E-mail has become an essential communication tool, but it’s not without its limitations.

Unfortunately, up to 90 percent of e-mail is spam, defined as any unsolicited message sent electronically through e-mail. Message overflow cuts into the time you have available to do your work, and costs companies billions of dollars each year in lost productivity.

Tech companies are competing on the front-edge of technological innovation to provide Internet users with the newest tools to reign in spam.

The debate on the best way to stop junk mail is ongoing but here are a few of the latest methods and programs emerging on the tech scene.

E-mail Authentication Technology

Microsoft has shaken up the anti-spam industry with the introduction of Sender ID Framework (SIDF), a specification that verifies whether an e-mail claiming to be from a certain Internet domain is, in fact, from the e-mail servers of that domain.

By the fourth quarter of 2005, e-mail servers Hotmail and MSN will be equipped with Sender ID, meaning any message sent to your Hotmail and MSN e-mail address without a tag to verify the sender will be flagged as potential spam.

“It further protects consumers by providing them more information about suspicious e-mails,” said Craig Spiezle, director of Microsoft Technology Care & Safety Group.

“It’s a call to action for domain holders and e-mail senders to publish their SPF records to help protect their brands and maximize the deliverability and reliability of their e-mail,” he added.

However, Sender ID has yet to be widely adopted by Internet domains. As a result, legitimate e-mail and forwarded e-mail sent to your Hotmail address may be tagged as spam.

Spam Blocking Software

You can install Spam blocking Software onto your PC. The software acts as a filter to block incoming spam on a network and diverts it to your spam folder or quarantine area. Programs such as EmailProtect, SpamEater Pro and Qurb are the top three-ranked Spam Blocking Software, according to consumer product review company TopTenReviews.

“When push comes to shove it’s important to know that most anti-spam solutions fall into two categories,” explains Felix Lin, CEO and founder of Qurb.

“Content-based filtering looks at the content of a particular message and uses heuristics to discern legitimate messages from spam, [while] identity-based solutions work like CallerID for e-mail, allowing you to see e-mail from people you know, while quarantining messages from people you don’t know,” he added.

Key features of the software should include the ability to customize sensitivity of spam filtering, block or allow e-mail based on the senders e-mail address, IP addresses and server or domain addresses. Most important, the software should be easy to use.

Spam Prevention Service

You may want to consider subscribing to a spam filtering service.

Similar to spam blocking software, spam filtering services refuse or delete spam before it reaches your inbox. The service uses a challenge-response system that holds e-mail from unknown sources until the sender has clicked on a URL to verify that he or she is a human being — not a spam program.

A spam filtering service can update itself from an active Web server and do so on your schedule. You can download a free spam filtering service at websites such as Brightmail and MailCircuit.

Qurb founder Lin warns that unsolicited messages can deliver phishing scams, viruses, spyware spam and fraudulent come-ons to PC users making them susceptible to e-mail fraud. He suggests several ways consumers can protect themselves from falling victim to popular email scams, including:

DON’T open e-mail that looks suspicious. Trust your instincts, if it sounds like a scam, it most likely is.

DON’T fill out forms sent within an e-mail. Open a browser window and manually type in the Web site of interest. This will minimize the chance of giving personal information to an unknown source.

DON’T download programs from e-mail links. If you click on a link that opens a dialogue box asking you to download a program, cancel it (unless, of course, you have specifically visited the site to download that particular program and are expecting this payload).

DO employ an identity-based anti-spam solution that allows you to determine a list of approved senders to make sure you receive e-mail from only those you want.

DO employ a firewall. If your firewall notifies you that a program is attempting to send information outside of your network, decline to allow the communication to proceed (unless the warning was caused by your use of instant messaging, e-mail communication, or other application programs that you expect will need to exchange data on the network).

Consumers can also opt-out of being placed on marketing e-mail lists. The Center For Democracy & Technology also has a Web site that assists you on how to opt-out of marketing lists.

Published: Jul 22, 2005