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Johan I. Borgos

Damn spam

alpha I've never bothered to hide my e-mail address in any way. It has been fairly visible on the Internet since 1995, on my website, and in many postings on newsgroups. No wonder that a lot of 'spiders' have collected it. Consequently, I get a lot of spam.
No, I don't use any software to send the spam to the dustbin before it reaches my eyes. I have made a habit of analyzing this Internet pest a bit. Spam can tell something about certain trends in our time. So, instead of getting angry or feeling disgusted, I try to study this phenomenon with a cool temper. dustbin
Mailbox.gif - 1322 Bytes When I emptied my Eudora after a vacation during the summer of 2002, I realized that the daily input of spam had reached new levels. At the same time, the content was getting more offensive. It looked like a new development on two fronts. Very interesting!
I decided to make my little spam study more quantitative, and created a very simple spreadsheet. There I logged the number of spam e-mails I received each day. I also refined my ways of analyzing the content. I even found tools that revealed where the spam originated. lupe2.gif - 1006 Bytes

This is my "spammometer". Here you can read the mean number of spam e-mails received each months since August, 2002. Yes, the menace has certainly grown a lot, from five in the beginning to thirty times more by now. The total for 2003 almost reached 12,000, 2004 was twice as much, in 2005 I counted 34 thousand, and 2006 topped 57 thousand.

By the way, the CAN-SPAM law in USA went into force Jan 1, 2004. What force? Well, the spam traffic fell a little, but not much. As you can see, it did't even go back to the November 2003 level. In March the spam flow was almost halved for a week.

Since then the daily catches have increased again, and in August 2004 the spam flow reached new heights. After jumping up and down for some months it started to rise again from August 2005. July '07 has been the worst month so far, due to a singel day with close to 2,900 spam mails.

On October 11 my ISP put on a filter which let through only e-mails with a valid e-mail address. The flow instantly dropped to a third of its former size, and a better filter from Dec 1 cut down the amount still more. My spammometer will from that date count only a fraction of the spam flow, therefore I'll stop this spam watch now after more than five years.

So much for the numbers. As I said above, there have been other changes. Seven years ago spam was rather innocent compared with the specimens we receive now. Let's have a look at some sides of the spam picture.

The USA has a little more than 4.5 percent of the world’s population. As far as I can see, the same country produces the majority of the spam that I receive, even though South American spamming is on the rise. Some of the spam types I discuss below will make this picture a little clearer. Prosent
tv One tool in my content analysis is to take a look at the cultural context. In every tenth spam I'm told that "As seen on NBC, CBS, CNN and even Oprah". Mostly lies, I guess, but this claim has little meaning outside North America.
Another tool is to note where the offer is localized. I've received more than seven hundred spams offering home loans, mortgage loans, refinancing, tax reduction, or government grants, all of them "good news for USA home owners", but of no interest for a Norwegian. The same applies to all the "no more pay-per-view" offers and stock market alerts. usa
Graduate Then there is a bunch of spam that promises "a prosperous future, money earning power, and the admiration of all" if I buy some fake US university diplomas or degrees. Some of these offers even say "Get A Degree In Any Experienced Field", and then add "There's no testing required"! One of them is right on the mark: "It doesn't GET any easier!" Well, at least until someone finds out ...
The next tool is parsing the e-mail header. As a rule, the trail leads to the USA, but even if you end up in China, Korea or Mexico, the content shows an unmistakable US origin. That's part of the hiding game: The spammers are routing their bulk mailings through other countries, faking e-mail addresses in the process. They steal addresses, too. I've got a bunch of "mortgage spam" from my own address! WWW
money All factors taken together, the analysis points to the USA as the main source of spam, between 90 and 95 percent of it, as I said above. No surprise. The USA is a very capitalistic society, and spam is a true child of capitalism. It has only one goal: Making the spammer richer. And most of them appearently succeed. Spamming is one of the Internet’s most profitable businesses.
Spam is advertizing without any restrictions. It sells its "goodies" using downright lies, false assertions, and claims without any foundation. The spammers cynically play on peoples angst for putting on weight, developing wrinkles, getting weak and old, losing sexual power, sliding into debt and powerty, falling behind in the race - in another words, fears of not fulfilling the American dream. AFRAID
livbelte.gif - 1045 Bytes For me this explains all the offers for Viagra (herbal, generic or plain), the unbelievable HGH (reverses aging while burning fat without dieting or exercise!), VP-RX pills (thicker, longer, harder ...), refinancing (NO faster way to save in a poor economy), envelope-stuffing and all the other get-rich-overnight schemes. But all those promises are life belts that make you sink.
The growth of spam now worries some of the big players on the Internet arena, for two reasons. One is the danger that the spam flood will lead to a breakdown of the e-mail system; the other is the burden on the business budgets. In 2003, lost productivity and cleaning-up expenses in USA alone may total ten billion dollars. But there ought to be a third reason: The damage done by the selling of empty promises and false hopes to people that need real help. kurve
paragraf What will be the outcome of a war against spam? Nothing to boast of, I fear. The battle will be a legal one, with lawyers arguing about opt-ins and op-outs, blacklists and whitelists, until the process finally ends with a loophole-packed law. This law will only provide a defensive shield against spam, technologically outpaced before you can use it.
What should be done to get rid of spam? The war against it should be fought on a sender-side front. Spamming is a capitalistic activity, and business weapons should be used to deal with it. All businesses that don't make a profit will sooner or later disappear. Find ways to make the cost of spamming higher than the spammers income from their activity. What about legitimate bulk-mailing? Create a sender-side opt-in list (or whitelist) for them, not for the receivers of spam.

I'm not the only one arguing for a sender-side action against spam. 'The spam filtering software we use on our mail servers works remarkably well, but it's not sufficient,' said Phil Long, senior strategist for academic computing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. 'It only filters mail after it's been sent. We need solutions that will make it more expensive for spammers to send out their mail. That's the only way to win.'

Any comments? I'm bareing my breast once more: Send them to me!

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