How to *Really* Can Spam

Full disclosure:  much of this posting you could call, well, a “clip show,” since I wrote it about a year ago.  But reading a report about the rise in spam in Internet News “Subject Lines Spammers Can’t Resist”  I am again reminded that I came up with an idea on how to make spam go away a long time ago.

It’s not like I’m waiting for the government to call, but I cannot fathom how people keep falling prey to spam.  The article noted:

Spammers often change their subject lines in a bid to escape detection and filters. But there are some tried, tested and true subject lines they keep returning to again and again.

For this week, PayPal topped the list of top spam subject lines, being used in three of the top 10. HSBC Bank Canada came in second with two, according to research from anti-malware vendor McAfee.com.

So on to the “clip show” and some warmed-over thoughts on how we can – still — make spam go away:

Thanks to Esther Schindler (via Twitter), I read a fascinating article in CIO.com that presented a rare look into the business of spam. The article details the case against Adam Sweaney, a man who it is alleged made more than $1 million spamming. Among the picture it paints includes the fact that:

“Sweaney said he earned about US$2,500 a month for a couple of years selling botnets that could be used for a variety of activities including sending spam e-mails. He didn’t even write them himself, but he traded or bought them in online forums, he said.”

The article is a worthy and fascinating read, but I am a guy — and am physiologically incapable of reading about a problem without offering a solution. It’s been bumping around in my head for some time, and this article triggered my brain to write it. Thanks, Esther.

The e-marketer newsletter, quoting SpamHaus, makes the point for me:

“Spam will continue to be a problem for as long as some businesses see some value in it. According to recent news reports, a well-organized spammer can send between 60 and 70 million e-mails a day (two billion a month). On average, there is a positive response to 0.05% of those e-mails, potentially delivering 36,000 e-mail leads per day to the companies that use spam.”

The is no precise figure that I can come up with, but an incredibly dated report from the University of Maryland put the annual cost to businesses at about $22 billion. That’s serious.

The CAN SPAM Act was a joke because, as the CIO article notes, most of the “serious” spammers are impossible to detect and many operate offshore. So the time that we spent writing and passing the bill in Congress a) did nothing to reduce the quantity of spam emails that I receive (about 1,500 per week) and b) we have really only caught one “big fish,” Robert Alan Soloway.

To me, the only way to make spam go away is to spend money on educating the public not to click on messages that they don’t recognize. It’s pretty simple: remove the incentive for the spammers and their customers, the business dries up and these scumbags go away.

I’m pretty convinced that government is incapable of handling the problem and spammers are clever enough to stay one step ahead of the spam filters, but if spam is costing businesses and ISPs BILLIONS of dollars, why not come up with a three-year, public awareness campaign to educate computer users about what spam is, how it is more than just an annoyance and much, like your annoying sibling, if you ignore it, it will just go away. If you throw in some scare tactics like viruses and malware, people will listen up.

The irony is that email as a tool to reach and educate computer users is out of the question, but think how many people responded to the “Do Not Call” list when it came out. People were ticked off and found a way out (I know, I know, it was government), but I think that a good mix of earned and paid media (print, TV, op-eds, summits, blogs, coalitions, over a sustained period of time, could remove the demand, evaporate the customers and dry up the money.

C’mon ISPs. C’mon large, private employers who are spending money fighting this. Put just a couple of billion into a campaign to make consumers smart and save a lot over the long run.

Mark

P.S. – You’ll note that on the “contact” page of this blog, I have a contact form, not an email address. My primary ISP is Verizon, but I filter all of my email addressed through Gmail. Verizon caved like cowering sheep to a class action lawsuit because they were filtering “legitimate” email, probably from Nigerian royalty.

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