Opinion » Cybernaut


Attack of the spam


Despite the best efforts of regulatory and legislative bodies around the world, the brigades of programmers on the case, and the universal scorn of nearly a billion computer users, the war on spam — unsolicited e-mail — appears to be a losing effort.

According to the latest metrics available, spam now accounts for about 90 per cent of all e-mail — for every message you want you get about nine that you don’t. And it’s only going to get worse.

Right now spam is a major inconvenience, resulting in an untold number of unproductive hours for users, IT technicians and others who have the job of deleting or blocking spam messages. Because it’s now possible to send hidden spyware programs through e-mails, spam can also cause serious computer issues as tiny spyware programs pile up and start draining memory and processor power.

While spam filters do stop countless millions of these messages from getting through, the spammers, as always, seem to be one step ahead. Typically filters scan the text of e-mails, looking for key words like “penis enlargement”, “Anna Kournikova”, and “stock market tip” which they use to redirect those mails to the trash. Now, spammers are sending their text photo files, which foils scanning technology. Spammers have also gotten better at spoofing e-mail return addresses and subject text, making them appear legitimate — or harder for filters to distinguish from legitimate e-mails.

Stopping spammers has proven to be exceedingly difficult. Despite some of the most stringent anti-spam laws in the world, almost a quarter of all spam continues to originate in the U.S.

A lot of it is legal spam, complying to new anti-spam laws, but spammers have found several loopholes to exploit. For example, companies sending legimiate spam now have to give recipients the opportunity to opt out of future e-mails. But who has the time to reply to the hundreds of spam e-mails finding their way into your inbox on a daily basis? Besides, the spam never comes from the same source — it’s not hard to generate new e-mail addresses to make it appear as if the spam is coming from somewhere different, and spammers will just set up and take down holding companies as often as required to stay one step ahead of the law.

Any attempt to run spammers off U.S. soil would only result in the companies setting up off-shore and continuing to harass people at a safe distance.

Because spam is a global problem, it’s going to take a global solution.

The beginning should be a United Nations resolution whereby all countries agree to clamp down on spam using a set of agreed upon criteria and a universal definition of spam. A few countries won’t sign, but they can be isolated by Internet Service Providers by blocking all outgoing mail from their nation’s unique ISP numbers.

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