How can I protect my customers from HTML spam?

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Mailfrontier estimates that there are 2 billion spam emails sent every day, and most of these spam emails use HTML mail. As opposed to plaintext email, HTML email is formatted the same way Web pages are, with pictures, links and flashy buttons. But besides being prettier, HTML allows spammers to sneak past spam filters. And from a pure security standpoint, the problem isn't so much HTML as the HTML readers that allow JavaScript, ActiveX, Visual Basic macros or other executables to run. Also, the readers often have a lower security level than their related browsers so that they can receive email from anyone in the world.

One way to lower this type of spam is by encouraging your customers to "munge" their email addresses. Munging is an attempt to keep robot programs that troll the Internet for addresses from recognizing yours or your customer's. This can be done by adding spaces to the email address, or by inserting "NOSPAM" or other spurious text into the end of the address. However, some company naming policies may not permit munging.

It's also a good policy for your company -- and your customer's company -- to not distribute HTML email, such as newsletters. But, having said that, it's nearly impossible, since HTML-formatted email is now the standard form of communication to clients.

This was first published in September 2006

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