sys·ad·min·ol·o·gy [sis-ad-mih-nol-uh-jee]


  1. The scientific study of system administration and related phenomena.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Why We're All Responsible For SPAM

Internet lore has it that the first spam message was sent in May 1978. It was sent to around 600 recipients, and wasn't selling cheap medication, but a new computer and operating system.
Since then spamming has turned into a multi billion dollar industry, mostly inhabited by criminals trying to rip you off in some way, including but not limited to supplying fake or substandard goods, or indeed just accepting your money and not supplying anything at all.

Of course it's not just the risk of being sold counterfeit goods, but also the very real threat of infection from a booby trapped web page, or perhaps and attachment which pertains to your order.. The end result of this is that the infected pc is then used to send out further spam.

What's more, spamming is not just a matter of unwanted emails. Comment spamming ( posting a spam message in the comments section of a web site ) is so prolific, that it has led to systems which prove the user is human ( entering slightly obscured text, solving a simple maths problem ) This site, just like many others has other methods of spam protection installed, because if there wasn't, it would be awash with offers of cheap medication, cheap designer goods, and anything else any spammer wishes to peddle.

In response, spam filters have evolved to become one of the most sophisticated technologies around ( second perhaps only to virus/intrusion detection systems ) And let's face it, spam filters do a pretty good job.
The problem is  that as with most exploits, the good guys are always playing catch up to the bad guys.
For example, Spammers emailed with the message "cheap Rolex" which in turn was blocked by word filters, so spammers changed the message to "cheap rol3x". Thanks to some clever processing by the brain, the message is still decipherable to the target, but less so ( or not at all ) to the spam filter.

So it continued, with spam filters putting hurdles in the way, and spammers vaulting over them, in a never ending race. Attempts to block mail emanating from certain IP addresses, met with initial success, however spammers now resort to using botnets, making tracking and blocking much harder.

Not only is the protection from spam playing catch up, but so is the law. It was 1997 before any vaguely anti-spam legislation  was passed in the state of Nevada, with other states following up with their own anti spam laws in the following 5 years. However, according to a report published by the International Telecommunication Union, these laws did little to stem the ever increasing flow.

With western countries legislative response being so slow, and so far mostly ineffective, you can only imagine the state of anti spam laws in developing countries, which have a quickly expanding Internet user base (e.g. BRICS), where Internet connections are improving faster than the authorities can effectively police them.
It's easy to see spamming as a technological problem, but to do so would be missing the point.

It's become a technological problem because the volume of spam flying about the Internet is so high that getting humans to process it is too big a task. Much easier then to get the machines to do the job for us... But why do spammers send out spam? Clearly, if the numbers involved are big enough, it's because they get a return on investment. And that means that at least some people respond to their messages!

Stopping spam isn't really a technical problem it's a social problem. The Internet has created a geographically diverse and apparently friendly platforms for people to meet, and business to be conducted, and that is a good thing, however it seems risks are taken online that wouldn't ordinarily take when offline. It's this dichotomy that the spammers trade on. Perhaps instead of acting like we are a part of a friendly altruistic global village, we should take a view of ( at least where money is concerned) suspicion until proven reputable.

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