Thursday, December 14, 2006

Spam choking the internet again

The title links to a New Scientist article about spam. Yes, the volume of spam just about doubled again this past year, and makes up 91% of all email. Is this merely a realization of Sturgeon's Law?

What bothers me is the "again" part of the headline. This implies that there was at least some short interval during which people thought that spam was in some small way "solved," or at least not so important. But I don't see any evidence for that. What we have is an arms race between spammers and spam filters, and there's no reason that the spammers won't be able to stay ahead of the filters. Take image spam. People are actually working on spam filters that incorporate image analysis to try to determine whether the images in emails are spam or not. This is ludicrous! Do we really need to incorporate CPU-hogging image processing into our email programs (I did a fair amount of computer vision research in grad school, so I have an idea of the computational requirements)? Considering the difficulty of solving the problem of computer vision, this is an arena in which the spammers will beat filters' brains out for years -- decades even -- to come. I finally just wrote a rule in my email program that automatically junks email that only contains images.

And this is all besides the point, to me. Considering the content of some of the spam I get (even the subject lines), I wouldn't let my daughters have email accounts until they're 30. To me, that's the biggest danger of spam: not the massive waste of computational and network resources, but that it renders email practically unusable for a big segment of society.

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  1. Well I dont believe that spam has really slacked off as they claim. I think that as you rightly pointed out in that article that it is alive and well.

    Half the problem lies with complaining to ISP's as they often dont take the complaints seriously. I have oftened complained to the various abuse people only to be fobbed off.

    After a while its disheartening because blocking on a black list is STILL a waste of resources. The governments should blacklist ISP's from the network who fail to stop or relay spam.

    just my 2 cents

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  3. You can't blame ISPs; most of the spam email header lines are forged to make it difficult to know where the spam comes from (likely from an innocent person's hacked PC, anyway), and the volume is too great to be handled manually by people, anyway.