Viva Liberacion: A Guide to Nuking Spammers, Part 1

All the Bayesian filters, Perl scripts, blocklists, and hosting services do nothing to actually stop spam from proliferating; they merely prevent some of it from reaching your inbox. Carla Schroder's new two-part series takes a look at fighting spam from a different perspective -- cutting it off at the source.

By Carla Schroder | Posted Apr 23, 2003
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By now, my faithful readers, you've likely read Jacqueline Emigh's excellent series on spam. Her series covers all manner of different spam-fighting strategies and products, from self-management to using hosting services. In this two-part series, we are going to look at fighting spam from a different perspective -- cutting it off at the source.

All the Bayesian filters, Perl scripts, blocklists, and hosting services do nothing to actually stop spam from proliferating; they merely prevent some of it from reaching your inbox. It's also an ever-escalating battle, as spammers expend considerable ingenuity and resources into foiling filters and blocklists. As soon as one avenue is blocked, they find another.

Why Spam Is Bad

Let's review what makes spam so evil. Yes, I mean evil, and I do not use the word lightly. The primary concept to understand is theft of services. Every Internet user subsidizes spammers. There is already precedent for allowing this cost-shifting of marketing costs from the seller to the recipient -- our private postal mailboxes, telephones, and fax machines have long been considered merely marketing tools for any idiot who wants to sell stuff. It's too bad we let them get away with it, because with email the problem is a million times worse. With postal mail and telemarketing there are built-in cost limitations. Cost constraints are considerably lessened with fax spams -- robo-dialers and low connection charges make it inexpensive to fax-spam huge numbers of people -- which has led to the creation of laws prohibiting this misuse of faxing.

But even with cost constraints and laws, the recipient (note that I do not say "customer" or "consumer") is still subsidizing the mass-marketer. We are not compensated for a spammer's use of our private personal property. We do not share in their profits from selling and re-selling our personal data. These days, the most valuable asset a company has is its customer database. That's why grocery stores use "membership" cards, and it's also the sole purpose of contests. Almost any large company you do business with relies on the selling of customer data as a major profit center.

Email spam elevates this cost-shifting, this theft of services, to new and astounding heights. It is so inexpensive to spew forth a million emails that there is zero incentive to exercise any restraints whatsoever. My main public email address, carla@bratgrrl.com, is so polluted it is nearly unusable. It receives over 150 spams per day. The majority of them are unreadable: HTML formatted, foreign languages, and the most laughable of all, attachments in .eml format, which is for Outlook Express. The latest greatest spam assault tactic is multiple sends of the same message -- as if seeing ten copies of the exact same message is going to make you more inclined to buy into what the spam is selling!

Cheap = Fraud

The lower the cost, the greater the fraud. I receive the least amount of fraudulent spam in my postal mail. Running second is telemarketing, while the undisputed world champion is, of course, email spam. In the last two weeks, I have received maybe a half-dozen offers for real products. Unless you count porn, which I do not, that's over 2100+ fraudulent ads.

Even when the spam is pushing legitimate offers, it is still wrong. I did not consent to receive any of the messages in my inbox. Consent is the key principle here; it is my private property. I am paying for my bandwidth, storage, and labor to manage this flood of trespassing spew, while the senders are getting a free ride.

Page 2: "It's No Big Deal; Just Hit Delete"

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