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January 2004

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PostArmor: Spam killing in brief.

By Peter J Brown © January 2004

Being fed up with the increasing amount of spam and the fact that Mozilla insists on downloading this rubbish before I could trash it I started investigating alternatives.

Bear in mind that I have led a "sheltered life", that Netscape, Mozilla and Mozilla Thunderbird have been my usual e-mail/newsgroup readers and that I like the way the current installation of Mozilla (1.5) works and want that ease of use - but without having to download all my spam to trash it.

I had a look at the PMMail offering but after a few days use I decided against it. It looks a little dated and clunky and it does not look like any more updates to this will be happening.

I tried Polarbar Mailer, a java e-mail client that worked reasonably well with a few exceptions. It seemed a bit clunky in use and I was put off using it by various cut (copy) and paste operations that did not work properly here regardless of the java version used.

Yes, I know that many people are happy using the above applications but they did not appeal to me. I much preferred Mozilla. Basically, I realized that I was looking for a non-existent Mozilla extension that could filter messages on the server. I did not find it but found something just as useful :-)


I ended up trying another java application, PostArmor. Its job is simple: Once setup correctly it acts as a "go-between" between Mozilla and the e-mail server. I click "Get Messages " in Mozilla; Mozilla activates PostArmor; PostArmor gets the headers from the server and runs them through its Rules and Filters and then retrieves only those messages that pass - the spam stays on the server... mainly. It doesn't half cut down e-mail download time when there are 278 messages on the e-mail server but only 7 get downloaded - and only 1 of those was junk :-)

As PostArmor only seems to work on header information, some spam will still get through but this is often caught by Mozilla which can be "trained" to recognize junk and put it into the Junk folder.

PostArmor comes with a lot of preconfigured Rules and Filters but it is necessary to make additions/adjustments. When I realized that all the messages from the OS/2 UK user group were being held on the server, I had to add a Filter to let all posts from this group through. It may be a small group but it is pretty busy so I quickly realized that PostArmor was stopping these messages. It is obviously worth checking all the groups you subscribe to and making sure that their messages are downloaded. As you can see (below) the OS/2 UK user group Filter ("os2UK") was easy to set up.


Another addition was a Filter "e-mail Failure" to cope with a virus that seems to spend a lot of time pretending to be an "e-mail failure notification". Firstly I allowed all messages from my ISP's e-mail failure notification address to pass (in the Options tab "Senders always accepted" combo-box), then secondly built a Filter based on the various header subjects submitted as "e-mail failures". Thus, the notifications from my ISP arrive but no others do. The viruses traveling around in various e-mail messages purporting to be from Microsoft or containing variations on the "Patch" and "Update" theme seem to be detected by the built-in Rules and Filters quite well.

Having downloaded my e-mail with the help of PostArmor I can use PostArmor to see what has been left on the server. While PostArmor is pretty good at identifying most spam it can make the odd mistake, download some spam and leave "Genuine" messages on the server. It is necessary to check the messages left on the server (In the image below highlighted in yellow) and mark any "Genuine" messages for Retrieval - just to be on the safe side and not lose messages.

As you can see above a quick inspection reveals a load of c**p left on the server - I particularly like the Spam about "Blocking Spam" :-)

On this particular "Get Messages" the statistics are:-

39 * Genuine messages downloaded - 35 Filtered by Mozilla into my os2uk group folder within my Inbox

4 * Spam downloaded then Filtered by Mozilla into the Junk folder - very innocent looking headers, probably impossible to block on header info alone

72 * Considered Spam and left on the server

As you can guess any messages that may be "Genuine" (Not Spam) can be selected and marked for Retrieval at the next "Get Messages". I can also mark unwanted messages for Deletion. Next time I "Get Messages" in Mozilla these actions should occur. Spam can be left on the server to be automatically deleted after a specified time.

All of the above messages held on the server by PostArmor were found to be definitely unwanted after a quick inspection so I decided that they can be selected for Deletion at the next "Get Messages". They are now marked in Red.

And after the next "Get Messages" those messages are gone (See the next screen below) - but there is always more Spam to replace them. :-(


A Glitch?

