Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Sun, 29 Jan 2006

Spam not

Jonathan A. Zdziarski, Ending Spam - Bayesian Content
      Filtering and the Art of Statistical Language Classification,
      No Starch Press

This book claims to be of interest to:

  • People who want to write spam filters
  • People who want to understand spam filters
  • Spammers who want to evade spam filters

Its author is the developer of DSPAM, one of the Baysian Content filtering programs described in the book.

The line the book takes is that spam filters are becoming good enough that evasion is futile. There's a lot of propaganda for statistical filtering as a better solution than other approaches (blacklisting, whitelisting, challenge-response, legal approaches, etc.) If you haven't seen as many successful ingenious attempts to evade your spam filters as you want to, there's a chapter with examples of those.

I have previously been in the category of "people who want to implement effective spam filters without knowing a lot about them". There is actually a chapter directed at poeple like that: "Appendix -- Shining examples of spam filtering". It lists a half dozen programs that can be downloaded for free and used to filter email. I enjoyed trying them out, although I didn't find anything clearly better than what I'd been using before. But I didn't spend all the days and weeks training that are recommended for optimum use.

The explanations of how the filters work (and why they sometimes don't) are well-written. So if you want to know those things, this is a good book.

My conclusion is that this book is not a magic bullet for fixing your spam problem, but is an interesting read for those interested in what programmers are doing about the spam problem.

(Laura Conrad)

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