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

Minecraft 302 - Popular sandbox building...
Minecraft allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Other activities in the game include exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat... Read more
FotoMagico 5.2b8 - Powerful slideshow cr...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
TeamViewer 11.0.65452 - Establish remote...
TeamViewer gives you remote control of any computer or Mac over the Internet within seconds, or can be used for online meetings. Find out why more than 200 million users trust TeamViewer! Free for... Read more
Dropbox 9.4.49 - Cloud backup and synchr...
Dropbox is an application that creates a special Finder folder that automatically syncs online and between your computers. It allows you to both backup files and keep them up-to-date between systems... Read more
Geekbench 4.0.0 - Measure processor and...
Geekbench provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks engineered to quickly and accurately measure processor and memory performance. Designed to make benchmarks easy to run and easy to understand,... Read more
Nisus Writer Pro 2.1.5 - Multilingual wo...
Nisus Writer Pro is a powerful multilingual word processor, similar to its entry level products, but brings new features such as table of contents, indexing, bookmarks, widow and orphan control,... Read more
Default Folder X 5.0.6 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click on... Read more
Alfred 3.1 - Quick launcher for apps and...
Alfred is an award-winning productivity application for OS X. Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords, and file actions at... Read more
MYStuff Pro 2.0.25 - Create inventories...
MYStuff Pro is the most flexible way to create detail-rich inventories for your home or small business. Add items to MYStuff by dragging and dropping existing information, uploading new images, or... Read more
OmniOutliner Pro 4.6 - Pro version of th...
OmniOutliner Pro is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more

Lifeline: Crisis Line (Games)
Lifeline: Crisis Line 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
BLUK (Games)
BLUK 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: ** ‘Upcoming Game of the Year’ Finalist at NGF Awards 2015 ** ** ‘Big Indie Pitch’ Nominee at Pocket Gamer Connects 2016... | Read more »
Six! Tips, tricks, and hints for beginne...
There's nothing pretentious about Six!, the latest release from Gram Games. As puzzlers go, it's so unassuming that it took me some time to even realize why it was called what it was. Somewhere, my high school geometry teacher is now sobbing... | Read more »
Mobius Final Fantasy: Multiplayer update...
Up until now, Mobius Final Fantasy has been about as single-player an experience as an RPG can be. Not only do you play solo, but you are literally one among a seemingly unending wave of faceless warriors on the road toward the same goal. [Read... | Read more »
Find out the story behind League of Ange...
If you’re looking for a new thrilling MMORPG to play with your friends then you’ll be excited to hear that there is a sequel to one of the most well known titles in the genre – namely League of Angels 2. With a brand new 3D engine offering... | Read more »
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Blazing...
I'm not sure if it's possible to say you are an anime fan but also never have seen one episode of Naruto. If it is, then I resemble that remark, and if not, I offer a hearty apology. [Read more] | Read more »
5 mobile games that let you explore spac...
No Man's Sky hasn't exactly turned out to be everything it was promised. Though its core concept of exploring an unimaginably vast universe of different planets is an intriguing one, the execution has left many PS4 and PC gamers feeling like they... | Read more »
Mummy madness in new action game Tomb He...
Hot on the tail of Bump Hero, ZPlay is giving gamers another reason to get screen bashing with a brand new release. Tomb Heroes is a challenging action game in which you battle enemies in various tombs around the world. You can select from nine... | Read more »
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) (Games)
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Siralim 2 is an old-school monster catching RPG. Summon and customize hundreds of creatures to fight for you as... | Read more »
Clean Text (Productivity)
Clean Text 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

That Upgrade Itch; How Often Do You Upgrade Y...
I have a quandary to resolve as we head into what is typically a major Apple product upgrade season. My mid-2013 MacBook Air will be three years old and my iPad Air 2 will be two come late November.... Read more
Apple refurbished 12-inch iPad Pros available...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 12″ iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 12″ iPad Pro... Read more
Tim Cook Posts Open Letter To The Apple Commu...
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook has posted an open letter commenting on the European Commission’s bizarre demand that Apple pay more than $14 billion in allegedly underpaid back taxes on its Irish... Read more
Streetwise Drivers Club App Now Features Open...
Streetwise Drivers Club, an app that rewards drivers with deals on everything from dining and gift cards to tires and insurance, has announced the launch of a new enhancement connecting app users... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina Apple MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz... Read more
RESCUECOM 2016 Semi-Annual Computer Reliabili...
The beginning of a new school year is upon us again, in which students and parents have some very important choices to make, often including the purchase of a computer or tablet. Whether you are... Read more
VRS Design Damda Glide Series iPhone 7 and 7...
What makes the Damda Glide Series for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus special? Case maker VRS Design says its Damda Glide Series is the first mobile case to incorporate a semi-automatic mechanism for... Read more
Apple refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $350 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $829... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions Norfolk,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Tampa,...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV - Apple Inc. (United...
The Apple TV team is looking for excellent software engineers with experience in hardware, media management, media playback, content delivery and a passion for Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
Apple Solutions ConsultantJob Number: 51218534Pleasant Hill, California, United StatesPosted: Aug. 18, 2016Weekly Hours: 40.00Job SummaryAs an Apple Solutions Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 51218354 Fredericksburg, Virginia, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.