The Northern Spy: combatting spam
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: combatting spam

By Rick Sutcliffe

Spam is used either as a noun to refer to unsolicited bulk email, or as a verb to refer to the act of sending same. There are two categories of spam -- the difference depending on whether or not the mail has a commercial or monetary aspect;that is, the sender is attempting to obtain money from the recipients for a service, product, or cause.

There may or may not also be a fraudulent aspect to the spam -- generally one should expect that those who engage in one unethical activity would challenged where the truth is concerned as well. For instance, non-commercial spam is frequently sent to argue for or against some cause, and may be abusive of the recipient, or of some identifiable group or organization to which the recipient may be supposed to belong. Sometimes it's even a one-time friend or former fellow member of some organization who is now prosecuting a vendetta in semi-public fashion.

But no matter what the motivation for sending spam, or how the sender justifies his/her actions, the practice is universally condemned by recipients, legitimate internet service providers, and the laws of most jurisdictions. Whether the spammer is sending thirty or thirty million messages at a time, you don't want to get them, the ISPs don't want to transmit them, and law enforcement agencies want to catch them and put them out of business for good.

Just as the typical new server will be attacked by hackers within seconds of joining the Internet for the first time, the typical email inbox begins to fill up with unsolicited messages soon after being opened. One of the most frequently asked questions by newcomers to the web (there still are some) is what to do about all the junk mail. Under another hat, the Spy offers web services, and noted that as much as 90% of all email presented to his servers is marked as spam. Well, the Spy obtained his first email address on Bitnet around 1972 (yes, the reader sees that date correctly) and herewith tenders a few modest suggestions.

What to do:

First, never answer an email message without checking to ensure it is from a known source. Spammers sometimes send email to many names on a domain (joe@thedomain, sally@thedomain, fred@the domain, etc.), hoping to hit a real account with one of several hundred thousand attempts. Replying will merely confirm to the sender that yours is a valid email address, and (s)he will promptly add it to many lists and sell it to other spammers.

Second, never display an email address in clear text on your web site, where it can be harvested by spammers and sold. Instead, obfuscate it. The simplest is to render it as me--AT--thisAddress.com rather than using the "@" sign. There are other ways to do this in text so it does not look like an address to a harvester (see a link at the bottom), or the address can be placed in a graphic so it can only be read by human eyes. Likewise, the Spy has now reluctantly concluded, do not allow your debating club, philatelic society, condo owners association, authors' group, or knitting circle to publish your email address. Such lists are frequently stolen.

Third, never do anything that the unsolicited email requests. Any attached file you open almost certainly contains a malware program that can take over your computer, either for the purpose of sending more spam, to find those stored credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal information, or to vandalize your files. The Spy adopts a zero-tolerance policy toward file attachments. Unless the sender has been specifically asked to send it, he deletes all such unread. Sorry, students, but you cannot submit your homework that way. The risks are too great.

Likewise, clicking on a link in the message will surely take you to a malicious web site. These fall into two categories. The first consists of fake sites pretending to be your bank, PayPal, or some other place where you have an account. The goal is to obtain your ID, your credit card or other personal information, and/or your password to an account. The second group of malicious sites are those set up to exploit bugs in browsers that may allow the site access to your computer and files. The common theme here is identity theft.

Note that no legitimate bank, Internet Services Provider, forum, or other online service will ever ask you to go to a site via a link embedded in an email message and provide your username and password or other information to "verify" your account, to deal with a "security issue" or to remove some "limitation" on your account. These are always frauds. If you have a concern about your account after receiving such a message, send an email to your contact person for that account (not using a link, but by typing in the address) or go to the service's web site (again by typing the address, not using the link.

Many email programs will warn you that a malicious link is not what it purports to be, but the absence of such a warning should not lull the reader into a false sense of security.

Fourth, most email programs have spam and abuse filters. Out of the box, these may be able to detect and mark some spam, then move it to the recipients' junk folder/box. These mailboxes should be checked weekly for "false positives", that is, messages that are marked as spam, but really are not. Commands found in the mail program's menu can then "teach" the filters that some messages are or are not spam. Over time, the filters will be better able to identify mail correctly, but the spammers themselves know of these filters and are constantly changing the wording of their messages to bypass them, so the training must be ongoing.