I am using Java 1.4.2_02 (I downloaded the SDK version) from Innotek to run PostArmor and it runs very well most of the time. Very occasionally PostArmor fails to contact my e-mail server and it can take several attempts before a connection is made. I have contacted the developer who is investigating this as several other people on other operating systems have bumped into this problem. It is something to do with my e-mail server not responding within the time-out period. When my e-mail server is up and running OK there is no problem, but in the past week service has been slower than normal due to repairs/upgrade work so this minor problem came to light. Hopefully the fix will arrive from two ends, with e-mail service restored to "normal" and a slightly longer time-out period for PostArmor.

Some Configuration info

Java Configuration in use

I do not have a "Default" java any longer, having REMed out or removed a lot of Java 1.1.8 statements from my config.sys file. This means that I have changed my tcpcfg2.cmd file to include Java118 CLASSPATH, PATH, and LIBPATH information because it is needed by the TCP/IP Configuration Notebook - the only java application in my known universe to not run with Java 1.4.2.

Current CONFIG.SYS statements relating to Java:


As you can see I do not have Java 1.3.1 installed at all and Java 1.4.2 does not have any config.sys entries at all

Having downloaded and unzipped the Current Windows version into J:\PostArmor I then created a Java Application program object and filled in the parameters. Sorry?...  Java Application program object? You do not have one? Copy the Program template in your Templates folder to create a newJava application template, make sure that it remains a Template (go to the Icon tab and ensure that "Template" is checked) and leave it in the Templates Folder.  Open the Properties notebook for the Java template and on the Program tab fill in the following:

Path and file name  :  x:\Java 1.4.2\JRE\BIN\JAVAW.EXE
Parameters  : -jre

Replace x: with whatever drive letter is relevant for your system and you have a "Java Application Template" for Java 1.4.2. Just add the required application details after dragging the template to the desktop.

Having bumped into a few very useable java applications recently I have found it convenient to have this Java Application Template available.

Anyhow, having dragged a template to the Desktop I then added the " J:\POSTARMOR\postarmor.jar" to the Parameters line and "J:\PostArmor" to the Working directory and changed the Title to PostArmor  - sadly there is not an icon supplied so I had a dig around and find something suitable.

PostArmor/Mozilla Configuration

Having clicked to start PostArmor it was then necessary to create an account - I selected to test this with my "Most-Spammed" account and filled in the relevant e-mail account details.

It was also necessary to change the account details a little in Mozilla e-mail settings so that Mozilla retrieves messages from localhost on port 8110. [Editorial note: PostArmor is a proxy server for e-mail which filters the mail so that Mozilla will only download "pure" mail. Instead of setting Mozilla to download from the ISP's mail server at a standard port (port 110 for POP and port 143 for IMAP are the default values), you set it to download from localhost on port 8110.] The good news is that all is fairly well documented in the readme file and if I can work it out anyone can :-)

I put a shadow of PostArmor in my Startup Folder so that I do not have to remember to start it before attempting to "Get Messages" with Mozilla. Once started I leave it running minimised unless I want to inspect the messages left on the server - recommended at least once a day.

My Conclusions

Am I happy? Is PostArmor a useful tool for Mozilla users - and possibly other e-mail clients?

Oh Yes, to both questions.

While I would say that I am still really in the stages of testing and tuning PostArmor, I am very impressed so far. My intention is to install a copy on each of my youngsters' PCs and use a combination of PostArmor and Mozilla Filters to try to stop, or at least minimize, the amount of c**p that turns up in their inboxes - as well as the Wife's and mine. So far it looks as though this combination will do the job fairly successfully without downloading most of the c**p.

Finally I should say that it is free - but for one e-mail account (Profile in Mozilla speak) only. My impression of the Support is that it exists and seems friendly - somewhat interested and surprised to hear that PostArmor is a happy application in the OS/2 world, a world of which he has no experience - even for the Free version. Unless you are using an e-mail client with similar facilities, this could be worth trying if you suffer from any amount of Spam.


Polarbar Mailer:
Java 1.4.2 and other goodies:
Mozilla for OS/2:

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