- Internet & the Web
Junk mail SPAM
SPAM SPAM SPAM
A delicious ham-based product wildly popular in Hawaii, spam also describes unsolicited email. Electronic mailboxes clog with digital detritus until hard drives fill up and crash. Wading through voluminous volumes of commercial communications consumes copious quantities of time during the work day. Experts estimate spam percentages to approach 99% of everything arriving in computer in-boxes. We hate it, but it's fun to play with. Like itchy poison ivy that never heals, we pick at it until it bleeds, then we make haste to the Emergency Room looking for professional help. The analogy is weak, but most of us get the point anyway.
SPAM is entertaining. It teaches us much about human nature. Spammers, the folks working diligently to communicate with complete strangers, stay up late devising strategies to convince us to read their messages. They strive to bypass spam filters. Their technologies inspire college courses and NSA investigative efforts.
Junk mail, spam, causes mass volumes of grief to some users and goes ignored by others. A single solitary unsolicited message may ruin the entire email experience or simply result in one more depression of the Delete key. Spammers couldn't care less: theirs is simply a numbers game. They understand that sending out sufficient numbers of solicitations statistically results in predictable numbers of responses.
Individual instances of these undesirable missives provide hours of entertainment. Human nature reflects back at us from the words and images bundled into tidy packets of spammy goodness. You gotta love it. Let us study in excruciating detail a prime example of spam that recently plunked into in-boxes throughout cyberspace.
Dig into some tasty SPAM
This tasty morsel popped up like an unexpected poisonous mushroom. Someone wants to loan us money. The deals are delectable, the terms irresistible. We all need some extra cash now and then. Sending out millions of these offers certainly results in a few clicks. Not everyone is as shewed as we are.
Note the link, revealed by hovering over the "Click Here." button. Does mspeedyplumbing include a subsidiary specializing in low-interest loans? We can only find out by clicking. In the interest of Computer Science and creative writing, we pasted the domain into our browser, omitting the specific page. The domain mspeedyplumbing.com proved disappointing. Their home page was completely blank. No attractive images, no welcoming messages, no reassuring links to the Better Business Bureau or to Verisign.
The specific link, including the gobbledegook at the end, indicates that these spammers have taken great pains to track every recipient. Clicking on the link in it's original form would result in a flurry of electronic activity. A tiny annotation in a specially-designed database would forever record the fact that I responded. Our erstwhile marketers obviously maintain serious paper trails: they would know that I exist and I am potentially gullible. My email address becomes a more valuable commodity.
Where'd it come from?
Email does leave a trail. As it slithers through cyberspace, it hops from server to server. Each server attaches a little more information. Most folks give little care to the circuitous route taken by their spam: it's easier to hit the Delete key and return to Plants Vs Zombies.
Every computer hooked to the Internet has a unique identifier referred to as an IP address. Our spammy example originated at address 188.8.131.52. From there, it traveled to another, probably reputable, server that recorded the original address as a permanent artifact. Looking up this IP address is trivial. We learn that it belongs to an organization called "ColoCrossing" in Withamsville, New York. ColoCrossing turns out to be a company providing web hosting services to companies and individuals. They own a block of IP addresses and they parcel them out to customers.
Did ColoCrossing spam us? Certainly not.
We surmise that a computer using services provided by ColoCrossing fell victim to a virus or external attack. Almost certainly the system admins at ColoCrossing quickly recognized the spam outbreak and efficiently stubbed it out. They get paid to do that.
Should ColoCrossing be prosecuted or even persecuted? Absolutely not. We don't picket the landlord when tenants let weeds grow in the driveway.
What can be done?
As an honest computer user, you can't get mad and you can't get even.
Spamming is a game of competing technological advances. The bad guys devise strategies to subvert current prevention methods. The good guys react. Scores indicate that the black hats are winning at the Internet level but losing at the inbox level. Billions of unsolicited messages flood into cyberspace. Fortunately, the vast majority of spam vanishes at the hands of sophisticated software and clever system administrators. Very little of it survives to torment end-users.
- Keep your filter up to date.
- Don't click on anything unrecognized.
- Don't give out your email address: eventually it will end up on spam lists.
One nuclear option does exist: spamming could be throttled tomorrow. Hopefully it will never happen, but when governments realize that 'revenue' can be enhanced by taxing every transmitted email, we may see the end of spam avalanches and the continuous degradation of our personal freedoms.