informa
3 min read
article

Paucity of Prurience

It may be premature to get nostalgic about the decline in porn spam, especially given what's taken its place

According to a report from Symantec, porn-related spam has hit an all-time low. In February, they say, only 3 percent of the spam they caught could be classified as "adult." The biggest spam topics were healthcare and general products (48 percent) and financial products or services (21 percent). The mind reels at the implications.

I'm a happily-married guy, but for years my ego has been bolstered by a steady stream of comely young lasses from around the world who wanted to meet me. Porn spam was also of tremendous help as I tried to keep work separate from family life... Who wants to check email in the living room when the reading pane was likely to steam up at any moment?

Finally, porn spam helped keep my creative thought processes engaged as I sought new near-spellings of the various euphemisms for body parts and reproductive processes to put in my spam filter. Perhaps I'm not sufficiently entrepreneurial, but I've never wanted to help someone move $35 million of a dead colonel's money out of any African nation, and stock tips from anonymous emailers make Vegas keno seem like a good IRA investment.

More seriously (like I could get any less serious at this point), the reduction in porn spam marks a couple of inflection points -- one good, and one less so. To the good is the fact that our spam filters have gotten pretty good at figuring out all those euphemisms and keeping the dirty stuff shoved well into the trash bin. It's less reassuring to note that the overall level of spam hasn't gone down, and the spam that remains is both more dangerous and more difficult to effectively filter.

Phishing, blatant financial scams (that don't even promise a scantily-clad payoff), and various malicious payloads can do far more damage than the promise of a passionate log-in. Image spam is growing in popularity and is far more difficult to filter in any system that allows HTML-formatted email.

It's possible that we will soon look back on the porn spam heyday with some nostalgia as we battle more destructive threats. It seems odd to think of a genuine problem in this way (and I don't want to give the impression that I don't consider any sort of spam a genuine problem), but there it is. We'll all have to learn to deal with the newer spam threats, and I'll have to deal with the fact that those hundreds of eager young ladies will have to learn to live without me.

— Curt Franklin is an enthusiastic security geek who used to be one of the Power Rangers (the red one, we think). His checkered past includes stints as a security consultant, an IT staffer at the University of Florida, security editor at Network Computing, chief podcaster for CMP Technology, and various editorial positions at places like InternetWeek, Byte, and Hog Monthly. Special to Dark Reading.