''Spam has become the organized crime of the Internet''

Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 05:32 pm
Great article on spam by James Gleick in the NYT Mag today.


It begins:

I know what your in-box looks like, and it isn't pretty. It looks like mine: a babble of come-ons and lies from hucksters and con artists. To find your real e-mail, you must wade through the torrent of fraud and obscenity known politely as ''unsolicited bulk e-mail'' and colloquially as spam. In a perverse tribute to the power of the online revolution, we are all suddenly getting the same mail.

The spam epidemic has just a few themes and variations: phone cards, cable descramblers, vacation prizes. Easy credit, easy weight loss, free vacations, free Girlz. Inkjet cartridges and black-market Viagra, get-rich-quick schemes and every possible form of pornography. The crush of these messages on the world's networks is now numbered in billions per day. One anti-spam service measured more than five million unique spam attacks in December, almost three times as many as a year earlier. The well is poisoned.

Spam is not just a nuisance. It absorbs bandwidth and overwhelms Internet service providers. Corporate tech staffs labor to deploy filtering technology to protect their networks. The cost is now widely estimated (though all such estimates are largely guesswork) at billions of dollars a year. The social costs are immeasurable: people fear participating in the collective life of the Internet, they withdraw or they learn to conceal their e-mail addresses, identifying themselves as [email protected] or [email protected]. The signal-to-noise ratio nears zero, and trust is destroyed.

''Spam has become the organized crime of the Internet,'' said Barry Shein, president of the World, one of the original Internet service providers. ''Most people see it as a private mailbox problem. But more and more it's becoming a systems and engineering and networking problem.'' He told the 2003 Spam Conference in Cambridge, Mass., last month that his service is sometimes pounded by the same spam from 200 computer systems simultaneously. ''It's depressing. It's more depressing than you think. Spammers are gaining control of the Internet.''
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Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 05:57 pm
Perhaps I'm the exception, soze, but spam doesn't rile me.

I just click delete.

Junk mail, similarly has never gotten my goat.

I can appreciate that it's a problem for others, particularly ISPs, but I'm profoundly indifferent about it.
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Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 06:17 pm
One of Gleick's points is that it's not just an individual inbox issue, though. (See the third paragraph of the excerpt above.)

His ideas for solutions:

As remote as an effective solution seems, the spam problem might not be so intractable after all. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 made it illegal to send unsolicited faxes; that law passed with strong backing from manufacturers of fax machines. It should be extended to include unsolicited bulk e-mail.

For free-speech reasons, any legislation should avoid considering e-mail's content; trying to define key words like ''commercial'' and ''pornographic'' only leads to trouble. And it isn't necessary. For that matter, even short of outlawing spam, two simple measures might be enough to stem the tide:

1) Forging Internet headers should be made illegal. The system depends on accurate information about senders and servers and relays; no one needs a right to falsify this information.

2) Unsolicited bulk mail should carry a mandatory tag. That alone would put consumers back in control; all the complex technological challenge of identifying the spam would vanish.

We need to be able to say no. No, I'm not looking for a good time. No, I don't want to ''e-mail millions of PayPal members.'' No, I don't want an anatomy-enlargement kit. No, I don't want my share of the Nigerian $25 million. I just want my in-box. It belongs to me, and I want it back.
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Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 11:30 pm
Wow, watch out for this:

At first, the e-mail message reads like all the others: There's the need for confidentiality. An assurance that the transaction is completely legal. And the inevitable appeal, in awkwardly formal language, for help in procuring a large amount of money.

This may come to you as a surprise (to borrow the language of such e-mail notes), but the message was not sent by someone claiming to be an African potentate's heir. Instead, it says, it was written by President Bush, the son of a former president, who seeks your urgent assistance in financing the removal of Iraq's leader. His "trusted intermediary" for the transaction: the Internal Revenue Service.

The spoof was written by Zoltan Grossman, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Like most people in the wired world, Professor Grossman, 41, has been swamped with e-mail messages from Nigeria and other foreign lands, seemingly sincere solicitations that are really schemes designed to defraud gullible recipients with promises of quick riches.

Although Professor Grossman routinely deletes such messages, he was prompted to write his parody after Mr. Bush's efforts to raise economic and political support for a war on Iraq began to remind him of the messages from Nigerian spammers.

"They're all from the son or daughter of a former ruler," he said. "A lot of them talk about oil money. And they need huge sums of cash very quickly. I thought, Why does this sound so familiar?"

Professor Grossman sent his spoof to two Web sites on Jan. 21, and it has spread rapidly from there. The full message can be read at www.scamorama.com/gwb.html . The parody is a witty variation on a vintage scam. Its victims are promised a big payoff if they supply money to gain access to, say, a bank account. Of course, the payoff never materializes.

The Nigerian Fraud E-Mail Gallery, at www.potifos.com/fraud, holds 420 different examples. Lawrence Kestenbaum, a researcher at the University of Michigan who is the site's operator, said he had 1,000 more entries to add.

A White House spokesman said he had not seen Professor Grossman's sham spam. Nor are unsuspecting readers likely to be duped by the spoof, in part because its stilted prose differs from Mr. Bush's colloquial style.

Still, Professor Grossman said, "Let's hope no one takes it seriously and actually donates," as the e-mail requests, 10 to 25 percent of one's annual income.

E-mail Spam Scam Is Sent in Bush's Name
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Reply Mon 10 Feb, 2003 12:40 am
Thanks PDiddie - thats great. You need to fix that first link, it didn't work - it has the '.' at the end of it - "www.scamorama.com/gwb.html."
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Reply Mon 10 Feb, 2003 11:05 am
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