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    The economics of spam

     

    Tennessee resident K. C. "Khan" Smith owes the internet service provider EarthLink $24 million. According to the CNN, in August 2001 he was slapped with a lawsuit accusing him of violating federal and state Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and numerous other state laws. On July 19, 2002 - having failed to appear in court - the judge ruled against him. Mr. Smith is a spammer. Brightmail, a vendor of e-mail filters and anti-spam applications warned that close to 5 million spam "attacks" or "bursts" occurred in June 2002 and that spam has mushroomed 450 percent since June 2001. This pace continued unabated well into the beginning of 2004 when the introduction of spam filters began to take effect. PC World concurs. Between one half and three quarters of all e-mail messages are spam or UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) - unsolicited and intrusive commercial ads, mostly concerned with sex, scams, get rich quick schemes, financial services and products, and health articles of dubious provenance. The messages are sent from spoofed or fake e-mail addresses. Some spammers hack into unsecured servers - mainly in China and Korea - to relay their missives anonymously. Starting in 2003, malicious hackers began using spam to install malware - such as viruses, adware, spyware, and Trojans - on the unprotected personal computers of less savvy users. They thus transform these computers into "zombies", organize them into spam-spewing "bots" (networks), and sell access to them to criminals on penumbral boards and forums all over the Net. Spam is an industry. Mass e-mailers maintain lists of e-mail addresses, often "harvested" by spamware bots - specialized computer applications - from Web sites. These lists are rented out or sold to marketers who use bulk mail services. They come cheap - c. $100 for 10 million addresses. Bulk mailers provide servers and bandwidth, charging c. $300 per million messages sent. As spam recipients become more inured, ISPs less tolerant, and both more litigious - spammers multiply their efforts in order to maintain the same response rate. Spam works. It is not universally unwanted - which makes it tricky to outlaw. It elicits between 0.1 and 1 percent in positive follow ups, depending on the message. Many messages now include HTML, JavaScript, and ActiveX coding and thus resemble (or actually contain) viruses and Trojans. Jupiter Media Matrix predicted in 2001 that the number of spam messages annually received by a typical Internet user will double to 1400 and spending on legitimate e-mail marketing will reach $9.4 billion by 2006 - compared to $1 billion in 2001. Forrester Research pegs the number at $4.8 billion in 2003. More than 2.3-5 billion spam messages are sent daily. eMarketer puts the figures a lot lower at 76 billion messages in 2002. By 2006, daily spam output will soar to c. 15 billion missives, says Radicati Group. Jupiter projects a more modest 268 billion annual messages this year (2005). An average communication costs the spammer 0.00032 cents. PC World quotes the European Union as pegging the bandwidth costs of spam worldwide in 2002 at $8-10 billion annually. Other damages include server crashes, time spent purging unwanted messages, lower productivity, aggravation, and increased cost of Internet access. Inevitably, the spam industry gave rise to an anti-spam industry. According to a Radicati Group report titled "Anti-virus, anti-spam, and content filtering market trends 2002-2006", anti-spam revenues were projected to exceed $88 million in 2002 - and more than double by 2006. List blockers, report and complaint generators, advocacy groups, registers of known spammers, and spam filters all proliferate. The Wall Street Journal reported in its June 25, 2002 issue about a resurgence of anti-spam startups financed by eager venture capital. ISPs are bent on preventing abuse - reported by victims - by expunging the accounts of spammers. But the latter simply switch ISPs or sign on with free services like Hotmail and Yahoo! Barriers to entry are getting lower by the day as the costs of hardware, software, and communications plummet. The use of e-mail and broadband connections by the general population is spreading. Hundreds of thousands of technologically-savvy operators have joined the market in the last five years, as the dotcom bubble burst. Still, Steve Linford of the UK-based Spamhaus. org insists that most spam emanates from c. 80 large operators. Now, according to Jupiter Media, ISPs and portals are poised to begin to charge advertisers in a tier-based system, replete with premium services. Writing back in 1998, Bill Gates described a solution also espoused by Esther Dyson, chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "As I first described in my book 'The Road Ahead' in 1995, I expect that eventually you'll be paid to read unsolicited e-mail. You'll tell your e-mail program to discard all unsolicited messages that don't offer an amount of money that you'll choose. If you open a paid message and discover it's from a long-lost friend or somebody else who has a legitimate reason to contact you, you'll be able to cancel the payment. Otherwise, you'll be paid for your time." Subscribers may not be appreciative of the joint ventures between gatekeepers and inbox clutterers. Moreover, dominant ISPs, such as AT&T and PSINet have recurrently been accused of knowingly collaborating with spammers. ISPs rely on the data traffic that spam generates for their revenues in an ever-harsher business environment. The Financial Times and others described how WorldCom refuses to ban the sale of spamware over its network, claiming that it does not regulate content. When "pink" (the color of canned spam) contracts came to light, the implicated ISPs blame the whole affair on rogue employees. PC World begs to differ: "Ronnie Scelson, a self-described spammer who signed such a contract with PSInet, (says) that backbone providers are more than happy to do business with bulk e-mailers. 