The war on spam. Not the canned meat, the electronic variety that clogs our email systems. Earlier this week, Sanford Wallace, also known as the “Spam King,” plead guilty to various fraud charges and now faces up to 3 years in prison for sending huge quantities of unwanted email. Good news for all email users, both business and personal. But a drop in the bucket of the continuing barrage of spam spam spam spam.
Why is it called spam? Back in 1970, the British TV Comedy Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired a sketch about a café where everything on the menu contains spam. Later, as computer networks developed, the term was used to describe repetitive or useless data. Early internet spam was mostly about marketing less-than-fully-legitimate products and services. More recently spam contains viruses, links to compromised web sites, or attempts to steal your money.
We’ve noticed an increase in junk mail in the last few weeks. Looking at our own email filters over the last several months, we see a total of about 10 million messages. Only about 30% were passed through the filter. The rest were blocked as spam, malicious or containing known viruses.
Why can’t we stop it? The protocol, or language, used by computers to exchange email was written in the early 1980s – long before internet security was a concern. Forging a return email address is no more difficult than forging a return address on a first class letter sent through the US Post Office. Most Email systems don’t validate the sender, just like the Post Office doesn’t ask for your ID when you send a letter. And the cost to send an email is as close to zero as you can get.
There are several methods in use that attempt to validate email. None are implemented by all senders and receivers, so they are only partially effective. Filters are OK but not perfect – this is one of those things that humans do easily but computers struggle to get it right.
Does your business market via email? If so, be sure to do it legally. In the US, it’s the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003,” or CAN-SPAM. Also think about the emails you are sending – do their content, format and frequency convey the right message? How can we help?