCatcher goes after spam, and which spam identification techniques are employed.
Allume lists all popular spam filter techniques as being part of its arsenal, including Heuristics, Bayesian analysis, Fuzzy Logic, Source analysis, and Artificial Intelligence . More specifically, Allume highlights severaly tools that SpamCatcher uses, including:
- ScamDefense Whenever a SpamCatcher user identifies a new spam email, a fingerprint of that email is sent back to the SpamCatcher network, where it its stored on Allume's computers, and is then used to help allow other users filter out this new spam. SpamCatcher checks each email you receive against this network of spam identifiers
- SpamReject SpamCatcher filters out email from know spam emailers
- SpamBulk Email sent as part of a bulk mailing is filtered out
- SpamTricks SpamCatcher looks for email that has been specially formatted or designed to avoid or bypass anti-spam rules
- SpamContent Filtering out email containing promotional content
- SpamFingerprint Allume also claims every email is fingerprinted, identified, and checked to see if it has already been convicted as spam.
I use SpamCatcher for Outlook. A universal version is also available, and can be used to filter your email if you use other email programs, including Eudora and Netscape mail. But SpamCatcher is not integrated into those programs, requiring users to access the settings from an external control panel. Its also not as easy to added to the black list (blocked senders), and SpamCatchers Bayesian filters wont :learn from the examples of good and spam email that you identify. When SpamCatcher is integrated into Outlook, it keeps track of the words used in the good and spam email that you receive, and uses that data to help identify future emails as good or spam, a common spam fighting technique called Bayesian filtering.
The Review In a Few Words
SpamCatcher 4 uses a wide range of techniques to identify spam, including user data from spam identified by about a million other SpamCatcher users, to identify spam. SpamCatcher works with all POP3 email programs, but it works best with Outlook and Outlook Express. It will also filter email from AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail, if you use Outlook to read those email messages. Ive found SpamCatcher to be a one of the better spam filters that Ive used (though its not great and I'm still looking for something better). Spamcatcher is resource intensive, approximately doubling the time it takes Outlook 2002 to receive and download email to my PC (an acceptable price, in my book). Unfortunately, if you use ActiveSync to sync your PC with a PocketPC, it will likely conflict with SpamCatcher.
Using SpamCatcher 4
I use Outlook 2002 for email, and Ive installed the SpamCatcher/Outlook version, which integrated itself into Outlook 2002. After installation, a new toolbar was available in Outlook, showing buttons to block or approve misidentified emails, a button to access the options menu, and a drop down menu to access buttons to block or approve senders, see statistics, report spam to the SpamCatcher network, block domains, access the help files, and more.
For the most part, I dont notice that the increase in time required to download emails with SpamCatcher installed and running, but I rarely download more than 10 email messages at a time, and most are short. Im also using a broadband internet connection, Id expect comparing messages with the SpamCatcher network to slow the process some if youre using a dial up connection. Other reviewers, most notably PC Magazine have noted that SpamCatcher will slow down your email client if you are downloading lots of email messages. I ran a test sending 6 email from another email account, messages ranging in size from 5 to 30kb, for a total size of 100kb, twice with spam filtering enabled and twice with it turned off. The time required to receive the email without filtering was about 8 seconds, but with the filtering enabled, the time increased to 15 seconds.
Spam Filtering Efficiency
Ive been using SpamCatcher for about 5 weeks and have received 550 emails, about 150 of which were spam. SpamCatcher gives users the option of deciding how aggressively SpamCatcher goes after spam, a setting you can choose between 0 and 100, or you can chose one of 4 main settings: Lenient (90), Moderate (80), Aggressive (70), or Exclusive (1). With the Exclusive setting, only emails from approved senders are not marked as spam.
I initially chose the default setting of lenient. At this setting, SpamCatcher was almost positive each email tagged as spam was really spam, and very few good emails would be misidentified as spam. Not surprisingly, on the Lenient setting, SpamCatcher missed catching some spam, but rarely misidentified good email as spam. Each time SpamCatcher misidentified a good or spam email, I using the SpamCatcher controls to correct SpamCatcher. SpamCatcher learned from these mistakes and improved over time.
With the lenient setting, I found SpamCatcher identifying about 86% of the spam I received correctly. Only 3 good emails (about 1%) of the good emails I received were identified as spam. After three weeks I increased the aggressiveness setting to moderate, expecting better identification of spam, but some misidentifications of good emails as spam. On the Moderate setting, its done a little better, correctly identifying most of the spam sent to me (over 90% accuracy over the last 150 good and spam emails), with out misidentifying any good emails. I'm always looking for a better spam filter, but I plan to keep using SpamCatcher for now. Its taken a while to "train" SpamCatcher and find the settings that work best for me, and I want to take advantage of SpamCatcher's experience.
One of the main reasons I decided to try a new spam filtering program was that Norton Antispam did not coexist well with ActiveSync. (ActiveSync is a Microsoft program installed on my PC, which keeps data on my desktop PC and my PocketPC synchronized, including my Outlook contacts, appointments, and email.) I have the same Activesync compatibility problems with SpamCatcher. If my PocketPC is placed in its docking station, connected to my desktop, and turned on, ActiveSync is live and able to communicate with the PocketPC, syncing information between Outlook on my desktop and the PIM applications built into the PocketPC. If ActiveSync is live before I launch Outlook, the SpamCatcher toolbar in Outlook does NOT load, and any email I receive is not filtered. As with Norton Antispam, I must turn off my PocketPC, or remove it from the docking station before launching Outlook. (If Outlook is already open before put my PocketPC in the docking station, SpamCatcher still works OK.)
SpamCatcher offers a few other features worth mentioning .
- Statistics tracking, though only messages processed and spam identified are counted. The statistics tracking is minimal, less than Norton Antispam, but still of interest. Statisitics on how often emails are misidentified are not kept.
- SpamCatcher will optionally bounce spam email back to the sender, giving the impression that your email address is invalid.
- You can set SpamCatcher to scan other folders besides your inbox.
- You can block all emails from senders, countries, IP addresses, or use public black lists, such as the one at Spamcop.net
- If you find SpamCatcher too slow, you can optionally turn off any of the schemes it uses to check email, or turn off the SpamCatcher Network check