Tuesday 12 November 2002
Spammers’ Questionable Tactics
I have a custom-made, rather sophisticated spam filter look at all my e-mail before I get it. It catches almost all spam, though I’ve had to use the expedient of rejecting all mail from Hotmail, China, Russia, and Korea, unless the sender is known to me or he positively indicates in the subject header that the message is not spam.
I try to err on the side of rejecting a message, rather than accepting it. When a message is rejected, a bounce message is sent to the original sender, explaining what’s happening and asking for the message, if it’s not spam, to be re-sent with the no-spam claim in the subject header. The message actually has a license agreement in it, one that gives me the “right” to sue the spammers for incredible sums should they continue to send spam.
The spammers ignore the bounces, of course, but an ordinary person who wanted to send me normal, ordinary e-mail about Viagra or mortgages or credit would read the bounce message and re-send the mail in a way that makes it clear it’s not spam.
To date, except when the system has had some undetected bug in it, I have not rejected a single piece of mail that was not actually spam anyway. I know, because I log the rejections, and look through the logs from time to time. Every few days, I look through the spam that’s managed to get past, and I revise the filters.
Recently, while looking through the logs, I have come across a few interesting items in the rejections. These are lines from my log, which include the sender and the subject of the message:
I think I understand the economics of spam well enough: if you send out an enormous number of pitches at very low cost, you’ve only got to have a few people respond in order to make a profit. Thus it’s possible to make money by selling very, very dubious products and services, the kind of thing that no sane person would ever think about purchasing. The crazy-person market alone is large enough.
Why, then, go to extra trouble in an attempt to get your messages through to people who have explicitly attempted to exclude your mail from their lives? Do these spammers think that I will order videotapes of girls “forced to fuck” if they only spell it “forced to f*ck” and thus foil my filters?
There’s a theory making the rounds that a lot of spam is being sent out, ultimately, by various agencies of the U.S. government. The idea is that the spam is either an attempt to warn people about the dangers of dealing with people who send badly-spelled e-mails that offer fantastic returns through investment in G*neric Vi*gra!!!!!, or an attempt to induce people to commit a crime by offering to pay money for various sorts of illegal pornography.
To be honest, I rather doubt that the U.S. government has to together enough to pull off anything that clever. I am beginning to question that doubt, though, as the alternative explanation — that the more insane come-ons that show up in my mailbox are merely attempts to make money — has begun to seem less and less plausible.Posted by tino at 14:16 12.11.02