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12/17/2004
01:55 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Business Technology: Readers' Ideas Take A Bite Out Of Spam

You say your network's in a jam Because of that accursed spam?? Have no fear, help's on the way, You, our readers, have saved the day! We asked for ideas, you sent them en masse, So read 'em all and then go kick a**!!

A couple of weeks ago, I solicited your ideas on what to do about spam and spammers, and offered a pretty nice prize as part of the deal: "Better yet, drop me a line to tell me what we can do about spammers. Better still, what we *should* do about spammers. The best idea will win a complimentary registration to our Spring Conference in beautiful Amelia Island, Fla., April 10-13." True to your always-generous form, you responded with some terrific ideas, many of which can be read here. And it was fascinating to see that almost all of the solutions you submitted fell neatly into one of four clearly defined sets: severe punishment for spammers and their knowing enablers; deep-technology solutions; widespread education for users; and levying charges on E-mail messages to make spamming prohibitively expensive for the loathsome bastards to conduct.

But before getting more deeply into what you had to offer in those areas, I'd first like to congratulate the winner: Benjamin Vogel, IT director at Protect-all Inc. Benjamin offered not only an overview of what's been tried and why it has failed, but also some firsthand experiences on an approach and product that have combined to reduce the volume of spam infiltrating Protect-all's network by 95%. Our congratulations go out to you, Benjamin, and we look forward to seeing you at the InformationWeek Spring Conference in less than four months. For those wishing to see the full version of his winning ideas, click here.

So let's first take a look at those advocating severe or even extreme punishment as a deterrent (and in some cases, I think the writers were less interested in deterrence than in retribution--the frustration reflected in many of these letters is quite palpable; this avenging category also accounted for more than 40% of all the letters you sent). Among their ideas: "...send in a U.S. Marine expeditionary force to one of their physical locations ... helicopter gunships, 500-pound bombs ... other spammers will have to determine if their despicable act is worth the ultimate price" (thank you, Patrick Heslin); "send the spammers to work and live in ...a place where there is limited technology allowed, so that they have no electricity and no computers. ... Teach them the real meaning of work" (thank you, Candy Hetzler); "...they could then be ... rushed off to that place in Cuba. We will never have to hear from them again. ... Feed the world--Soylent Green, anyone?" (thank you, Stephen Hill); "Another approach is one used by the old English Navy. I refer to fleet whippings, which involved sending the wrongdoer around to every ship in the fleet for a taste of the cat-o-nine-tails" (thank you, Norman R. Dotti); "Put them in a secured software camp where they work eight hours a day at spam-detection and intervention. Time off for creativity and keeping one jump ahead of their former cronies. These guys maybe be cowardly and malicious, etc., but they are also creative and intelligent" (thank you, Lynn Hogarth); "...make address spoofing, subject-line jumbling, subject-line falsification and obfuscation, and the addition of nonsense words in the body of an E-mail to evade spam-filtering software a felony punishable by a mandatory five-year prison sentence in a work gang in Alabama" (thank you, Scott Zielsdorf); "They will each invest five years of hard labor, 18 hours per day, seven days a week, removing the filth, Rolex-like watch pitches, Coach-like handbag offers from the mailboxes of every person, firm, corporation, and educational institution affected by their spam ... no paroles, no plea-bargaining, etc." (thank you, Kathy Scheessele); and, "The dumb terminal will display one spam E-mail message at a time, and the spammer must then delete the message using only a keyboard (no mice allowed). The spammers' 'jail time' is ... based on deleting one spam message per second over a 10-hour day. A typical sentence would be three years--I am sure after deleting that many E-mails, the spammer would be cured of any desire to spam or even look at a computer screen for quite a long time" (thank you, Jeffrey A. Romeo, who, by the way, knows a thing or two about justice: He works in information services within the Department of Justice of one of our great 50 states).

Then we have those who believe technology is the only approach to take: "I believe spam will be a problem until we dump SMTP E-mail in favor of a new XML-based messaging system. Businesses are doing incredible things using Web services. E-mail needs to become such a service" (thank you, Ken Gregg); "Would it be conceivable to adapt the OSI mail engine, X.400, to TCP/IP and evolve it in the same way? As I remember, X.400 had a number of features to assure that the sender was traceable" (thank you, Jim White); and then three remarkably similar variations of a single simple theme: first, "Isn't there a way to send a reply message to the spammer saying that the address is no good?" (thank you, James A. Olson); second, "...an E-mail tool that simply returns the message to the source, with a header that says something to the effect of, 'not interested.' If every E-mail provider built this capability into their E-mail software, it wouldn't take long for spammers to be inundated in their own filth" (thank you, George Archibald); and third, "Instead of servers just filtering and dropping spam out of E-mail, send each unwanted message back to the spammer with a message, 'Returned to Sender.' ... It would give the spammers a taste of their own medicine and hopefully flood their systems in direct proportion to the amount of spam they generate" (thank you, Bob Bucciferro).

OTHER VOICES
Call it spyware, malware, or adware--users loathe it, ad networks love it, Congress has it in its crosshairs. Most importantly, as an IT professional, you can't ignore it. It slows down your users' systems, impacts your end users' productivity, and could even degrade performance of your networks and network applications.

Seeking to get a better handle on the spyware problem, InformationWeek.com asked readers to rate its impact today in an online poll. Their feedback was clear--spyware is a growing problem in the enterprise.

-- InformationWeek.com special report on spyware



In the category of whipping the financial hides of the gelatinous, ground-meat spammers, Greg Litchfield suggests that "each ISP charges its customers one half-penny per email sent [and delivered], all fees are paid in advance, like postage stamps, [and if you] want to send a million E-mails hawking the latest gizmo, potion, or placebo, ante up the $5,000--in advance--and you're on your way"; Brian Sherwood says he likes "the idea of charging a small amount, say 1 cent per E-mail sent. This would be next to negligible for most users, including my teenagers! But, it could be extremely expensive for spammers! I read somewhere about one guy who sends 4 million E-mails per day. That would cost him $40,000 per day for the privilege of bothering the rest of us"; and John Lepant says that while he's sure his solution will be unpopular, it will surely work if we "simply charge for E-mail: right now it's a free service: I can send 10,000 of these messages, or 10,000,000 or just one for the same price. Charge 1 cent per E-mail, and spam will evaporate. People never like this idea: It's a 'tax' on the Internet: it will add 'costs' to businesses. That's baloney. ... What's costing businesses money is the cost of dealing with spam."

Other strong ideas involved forcing ISPs to be responsible for what's pumped through their networks, forcing the makers of the stuff that gets advertised to police their channels or assume liability for the spamming, raiding the physical sites of spammers and confiscating their computers, and abstinence: "Do not (under any circumstances) buy their products! They will stop if their costs are higher than their revenue!" (thank you, Carl Edmunds). And, again, all of your ideas--the ones advocating education, and all the others proposing one or more of these solutions, can be found here.

But hey--enough about spam. At this holiday time of year, please accept from all of us at InformationWeek our best wishes to you and your family for a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, or whatever other celebration you'll be enjoying. And may 2005 be your best year ever!

Bob Evans
Editorial director
bevans@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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