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R-Comp email software to fight spam

Published: 26th Nov 2006, 14:22:34 | Permalink | Printable

Hermes to pick the spam from the ham

Spam stresses us outR-Comp's email software Hermes will include anti-spam measures in its next release. Version 2 of Hermes, which is used to pick up and send email and other messages, will be a core component in updated releases of R-Comp's DialUp 3 and NetFetch 2 products. The software development work for these new versions was carried out over the past six months, according to R-Comp.

Hermes's anti-spam system works by examining email before downloading it, and allowing the user to toss out any messages that look like spam. The filters used to detect spam and ham can be tweaked by users, and the email addresses of known contacts, such as family and friends, can be added to a whitelist to make sure their email is never mistakenly deleted. Email tagged as spam can be deleted, moved to a separate folder, amongst other options.

Customers were told on Friday by email: "Hermes 2 has been developed to provide easy-to-use protection from most unwanted email, aka spam, whilst ensuring that emails from your friends, family and colleagues is unaffected.

"The software achieves this in a number of ways, studying messages before they are downloaded (it is far better to stop unwanted messages before downloading and getting them onto your machine) to determine whether or not they should be fetched. The rules used to detect spam are very effective 'out of the box', but are also easily tailored to your personal needs."

In January last year, developer Alan Wrigley said Hermes would gain anti-spam features in a future release. R-Comp's NetFetch is aimed at LAN and broadband users, while DialUp is aimed at users stuck on dial-up Internet. The two packages have been updated to work faster and to better handle authenticated SMTP mail sending and juggling multiple outgoing mail servers.


R-Comp website - 'final beta' version available soon, a full version costing 20 quid for existing users will be ready to release within the coming weeks Other anti-spam software for RISC OS - review written before Hermes was born

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This is good news - partially due to the fact that R-Comp continues to enhance and develop their apps and partially due to what new feature is offered.

Would be nice to know how SPAM detection is done - since the check happens before downloading the email it seems to just look at the header which usually is ok for a first check...

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 27/11/06 5:45AM
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It sounds like Hermes has integrated the header filtering code similar to !AntiSpam, which is useful against some types of spam and PC virus that have consistent headers, but tends to be a much smaller proportion now. The integration will remove the complexity of setting up an additional email fetching program, but this approach to tackling spam is still very manual requiring the user to set up and continually tweak rules, being very careful not to end up deleting legitimate email from the server which is a permanent action, (such as by assuming only mail addressed directly to their email address is valid ignoring cc and bcc). Its only really worthwhile for slower dialup connections where preventing the full download of the spam messages saves a considerable amount time and/or money.

I'd like to see Herme's gain the Bayesian filtering capabilities of !SpamStamp or !Bogofilter too, so it can be taught which messages are ham and spam from the full information. This does require the entire message to be downloaded, but isn't so much of a problem on faster always on broadband. It also had the advantage that messages can just be tagged, so that the email program places them in a spam bin, where they can be reviewed periodically to ensure that legitimate email isn't being incorrectly identified.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 27/11/06 9:37AM
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It's also worthwhile if there is another spam storm like the one we had a few years back and you have a small broadband download limit.

 is a RISC OS Usercoling on 27/11/06 9:57AM
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This is surely where an optimised Python implementation would be good: you could run the excellent SpamBayes, as opposed to the less than impressive Bogofilter. Alternatively, a C language port of SpamBayes would be a reasonable solution - there must be some doing the rounds. Agreed with druck, though: rule-based systems are archaic and are a chore to maintain, whereas well-trained Bayesian filters manage to produce hardly any false positives or false negatives, with only a handful of "unsures" as the next futile spamming strategy fails to beat the filter.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 27/11/06 10:40AM
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Druck - adding spam headers is possible with Hermes anyway, and is one of several approaches to how spam is handled. The default set of rules blocks >90% of the spam I get on Demon, which is pre-filtered by BrightMail. Ie. Hermes traps >90% of what gets let through by other solutions!

I do agree that it needs tweaking, but I suspect your experiences with AntiSpam will be from a limited rule set. Hermes ships with many fairly in-depth analysis techniques which are very effective. Whether they will be effective for eveything is a moot point, but for a system that works "out of the box" (ie. no training required), my feeling is 90% is rather good.

Add to that, whitelisting your Messenger Pro address book contacts automatically, and I think people will find it to be a very "no-hassle" approach which will cut down spam pretty well!

This morning, I had approx 200 spam messages, and only about 10 were missed (and to be fair, they looked like legitimate email).

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 27/11/06 11:39AM
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In reply to Druck:

Hermes is merely a mail transport and it's difficult judging where the responsibilities of a transport end. My own feeling is that a transport is there to fetch (including deciding what to fetch), but once an entire email has been fetched the transport has done its job and it's not its responsibility to process it. There are then other apps such as SpamStamp which will examine the mail after this point and decide what to do with it. It's a grey area - I'm interpreting it strictly in the original spirit of RISC OS where several small apps work together rather than one huge monolith doing everything. However, this is my personal view and I'm not sure R-Comp entirely agree with me! BUT... I have an exciting development up my sleeve for Hermes in the future which will address this issue.

 is a RISC OS Userinchiquin on 27/11/06 11:50AM
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In reply to Druck:

I should also have added that the risk of losing genuine mail is minimal. First of all there are the whitelists, as Andrew has already mentioned, which if set up properly will let through most genuine mail. And each filter rule can have its own action specified. So for example, you can tell Hermes that any mail from wearespammers.ru should be nuked right away and you never need to know it was there, whereas something with "member" in the subject line is reported in a list (in case it's about that membership you've just applied for) and you would then manually decide to fetch or delete it. By careful use of the various rules you can avoid false positives while minimising the amount of spam you have to check manually.