Fifth, if your email is part of a hosting package and you have a control panel for that hosting package (such as cPanel) you may have additional options for stopping spam at the server. These include:

(i) The server's own mail filtering programs, such as the very common Mailscanner, attach a number to all mail scanned, indicating the likelihood of its being spam or abusive. You can set the mail software at the server level to regard anything over a particular score as "high spam, then refuse delivery of high spam. You may fail to get a few false positives, but your mailbox will slim down considerably.

(ii) The server's control panel may also offer user-defined filters that you can set to discard or reject any mail with a particular phrase in its headers, including a specific "From:" (a blacklist). Again, the action is taken at the server level, and the message will not reach you.

(ii)Along the same lines, when you control your own domain, you can create as many email addresses or forwarders as you want. Give these out when you order on line, and as long as the company you dealt with doesn't sell it to a spammer, continue to use it when corresponding with them. When it does show up sold to a spammer, delete it.

(iii) If you are uncomfortable with changing these settings yourself, you can complain to your own web host or email service provider, who should be more than happy to set server wide or account level blacklisting on a troublesome spammer, preventing acceptance of the message by the server. The system operator also has access to a suite of server-wide filters, blacklists, and spam markings that can be taught to the mail scanner.

(iv) Server level spam filters rely on spammer lists maintained by third parties such as Spamhaus. You may be able to report spam directly to such an organization and have the offender blacklisted worldwide. However, despite defining spam as "unsolicited bulk email" Spamhaus has a more restrictive operational definition than envisioned here, and will only take action on commercial spam, not on other bulk unsolicited email, and not on abusive mail.

(v) Yet another spam prevention service worth cooperating with if you have your own site is Project Honeypot. This involves putting code and an "email address" on your website that when harvested and used in a spam email list immediately identifies the mail as spam, for only an illegitimate automatic harvester would detect the alleged address.

Sixth, ISPs (Internet Service Providers), even if only offering mail services, all have explicit clauses in their terms of reference that ban hate mail, abusive mail, and spam of all kinds. Here is an excerpt from a gmail TOS document:

In addition to (and/or as some examples of) the violations described in the terms of service, users may not:

Generate or facilitate unsolicited commercial email ("spam"). Such activity includes, but is not limited to

o sending email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act or any other applicable anti-spam law;

° imitating or impersonating another person or his, her or its email address, or creating false accounts for the purpose of sending spam;

° data mining any web property (including Google) to find email addresses;

° sending unauthorized mail via open, third-party servers;

° sending emails to users who have requested to be removed from a mailing list;

° selling, exchanging or distributing to a third party the email addresses of any person without such person's knowing and continued consent to such disclosure;

° sending unsolicited emails to significant numbers of email addresses belonging to individuals and/or entities with whom you have no preexisting relationship.

Here is another from Hotmail:

Terms of Service. The Hotmail Terms of Service (TOS) strictly forbids sending unsolicited e-mail -- and the TOS is enforced with zero-tolerance zeal. All reported accounts in violation of the TOS are terminated immediately and permanently. Hotmail publicly posts its closures of those accounts from which unsolicited commercial e-mail has been sent to anti-spam Usenet newsgroups on a regular basis.

In addition, Hotmail recently instituted a "liquidated damages" clause in the TOS. This clause requires members who misuse Hotmail in connection with spam to pay $5 per spam message to Hotmail. This clause serves as a deterrent to keep Hotmail spam-free and will make it easier to pursue spammers.

Nearly all other such email providers, whether large or small, have similar clauses in their TOS, and enforce them. If you receive spam from a domain whose provider you can recognize, you can complain to the "abuse" department of that provider about the mail, and may be able to get the account cancelled, if the provider is reputable. Of course, the spammer is likely to start up again elsewhere, but you do get a temporary respite. If the amount of spam is large enough or the spammer is using a stolen address list, the provider may be willing to take legal action for the fines, or to put the offender in prison. One can always hope.

