Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What is Spam (UCE)?

Spam is the slang word used to describe Unsolicited Commercial Email or UCE. When someone sends out an email to a very large audience for certain commercial reasons, without seeking their approval, it is called as Spam. For example, if you receive an email suggesting to buy a particular product or service, and you have never requested that information, the email qualifies as a spam. On the other hand, if you have requested a particular newsletter from a site and get it regularly, it is not called spam. In easiest terms, an email which is not intended for you and not asked for by you is called as spam.

How would someone benefit from spamming me?

Spamming is primarily done for advertising purpose of pornography, drugs etc or for other fraudulent purposes. It is a cheap way to reach a mass population where the only required element is the mailing list of individuals. Spamming provides advertisement at the cost of the service providers and the recipients.

Why should someone care about Spam?

How would you like to explain about an email containing adult content in your corporate mailbox to your boss? This is just one example of inconvenience caused due to spam. Other more grave concerns about spams are
1) They put up a huge toll on the network infrastructure. Let’s say a company receives a total volume of 1 GB of official mails per day. If they are not adequately equipped to handle spam, they will quickly see this volume grow to a very high number. I have seen organizations receive up to 200% spam mails. This means, when a company knows that the valid volume of mail received is 1 GB, why would anyone plan the network infrastructure to handle 3 GB? This takes its toll on the end user performance and messaging teams start getting calls about the delays in sending and receiving mails from the internet.
2) Depending on the number of spam mails received by a person, it can become very time consuming to flush out all those unwanted mails and focus on the relevant mails. There is always a chance of error when an authentic mail is deleted accidently when flushing out spam. This error is also possible by the publicly available spam filtering software.
3) Most spams carry phishing messages. This means, there will be a very interesting link for example, a link of a reputed bank which is offering an unbelievable interest rate. On closer inspection of the link, the address will seem pretty authentic. For example, let’s say the bank in question in http://goodbank.com. When someone sees a link like, http://goodbank.com/creditcards/offers/cust
id/yduuiisisur8898399@www.badlink.com they don’t see any reason why this could not be an authentic link. However, on closer observation, and clicking the link actually goes to a site called as badlink.com which will have a very similar interface as http://goodbank.com. They will ask for some details, like phone numbers and home addresses, which most of us will provide trusting the reputation of goodbank.com. Well now our personal information is in the hands of badlink.com and http://goodbank.com was never even involved in this entire activity.
Note: In any URL, the part before the @ sign is ignored. Hence on closer observation of the above URL, the badlink.com site is pretty evident.
4) Many spam messages contain worms or viruses.

How to prevent being Spammed?

1) Rule number one is, never reply to a spam. No matter how offending the mail might be, replying to a spam mail, confirms to the spammer about the validity of the email address.
2) For companies, get anti-spam software, and place it at the entry point of your internal network.
3) For individuals, there is little that can be done in terms of prevention. For a comprehensive list of prevention, please refer to this link.

Is spamming illegal?

Yes, spamming is illegal although the laws concerning spamming is not very stringent. Very recently there have been some pretty interesting prosecutions for spammers. One of them is below:

Kodak Pays Fine to FTC for Mass Spamming


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