Fighting SPAM with the Thunderbird Email Client for Windows, Mac OSX or Linux

Thunderbird Email Client I’ve been using the Thunderbird Email client for reading my emails for quite some time now. One feature that is included which I haven’t needed to use until recently is the anti-SPAM feature. The reason that I haven’t needed this is that previously my emails were filtered through a server based SPAM filter, which did a very good job of identifying and removing SPAM. Since I’ve moved my domain to a hosted site, my emails are no longer filtered for SPAM at the server side. Since then I’ve been bombarded with 20 SPAM emails for each genuine email, something that is almost impossible to manage without help.

Fortunately after a bit of configuration and teaching, Thunderbird is extremely good at removing SPAM; without having to rely on server based solutions such as Spam Assassin.

Downloading the Thunderbird Email Client

The first thing is to get the Thunderbird Email Client, which is available completely free for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux i386. It’s also included in most Linux distributions (whether i386 based or for an alternative processor), or you could use the source code to compile for other systems.

For most systems it’s as easy to install as downloading the installer and running it, or using your distros software management tools (eg. sudo apt-get thunderbird).

Configuring the Email Client

This is the only tricky bit in that few ISPs give instructions on setting up Thunderbird. For example Virgin provide information on configuring: Netscape Communicator for mail, which is the forerunner of Thunderbird, but not specifically Thunderbird.

If you currently have Outlook Express configured then it may be that Thunderbird will just import the settings during the install but if not then you may have to do it yourself.

Thunderbird does include a Wizard, in which case you just need to know some details about your mail account. To launch the wizard choose File -> New -> Account and choose email account. Typically you will use a POP3 email account (although IMAP gives several advantages if it is supported by your ISP).

The information you will need is:

  • Email Address: I’m assuming you know this
  • Username: This is normally either your entire email address, or more commonly just the part before the @ sign
  • Password: The password you use to login to your emails, perhaps the same as you need to logon to the Internet with
  • Email Type: POP3 or IMAP (POP3 is most widely supported so you should be able to use that
  • POP3 (or IMAP) Server: From your ISP. Often this is “mail.” or “pop3.” followed by your ISP’s name e.g.

Going through the wizard will set-up Thunderbird to act as your email client. The next step is to teach it the difference between a genuine email and SPAM.

Using the Junk Mail Controls

The Junk Mail Controls can be turned on from the Tools menu, selecting “Junk Mail Controls”. If using multiple accounts then the junk mail controls can be turned on for each account individually. This panel allows you to select a folder for junk mail to be moved to. For example you may want to create a folder called “spam” or “junk” for this purpose. It is recommended that you check this folder for mail incorrectly identified as junk mail; this is most important during the initial training period when mails are more likely to be misinterpreted.

Other options include the ability to not filter any messages from people in your personal address book, which will help prevent emails from people you know from being flagged as junk.

The next thing is to flag emails whether they are Junk or not. It is important to flag genuine emails as non-junk as well as identifying those that are junk so that Thunderbird can help distinguish between the two.

To flag the emails appropriately you can right click on the email and then choose Mark “As Junk” or Mark “As Not Junk” as appropriate. If you have the Junk status shown in the list view you could also click on that column to easily mark an email as junk, or if a genuine mail has been incorrectly identified as junk then you can click on the “Not Junk” button after opening the email.

After a while, especially if you keep manually flagging emails as Junk or not, then the filter will get better at identifying which emails are junk and which are genuine.

Other Advantages

There are other advantages to using Thunderbird as your email client, including Anti-Phishing technology and it is considered more secure as it will not allow Active-X scripts to run which can be used to compromise your system.