Seventh (modification of the very first point above for the brave) If you already know the spammer, or know that (s)he has your real address list anyway, you could consider sending a message to the person requiring that your name be removed from the mailing list being used. Keep this message and any reply. If the person refuses, even if implicitly by continuing to send the spam, complain to their services provider as in the previous section. It is a violation of nearly every provider's TOS to refuse to remove an address from a mailing list on request, so if the service they use is a legitimate one (such as gmail or hotmail) this complaint should result in cancellation of their account there. However, it is the Spy's experience that many companies are not as diligent about this as they ought to be.

If your service happens to be the same as the spammer's (say, gmail) you may be able to complain simply by clicking a box next to the email to tell the system operator that the mail is spam or abusive as far as you are concerned.

Eighth, even where no commercial or fraudulent aspect is present, and the mail contains no abuse, the sending of bulk unsolicited email is illegal in many jurisdictions, and may attract heavy fines and/or jail sentences. In celebrated recent cases spam kings Sanford Wallace and Adam Guerbuez, both of whom spammed Facebook accounts with commercial ads were fined $711M and $873M respectively. The latter judgement, made in California, has now, with exchange, amounted to nearly $1B CDN, and has been upheld by the Quebec Supreme Court. There have been other cases where the fines reached into the hundreds of millions, so these are not unique.

The gold standard now appears to have become a fine of $100 per address per message, and the larger ISPs and social networking sites seem to believe that at some point it is very much worth spending the legal money to pursue spammers, even if little or nothing can ever be recovered by way of paid fines (the offender declares bankruptcy). The hope seems to be that the publicity will deter others.

The Spy suspects that little short of jail will make much difference, for in most cases criminal prosecution is indeed a viable option. This is especially so in cases involving fraud, such as that of Alan Ralsky, the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Spam," who was sentenced to 51 months in prison for a pump-and-dump fraud run through spam.

It is worth noting that abusive mail, even if not explicitly threatening, is not only implicitly so, but its repetition is generally deemed harassment. Since uttering threats and harassment are criminal offences in almost all Western jurisdictions, this type of email can also result in slammer time. The recipient must decide whether the threats and/or harassment are sufficiently grave to file a police report.

Moreover, as in the last section, refusal to remove a name from an email list is a serious offence in many jurisdictions, and this may also be an avenue that either you, your provider, or the offender's provider can pursue.

Finally, an oddity of law in some countries, including the United States, prescribes particular penalties for sending unsolicited mail to a wireless device, offering a further legal option where applicable.

How much action is worth it?
In the case of commercial advertising, it is probably sufficient to stop the spam from getting to you, especially if this can be done at the mail server level before you download your mail to your own computer. In the case of abusive mail, particularly if a stolen database is involved, recipients may wish to give serious consideration to complaining up the line, first to their own ISP, then to the offenders' (if this is not just a server under his own control) and then to the police.

Now, wouldn't it be nice if a column like this never needed to be written? The Spy would be happy to see all spammers busted with heavy fines, all thieves of databases and senders of abusive email locked up. Perhaps the rest of us could then get on with our lives.

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics as well as Senate Chair at Trinity Western University. He is also on the board of CIRA, operator of .ca. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs


The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com


The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm


The Spy's Shareware download site: http://downloads.thenorthernspy.com/

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Parallels Desktop 10.2.0 - Run Windows a...
Parallels Desktop is simply the world's bestselling, top-rated, and most trusted solution for running Windows applications on your Mac. With Parallels Desktop for Mac, you can seamlessly run both... Read more
LaunchBar 6.2 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Firefox 37.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
Arq 4.11 - Online backup to Google Drive...
Arq is super-easy online backup for the Mac. Back up to your own Google Drive storage (15GB free storage), your own Amazon Glacier ($.01/GB per month storage) or S3, or any SFTP server. Arq backs up... Read more
MacFamilyTree 7.3.4 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: it's modern, interactive, incredibly fast, and easy to use. We're convinced that generations of chroniclers would have loved to trade in their genealogy... Read more
Yummy FTP 1.10.2 - FTP/SFTP/FTPS client...
Yummy FTP is an FTP + SFTP + FTPS file transfer client which focuses on speed, reliability and productivity. Whether you need to transfer a few files or a few thousand, schedule automatic backups, or... Read more
VueScan 9.5.08 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Iridient Developer 3.0.1 - Powerful imag...
Iridient Developer (was RAW Developer) is a powerful image conversion application designed specifically for OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of... Read more
Monodraw 0.8.4.1 - Powerful ASCII art ed...
Monodraw allows you to easily create text-based art (like diagrams, layouts, flow charts) and visually represent algorithms, data structures, binary formats and more. Because it's all just text, it... Read more
Air Video Server HD 2.1.0 - Stream video...
Air Video Server HD streams videos instantly from your computer on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple TV. No need to worry about converting or transferring files. We took everything that was... Read more

