Spam, the eternal enemy… eternal??? (ouch!)

As every new day, in the morning, I checked my mail as usual… and like every morning, my inbox was full of a lot of unwanted messages, yes, I’m talking about Spam.
In the last week, I have received hundreds of messages trying to sell me viagra, vacations, cell phones, online universities, condoms, sports equipment, lipsticks, porn movies, you name it. The list of products is endless, but the worse thing is that I’m NOT interested in anyone.

¿Is Spam a problem? ¿What do you think? To me, yes, it is… I mean, I don’t want to receive more messages trying to make me buy something I don’t need. ¿Have you seen those TV sales channels? 24 hours of ads… 24! Well, now imagine your TV chasing you the whole day with one of those channels. For me, Spam is the same thing: I don’t want it but some people or companies around the world are forcing me to receive this digital garbage on my inbox.

I hate to waste my time deleting every piece of garbage sent by someone that I won’t ever know. So, here we go again, looking for answers… after 2 hours, browsing around Internet, this is what I found:

The curious thing is that Spam causes millions of dollars in lost productivity to business around the world every year. So, finally I found out Spam is not just a problem to me, but to the world.
Looking for protection, I was testing many software solutions pretending to be the “answer” to this problem, but the truth is no one seems to be a permanent solution. Taking a look at the resources I found filters for mail clients, filters for mail servers (as SpamAssassin), even filters in free mail services as Gmail and Hotmail. But, it doesn’t matter if I use all these options, at the end of the day, some unwanted mails will be waiting for me in the inbox 😦
My teacher told me about PGP, so I tried it, but in my opinion, I must say it isn’t a practical solution for end users, not only for the private/public keys management issue (If it was a little messy to me, I don’t want to think about my aunt Lily dealing with this), but for the way people must create their own trust ring. Well, it’s just my point of view, but I insist, PGP seems to be a pretty secure tool but it isn’t an usable solution for the Spam problem.
Reading a little more about this project, I found that the first version of PGP was created in 1991, but currently, too few of my friends or people I know are taking advantage of this utility.

The curious thing is Spam is NOT a new problem indeed. Looking around the Internet I found this interesting quote of Bill Gates: “Two years from now, Spam will be solved“. It was in 2004, and as far as I could read, it was the same year when Microsoft started to develop something called “Caller ID for E-mail“, a new proposal on that moment to destroy Spam (or at least, that’s what I understood). But, as in other times before, Bill was wrong on this too. It’s 2008 and we keep fighting against the same problem.

So, ¿What is the point that makes Spam an unsolvable problem? I have made some research about it and it seems the root of the problem comes from the e-mail service design.
Quoting from Wikipedia: “the format described by RFC 822 was the de facto standard for Internet e-mail for nearly two decades; it is still the official IETF standard“. If you check the header of that RFC you will note it was published at August 13, 1982. Yes, 1982! The base of one of the most important communication media was designed 26 years ago. I wonder if the engineers behind this specifications could imagine something like the Spam threat on those days, I bet they didn’t but it’s ok, I mean, it’s not so easy to guess today what could be a problem for a software/network design 20 years later from now… or is it? :S

As far as I understand, the mail protocol doesn’t provide an strict method to certify the origin of a message. If the current method is weak, that explains why is so easy to create a Spambot and then start attacking mail servers. Ironically, and quoting again from Wikipedia: “About 80% of all spam is sent by fewer than 200 spammers“, yes, in the Internet land, too few people can make a world mess.
But, ¿Why they do it? Looking for answers, I found this pretty clear article called: “The Economics of Spam: the Spam Business Isn’t Always What You’d Think“, if you read it, you’ll figure out about all the crimes hidden behind this dirty practice.

Just one thing makes me feel better about this topic: in some countries, Spam is a crime and some people currently are in jail for this, so I guess in some way, some bad guys didn’t win the game; which is ok to me, I mean, I want to believe in justice and definitely, Spam is something invasive, something bad, and the worst part is that it’s spreading in many other media, not only e-mails. I read about wiki/forums/blogs spammers, SMS/cell phone spammers, IM spammers, etc, etc, etc. 😦

Some times I wonder about the way consumerism culture (Mom uses this expression all the time) is devastating all our real and virtual spaces: advertising is everywhere (even in Second Life), buy! buy! buy!, it doesn’t matter whether you need it or not, buy it! Finally, maybe the Spam is just a symptom of a bigger social problem. Maybe if we try to care of life more than Mom’s credit card, things could be different and problems like Spam wouldn’t exist. Can we change the way the world works? Who knows? I hope so.

Skating time… see you later pals!


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