Anyone with an email address has had to deal with spam. Insidious, potentially offensive, sometimes incomprehensible but definitely time wasting spam. It is such a problem that there is a whole industry of software products out there to deal with the spam. Some of these tools can delete the spam straight away, others just tag it and allow you to redirect it to a Spam folder or something similar. But what none of them can tell you is who gave away your email address? Was it that online store you purchased a gift from last month? Did they then sell your email address to a list broker? Maybe it was a co-worker playing a joke that gave your personal address to that porn site?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know who gave away your email address? I certainly want to know.

In addition, unfortunately as good as some of the tools out there are, some spam inevitably gets through. I have given up on email addresses because they had become so riddled with spam that the signal to noise ratio was not worth the effort anymore. My original Yahoo! mail account comes to mind. I want to be able to block as much spam as possible – not tag it or redirect it, I simply want to know nothing about its existence in the first place.

So this is how I manage my email and deal with spam.

Firstly I purchased my own domain name and I set up an email server to host the email for that domain. Even the most basic Linux hosting plans will be more than enough for this purpose.

Next I set up just one real account on the email server. I then configured the server to redirect all of the email sent to that domain to that one real account. This is often called a catch-all account.

Now whenever I need to provide an email address for something, I use a unique one-off address. For example, when I signed up for Netflix, I used netflix@mydomain.com as the email address for my account. Whenever Netflix sends me an email at that address, it still ends up in my Inbox because of the catch-all account. l also know that if I start getting spam email being sent to netflix@mydomain.com then I need to have some harsh words with Netflix (thankfully this has not happened with Netflix).

If you implement this strategy, you’ll be surprised how many of these one-off addresses you end up creating. So to keep things organized (and so I do not forget who I gave the address too) I try to map these addresses to the domain names of the website or the company I am giving them too. This however, will raise some eyebrows from time to time. When the car salesman at the BMW dealership asks for your email address and you tell him it is bmw@mydomain.com you will almost certainly get a strange look.

OK, so now I can give out unique (traceable) email addresses to companies and websites when they ask for them. If I start getting spam being sent to a specific address, I know who sold me out. It also means that the email address that my personal friends and family use is kept reasonably secluded and not plastered all over websites and in databases all over the planet.

Now what do I do if the spam being sent to one of these unique email address gets out of hand? Easy, I just block receiving email for that address on the server. Any email sent to that address will bounce back to the sender with a message telling them that the account is no longer valid. I never see the email, I am never even aware of its existence, I never waste time downloading it to my phone or laptop. Perfect. In addition, the rest of my email is not affected, it still all gets through.

In my environment I run Sendmail as my mail server. Configuring Sendmail to completely block certain recipient addresses is very simple. You will need to edit the file /etc/mail/access which is a simple text file – if it does not exist, you can create it. In this file, you will need to add a line for each address you want to block. Here is an example

To:bmw@mydomain.com REJECT
To:vistaprint@mydomain.com REJECT

Sendmail will reject/bounce any inbound message sent to either of these 2 addresses. In my actual file I have about 15 addresses total being bounced currently.

Once you have edited the access file, you have to turn it into the database format that Sendmail expects. This is also easy to do.

$ cd /etc/mail
$ makemap hash access.db < access

That’s it. You don’t even need to restart Sendmail, the settings take effect straight away. Anytime you need to start rejecting another email you just add another line to the access file and regenerate the database.