Canned spam

Until recently, I opened my e-mail program every morning to hundreds of messages hawking Viagra, cheating house wives, and various other…er… services . I used to spend at least an hour each morning finding my legitimate e-mails amid all the garbage. And it made me mad. Really mad . So I haven’t been surprised to see how rapidly the art of fighting spammers has evolved.

SpamAssassin and Microsoft Entourage’s improved Junk Mail filter quelled my rage. But not everyone has a crack IT team to install server-based filters and constantly upgrade software. Instead some people are starting to fight back.

Blue Security released a new type of tool called Blue Frog on Tuesday. This Windows-based software and service, currently free in public beta, first sends a warning to spammers who’ve sent you a message in violation of the federal CAN-SPAM Act (for example, if the messages have a bum return address or don’t provide an opt-out option). But if there’s no reply, it hits the spammers with a firestorm of e-mails requesting that they stop sending unsolicited e-mails to members of the service’s Do-Not-Intrude Registry.

In effect, you participate in a kind of denial-of-service attack on the spammers—they’re so overloaded with messages that they can’t find the ones from the people who actually want to give them money. (Who are those people, anyway?) It’s not completely clear whether that’s legal or ethical, but one thing’s for sure: it sounds awfully satisfying.

As I mentioned, Blue Frog is PC-based. But there are more general counterattacks being waged. Scam baiters spend their time wasting scammers’ time to prevent them from swindling the innocent. 419 Eater focuses on the Nigerian 419 scam (the number refers to a section of the Nigerian penal code), also known as Advance Fee Fraud. In this scam you get a message from a supposed Nigerian civil servant looking for a place to deposit millions of dollars that the Nigerian government overpaid on a contract. To get the money, however, you must first fork over your own dough for many imaginary fees, taxes, and legal services. (What, did that many people miss The Sting ?)

If those methods sound too drastic, the SpamCon Foundation offers a more sober and very thorough list of tips for actively fighting spam. There’s also the seasoned, relatively mild-mannered service SpamCop, for reporting (and blocking) junk mail.

Clearly, not everyone is satisfied to reduce unsolicited e-mail by filtering messages or bothering friends and clients with challenge and response services. I can’t help but wonder if legal remedies continue to falter, whether the real war against spam will be fought by vigilantes who fight fire with fire.

  
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