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

WALTR 2 2.0.9 - $39.95
WALTR 2 helps you wirelessly drag-and-drop any music, ringtones, videos, PDF, and ePub files onto your iPhone, iPad, or iPod without iTunes. It is the second major version of Softorino's critically-... Read more
Paperless 2.3.9 - $49.95
Paperless is a digital documents manager. Remember when everyone talked about how we would soon be a paperless society? Now it seems like we use paper more than ever. Let's face it - we need and we... Read more
Adobe After Effects CC 2017 14.1 - Creat...
After Effects CC 2017 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous After Effects customer). The new, more connected After Effects CC... Read more
Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 11.0.2 - Digi...
Premiere Pro CC 2017 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Premiere Pro customer). Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 lets you edit... Read more
ExpanDrive 5.4.4 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.3.1 - Professio...
Apple Final Cut Pro X is a professional video editing solution.Completely redesigned from the ground up, Final Cut Pro adds extraordinary speed, quality, and flexibility to every part of the post-... Read more
Apple GarageBand 10.1.5 - Complete recor...
The new GarageBand is a whole music creation studio right inside your Mac -- complete with keyboard, synths, orchestral and percussion instruments, presets for guitar and voice, an entirely... Read more
Yummy FTP Pro 1.11.14 - $29.99
Yummy FTP Pro is an advanced Mac file transfer app which provides a full-featured professional toolkit combined with blazing speeds and impeccable reliability, so whether you want to transfer a few... Read more
Apple Compressor 4.3.1 - Adds power and...
Compressor adds power and flexibility to Final Cut Pro X export. Customize output settings, work faster with distributed encoding, and tap into a comprehensive set of delivery features. Features... Read more
Apple Motion 5.3.1 - Create and customiz...
Apple Motion is designed for video editors, Motion 5 lets you customize Final Cut Pro titles, transitions, and effects. Or create your own dazzling animations in 2D or 3D space, with real-time... Read more

Super Mario Run dashes onto Android in M...
Super Mario Run was one of the biggest mobile launches in 2016 before it was met with a lukewarm response by many. While the game itself plays a treat, it's pretty hard to swallow the steep price for the full game. With that said, Android users... | Read more »
WarFriends Beginner's Guide: How to...
Chillingo's new game, WarFriends, is finally available world wide, and so far it's a refreshing change from common mobile game trends. The game's a mix of tower defense, third person shooter, and collectible card game. There's a lot to unpack here... | Read more »
Super Gridland (Entertainment)
Super Gridland 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Match. Build. Survive. "exquisitely tuned" - Rock Paper Shotgun No in-app purches, and no ads! | Read more »
Red's Kingdom (Games)
Red's Kingdom 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Mad King Mac has kidnapped your father and stolen your golden nut! Solve puzzles and battle goons as you explore and battle your... | Read more »
Turbo League Guide: How to tame the cont...
| Read more »
Fire Emblem: Heroes coming to Google Pla...
Nintendo gave us our first look at Fire Emblem: Heroes, the upcoming mobile Fire Emblem game the company hinted at last year. Revealed at the Fire Emblem Direct event held today, the game will condense the series' tactical RPG combat into bite-... | Read more »
ReSlice (Music)
ReSlice 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Audio Slice Machine Slice your audio samples with ReSlice and create flexible musical atoms which can be triggered by MIDI notes or... | Read more »
Stickman Surfer rides in with the tide t...
Stickson is back and this time he's taken up yet another extreme sport - surfing. Stickman Surfer is out this Thursday on both iOS and Android, so if you've been following the other Stickman adventures, you might be interested in picking this one... | Read more »
Z-Exemplar (Games)
Z-Exemplar 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
5 dastardly difficult roguelikes like th...
Edmund McMillen's popular roguelike creation The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has finally crawled onto mobile devices. It's a grotesque dual-stick shooter that tosses you into an endless, procedurally generated basement as you, the pitiable Isaac,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Ranked ‘Most Intimate Brand’
The top ranked ‘”intimate” brands continued to outperform the S&P and Fortune 500 indices in revenue and profit over the past 10 years, according to MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2017 Report, the largest... Read more
B-Eng introduces SSD Health Check for Mac OS
Fehraltorf, Switzerland based independant Swiss company- B-Eng has announced the release and immediate availability of SSD Health Check 1.0, the company’s new hard drive utility for Mac OS X. As the... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free: -... Read more
4-core 3.7GHz Mac Pro on sale for $2290, save...
Guitar Center has the 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro (MD253LL/A) on sale for $2289.97 including free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Their price is a $710 savings over standard MSRP for... Read more
128GB Apple iPad Air 2, refurbished, availabl...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 128GB iPad Air 2s WiFis available for $419 including free shipping. That’s an $80 savings over standard MSRP for this model. A standard Apple one-year warranty is... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina Apple MacBook Pro on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A): $... Read more
Laptop Market – Flight To Quality? – The ‘Boo...
Preliminary quarterly PC shipments data released by Gartner Inc. last week reveal an interesting disparity between sales performance of major name PC vendors as opposed to that of less well-known... Read more
IBM and Bell Transform Canadian Enterprise Mo...
IBM and Bell Canada have announced they are joining forces to offer IBM MobileFirst for iOS market-ready enterprise applications for iPad, iPhone or Apple Watch. Bell, Canada’s largest communications... Read more
Otter Products is Closing… For a Day of Givin...
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Otter Products is closing doors to open hearts. In partnership with the OtterCares Foundation, the company is pausing operations for a day so all employees can volunteer with... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon has 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros (MJLQ2LL/A) available for $1799.99 including free shipping. Apple charges $1999 for this model, so Amazon’s price is represents a $200 savings. Read more

Jobs Board

Senior Workstation Administrator - *Apple*...
…with extraordinary HR. QualificationsJOB SUMMARY/OVERVIEWThe Senior Workstation Administrator - Apple supports the mission of TriNet by providing advanced level Read more
Intermediate *Apple* macOS Systems Integrat...
**Position Summary:** SC3 is actively seeking an Intermediate Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Apple Mac Read more
*Apple* & PC Desktop Support Technician...
Apple & PC Desktop Support Technician job in Los Angeles, CA Introduction: We have immediate job openings for several Desktop Support Technicians with one of our Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (Multi-L...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.