The terrible curse of spam

No, I’m not talking about the kind that comes in a can.  Spam is the common name given to unwanted e-mails.  If you use a computer then you know what I’m talking about.  They are Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages.  Some are insidious in the way that they appeal to the fears of modern man.  Loss of a job, loss of sexual ability, the state of the economy or the threat of recession, inflation or general economic meltdown are all used as the message subject line.  Some subject lines are direct and appeal to the baser senses to visit a pornography web site.

The name Spam of course, first referred to the Hormel Foods ham-based canned luncheon meat.  Today most people think of unwanted e-mail when referring to the word spam.  Hormel fought a losing battle to get software publishers to stop using the term spam in their anti-spam products.  They were concerned that people would ask themselves, “Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk email?”  The argument is ludicrous, which is probably why they lost.  I’m not a fan of either kind of Spam – the kind that comes in a can or the kind that comes in my mailbox.

One of the more sinister methods of delivering spam is by hijacking a valid e-mail address.  The spammer then sends out their junk to thousands of addresses they have collected.  But, they use your e-mail address as the return address.  They don’t even care that most of the addresses in their database are invalid.  They only care that they have a good domain name – the part of the address behind the “@” symbol.  When the remote e-mail server blocks the spam or tries to send it back with an NDR – Non-delivery receipt, it goes to your hijacked email address.

It does no good to respond to a piece of spam.  Naïve computer users only increase the amount of junk mail they receive when they send a response asking to be removed from their mailing list.  By responding to their e-mail you only confirm to them that they have a valid email address.  They will then add your address to their “Hot list” and sell it to other spammers for a premium.

There are various spam blockers on the market, each with varying degrees of success.  You can also ask your ISP or Internet Service Provider to put your mailbox behind their spam filter.  No spam filter is perfect.  Most block 90 to 95% of the bad e-mail.  Some claim higher percentages but, like a new puppy require extensive training to reach this level of satisfaction.

You may be interested to know that most spam is sent out today from what are called ‘zombie networks,’ which are home computers that are infected with a worm or virus.  These infected computers are usually on a DSL or Cable connection and are always on.  When the spammer has a new client, he just fires it out to a few of these zombies.  They in turn forward his command to other infected computers which start relaying the spam en masse.

In a matter of moments, the spammer has sent out millions of e-mails through hundreds of thousands of infected computers.  That’s why it is so important to keep your computer free and clean of viruses and spyware.  Most new computer users don’t realize that the computer they got for Christmas only had a three month subscription to the anti-virus and anti-spam software.  They keep the Geek Squad and other computer service companies busy.

The world is starting to fight back.  Laws have been passed in many sates against spamming.  Several high profile spammers have been caught, convicted, fined and sentenced.  Why do they do it?  Even with extremely low return rates, spammers can make millions in a few months.  Yes, millions.  No, don't do it.  Spam is one of the most annoying parts of my job as an IT Manger.  Spam now accounts for 98% of our daily e-mail deliveries of nearly 100,000 pieces.