As for bandwidth, while I agree that it's less of a problem with broadband, nevertheless if a million people each receiving 100 spams a day fetched only the headers, that would free up a bit of bandwidth for others to use!

 is a RISC OS Userinchiquin on 27/11/06 12:12PM
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in reply to inchiquin: Well, basically you're right that the job of a mail transport tool could be defined to transport only.

But if such a tool offers SPAM filtering as well which is something probably very useful nowadays since over 80% of what is send via email is SPAM then this has to be good and versatile, if possible. Simple header only checks are these days usually not enough, especially since often SPAM and virusses are sent from infected computers and thus tend even to use addresses found on that one as sender so that whitelists can result in being not much use.

I thus agree (as I initially outlined) that adding a bayes filter is probably a sensible idea - be it inside Hermes or offering an interface which then can be used by bogofilter, SpamStamp or the likes.

BTW, the best SPAM filter I found until now is simply to change the email address every once in a while. End of 2005 I got over 100 SPAMs per day so that beginning of 2006 I installed myself a new email address and until about one month ago there was no SPAM; now it is the odd email.

And I agree with aranwsley that offering a no-hassle solution is a very good idea - and since a Bayes filter needs to be trained it is not easy to include that in a no-hassle package.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 27/11/06 2:52PM
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Can I suggest that people try it and see, before making judgements. For me, Hermes is doing far better than "baysian" approach. Milage will vary, but try it and see!

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 27/11/06 3:52PM
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I think a bayesian filter is a good idea, even if it needs to be 'trained'. Often, the training merely requires checking the spam box for valid messages and mark them appropriately - the program will then 'learn' from its 'mistakes'. A rules-based system checking e-mail headers can work reasonably well for a while, if comprehensively set up, but in time it will need manual tweaking. Furthermore, as hzn pointed out, if a computer is infected and your e-mail address is on it, you'll be receiving it from 'trusted' sources, whereas a bayesian filter could recognize its contents as spam nevertheless and even notify you that a 'trusted' or white-listed address has been marked as spam, so you can alert that person.

I'm having about 15 to 25 spam messages a day and I used to delete them manually from my RiscPC, but now I'm using another system which in only a few days (ie. e-mail pick-ups) has 'learned' to capture all the spam I get. It uses a bayesian filter which has the main advantage it can dynamically adapt and 'learn' to recognize changing methods of spamdistribution, so you do not have to burden yourself with having to learn a new script of filtering rules you need to change from time to time. Ofcourse, a combination of both bayesian filtering and pre-defined rules make for the best spam-trapping, if you absolutely need to make sure you won't see one slipping through!

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 27/11/06 4:10PM
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While there is a lot of criticism for offering out of the box systems - that is what the majority of users want. Perhaps the people on here are more technically aware and will seek better/more complex solutions, but i think it good that Rcomp are producing solutions for those that just want to turn their machine on and download relevant email. By making email downloading as easy as possible, and with the bare minimum of setup/user involvement in dealing with spam we might attract more users. Yes we need the tech solutions, but we also need simple solutions fo non techies.

 is a RISC OS User2307 on 28/11/06 8:47PM
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I fully agree, I used to use DialUp and cross-graded to NetFetch when I got broadband, I could have just edited the PopStar and NewsHound config files, but why make life any more difficult than is necessary when there is something that can help. I haven't upgraded to NetFetch2 with Hermes yet as it didn't offerer anything I immediately needed, however the integration of spam filtering is very welcome and certainly merits giving it another look.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 29/11/06 9:06AM
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Druck, I'd have thought you'd find the RSS feed handling and parallel mailbox fetching, plus the speed advantages, to be worth making the switch from Popstar. Plus, who doesn't like percentage completed bars (wink).

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 29/11/06 10:17AM
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It's got percentage completed bars? Why has nobody said this before? Why doesn't your website highlight this feature? ;)

 is a RISC OS UserVinceH on 29/11/06 6:16PM
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I have some problems with fetching mail with POPstar because the pop3 server returns some unexpected errors from time to time (IIRC 'system unavailable' and 'message not available'). Does Hermes handle this better? (ATM I have to restart fetching more than once because of those problems with the pop3 server).

 is a RISC OS Userscl4c0rn on 29/11/06 9:30PM
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scl4c0rn - I'm afraid I honestly don't know, because without trying your POP3 server, I don't know what I could say. I'm only aware of one customer who has unresolved problems (its a very unique setup, and completly unrelated to your scenario) and Hermes has been very robust over the last 18 months. It should deal with pretty much anything it comes across, but obviously if the POP3 server itself is faulty, there's only so much the client can do! The reason we started Hermes in the first place was to bring development of this important component "in house" so that we could do more "full time" development as needed, rather than being reliant on outside dev. As such, I'm confident that if there's problems, or improvements that can be made, its probably do-able.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 30/11/06 12:00AM
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