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It's All in Your Head

Sometimes spam is in the eye of the beholder

5:45 PM -- Have you ever actually met a spammer? I haven't (not that I know of, anyway). But Cameron, one of our readers here at Dark Reading, says he used to call up known spammers to better understand their MO. He says most hardcore spammers he spoke with seemed narcissistic and compulsive, like gamblers or kleptomaniacs.

"They'd keep doing it even if they were losing money, always chasing that jackpot over the horizon. Kleptomaniacs have a delusion where they believe the police and the store detectives are just being mean, trying to stop them from getting what the world owes them," he wrote in an email response to our recent story "Seven Ways to Be Mistaken for a Spammer." (See Seven Ways to Be Mistaken for a Spammer.)

"Most spammers I've communicated with or see in the newsgroups seem to believe the same about those of us who work on spam defense -- we're obsessed control freaks, and they're just innovators trying to make a living," says Cameron, a semi-retired IT guy who among other tasks helps his clients reduce spam.

He observes that most spammers (not attackers) believe their messages are not spam but real content that their recipients should be interested in. That's the traditional spammer's mindset. (Attackers who use spam to infect you or steal information are a discussion for another day.)

Bruce Schneier says security is both reality and feeling, and that perception of risk doesn't always match reality. It makes you wonder if sometimes spam -- spam without malware, that is -- is a state of mind. A delusional spammer sends what he considers real email, and the recipient considers it spam because it's usually trying to sell something he or she doesn't want, need, or ask for. If you're an email administrator whose servers are getting flooded with spam, it's a different story, of course. (See Schneier: In Touch With Security's Sensitive Side.)

There's plenty of debate over just what constitutes spam, or spamming techniques. Heck, I'm even a little guilty of being wishy-washy about it once in a while. For instance, I don't mind getting those promotional emails from multiple online equine catalogs that I didn't originally sign up for, or place an order with, even if I've only signed up for one catalog. Other people might consider that spam.

But don't, don't, don't send me a forwarded message "warning" about scalding hot water in the microwave, or begging me to forward a friendship verse to my six closest friends or risk jinxing myself and ending up with no friends. That's my spam threshold.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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