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Commentary

Let's Make 2006 The Year We Wipe Out Spam

We don't care about spam anymore, and that's wrong. Spam is a crime highway that runs straight through your computer, carrying a cargo of worms, fraud, viruses and other attacks.
We don't care about spam anymore, and that's wrong. Spam is a crime highway that runs straight through your computer, carrying a cargo of worms, fraud, viruses and other attacks.

Security vendor Sophos reported that attacks jumped 48% in the first 11 months of 2005. The most dangerous threats were spam-distributed.

Spam has direct financial costs, as network managers are required to spend money on software and services to filter spam, and buy additional hardware and bandwidth to carry the load of unwanted e-mail. That's money and resources that could be used for something productive.

And that's just the beginning. Secondary costs of spam are even worse.Attackers use their spam-borne attacks to take over target computers, and then use those computers to send more spam, which delivers a payload of fraudulent business offers and questionable medical remedies to prey on the fearful, ignorant, and insecure.

Compromised machines also become platforms to launch denial-of-service attacks. Often, the denial-of-service attacks are accompanied by threats to continue, and keep a business offline, unless the business pays the attackers to stop.

In a pathetic display of government incompetence, the Federal Trade Commission recently admitted that it can't prove that the two-year-old CAN SPAM law reduced. Less spam gets into users' in-boxes, but the spam that gets in is more malicious, the FTC said. Spam comprised 68% of e-mail in 2005, down from 77% in 2004. according to anti-spam vendor MX Logic, which said that technology, not the law, was responsible for the decline, noting that 96% of junk mail violates the requirements of CAN-SPAM.

You already know most of the preceding, but you don't really think about it. I know you don't think about it because if you thought about it, you'd do something about it. The Internet has become a crime zone, and decent users are like residents of gated communities, who've learned to ignore the sirens and breaking glass.

What needs to happen to stop spam? Technology has taken us about as far as we can go. We need better laws. CAN-SPAM is currently fairly useless--it allows marketers to send unsolicited bulk e-mails so long as they identify themselves and provide unsubscribe unstructions; the law needs to be amended to, quite simply, ban unsolicited bulk e-mail. What kind of assault law would allow attackers to hit you over the head so long as they identify themselves ("Hi, I'm Bill, I'll be the guy beating you up today!") and stop when you ask them to?

Moreover, CAN-SPAM needs to be amended to allow for the right of private action. Currently, only the government has the right to sue spammers, which creates bottlenecks. Anybody who receives spam should have a right to sue.

Is spam a big problem for you? What are you doing about it? What should society do about it? Leave a message below to let us know.

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