2K Announces WWE 2K, Mobile's First...
It seems like this month has been pretty big for wrestling. First Wrestlemania, then 2K has announces that they're releasing  WWE 2K for iOS. It's a simulation-based WWE game where you'll get to play with several WWE superstars such as John Cena, ... | Read more »
How the Apple Watch Could Change the Fac...
The Apple Watch is still a ways out, but my previous musings on the wearable’s various features got me thinking: what might it be like a year after launch? Two years? Five years? What if it becomes a symbiotic part of the iOS framework to the point... | Read more »
Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey (Games)
Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A game about delivering pizza. In space. | Read more »
Chosen Gives Hopeful Singers, Songwriter...
If YouTube videos and reality TV shows like The Voice have taught us one thing, it’s that there are a lot of people out there who are anxious to show the world their talents. And if they’ve taught us a second thing, it’s that there’s an almost... | Read more »
Android's Popular OfficeSuite Now A...
Once only available for Android devices, OfficeSuite has finally landed on the app store. The Mobile Systems app lets you view, edit, create, and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents as well as convert them to/from PDFs. It's touted as being... | Read more »
Warhammer: Arcane Magic is Coming Soon,...
Turbo Tape Games has announced that they're joining forces with Games Workshop to bring the turn-based strategy board game, Warhammer: Arcane Magic, to life on the iOS. | Read more »
Fast & Furious: Legacy's Creati...
| Read more »
N-Fusion and 505's Ember is Totally...
| Read more »
These are All the Apple Watch Apps and G...
The Apple Watch is less than a month from hitting store shelves, and once you get your hands on it you're probably going to want some apps and games to install. Fear not! We've compiled a list of all the Apple Watch apps and games we've been able to... | Read more »
Appy to Have Known You - Lee Hamlet Look...
Being at 148Apps these past 2 years has been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal, and working with such a great team has been a privilege. Thank you to Rob Rich, and to both Rob LeFebvre and Jeff Scott before him, for helping me... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Will Microsoft’s Surface 3 Give The 12-inch M...
The more I ruminate over the new 12-inch MacBook, the more it occurs that it’s probably going to be more of a cannibalization threat to high-end iPads (including a new 12-inch ‘Pad when/if that... Read more
13-inch 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro available f...
MacMall has the 2013 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro available for $949.99 for a limited time. Shipping is free. Their price is $350 off original MSRP, and it’s the only sub-$1000 new Retina... Read more
Adobe Brings Powerful Layout-Design Capabilit...
Adobe today announced the availability of Adobe Comp CC, a free iPad app that enables rapid creation of layout concepts for mobile, Web and print projects. With Comp CC, designers can rough out and... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro avail...
Best Buy has clearance 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pros available for $1199.99 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off original MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model.... Read more
Updated Mac Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
21-inch 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $999, save $1...
Best Buy has the 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pick up. Price is for online orders only, in-store prices may vary. Their price is... Read more
2.6GHz Mac mini on sale for $649, save $50
Amazon has the 2.6GHz Mac mini on sale for $649.99 including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
Textkraft Professional 3.2 Powerful iPad Text...
Finally it’s springtime, at least theoretically in my neck of the woods, where we’re still navigating canyons between towering snowbanks with temperatures well below freezing in winter weather that... Read more
Apple offering refurbished 27-inch 5K iMacs f...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMacs for $2119 including free shipping. Their price is $380 off the price of new models, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
16GB iPad mini on sale for $199, save $50
Walmart has 16GB iPad minis (1st generation) available for $199.99 on their online store, including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Online orders only. Read more

Jobs Board

DevOps Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay, iOS...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.