'I've signed up with the biggest 50 carriers two or three times', says Scelson ... The Louisiana-based spammer claims to send 84 million commercial e-mail messages a day over his three 45-megabit-per-second DS3 circuits. 'If you were getting $40,000 a month for each circuit', Scelson asks, 'would you want to shut me down?'" The line between permission-based or "opt-in" e-mail marketing and spam is getting thinner by the day. Some list resellers guarantee the consensual nature of their wares. According to the Direct Marketing Association's guidelines, quoted by PC World, not responding to an unsolicited e-mail amounts to "opting-in" - a marketing strategy known as "opting out". Most experts, though, strongly urge spam victims not to respond to spammers, lest their e-mail address is confirmed. But spam is crossing technological boundaries. Japan has just legislated against wireless SMS spam targeted at hapless mobile phone users. Many states in the USA as well as the European parliament have followed suit. Ideas regarding a "do not spam" list akin to the "do not call" list in telemarketing have been floated. Mobile phone users will place their phone numbers on the list to avoid receiving UCE (spam). Email subscribers enjoy the benefits of a similar list under the CAN-Spam Act of 2003. Expensive and slow connections make mobile phone spam and spim (instant messaging spam) particularly resented. Still, according to Britain's Mobile Channel, a mobile advertising company quoted by "The Economist", SMS advertising - a novelty - attracts a 10-20 percent response rate - compared to direct mail's 1-3 percent. Net identification systems - like Microsoft's Passport and the one proposed by Liberty Alliance - will make it even easier for marketers to target prospects. The reaction to spam can be described only as mass hysteria. Reporting someone as a spammer - even when he is not - has become a favorite pastime of vengeful, self-appointed, vigilante "cyber-cops". Perfectly legitimate, opt-in, email marketing businesses and discussion forums often find themselves in one or more black lists - their reputation and business ruined. In January 2002, CMGI-owned Yesmail was awarded a temporary restraining order against MAPS - Mail Abuse Prevention System - forbidding it to place the reputable e-mail marketer on its Real-time Blackhole list. The case was settled out of court. Harris Interactive, a large online opinion polling company, sued not only MAPS, but ISPs who blocked its email messages when it found itself included in MAPS' Blackhole. Their CEO accused one of their competitors for the allegations that led to Harris' inclusion in the list. Coupled with other pernicious phenomena - such as viruses, Trojans, and spyware - the very foundation of the Internet as a fun, relatively safe, mode of communication and data acquisition is at stake. Spammers, it emerges, have their own organizations. NOIC - the National Organization of Internet Commerce threatened to post to its Web site the e-mail addresses of millions of AOL members. AOL has aggressive anti-spamming policies. "AOL is blocking bulk email because it wants the advertising revenues for itself (by selling pop-up ads)" the president of NOIC, Damien Melle, complained to CNET. Spam is a classic "free rider" problem. For any given individual, the cost of blocking a spammer far outweighs the benefits. It is cheaper and easier to hit the "delete" key. Individuals, therefore, prefer to let others do the job and enjoy the outcome - the public good of a spam-free Internet. They cannot be left out of the benefits of such an aftermath - public goods are, by definition, "non-excludable". Nor is a public good diminished by a growing number of "non-rival" users. Such a situation resembles a market failure and requires government intervention through legislation and enforcement. The FTC - the US Federal Trade Commission - has taken legal action against more than 100 spammers for promoting scams and fraudulent goods and services. "Project Mailbox" is an anti-spam collaboration between American law enforcement agencies and the private sector. Non government organizations have entered the fray, as have lobbying groups, such as CAUCE - the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. But, a few recent anti-spam and anti-spyware Acts notwithstanding, Congress is curiously reluctant to enact stringent laws against spam. Reasons cited are free speech, limits on state powers to regulate commerce, avoiding unfair restrictions on trade, and the interests of small business. The courts equivocate as well. In some cases - e. g., Missouri vs. American Blast Fax - US courts found "that the provision prohibiting the sending of unsolicited advertisements is unconstitutional". According to Spamlaws, the 107th Congress, for instance, discussed these laws but never enacted them: Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001 (H. R. 95), Wireless Telephone Spam Protection Act (H. R. 113), Anti-Spamming Act of 2001 (H. R. 718), Anti-Spamming Act of 2001 (H. R. 1017), Who Is E-Mailing Our Kids Act (H. R. 1846), Protect Children From E-Mail Smut Act of 2001 (H. R. 2472), Netizens Protection Act of 2001 (H. R. 3146), "CAN SPAM" Act of 2001 (S. 630). Anti-spam laws fared no better in the 106th Congress. Some of the states have picked up the slack. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The situation is no better across the pond. The European parliament decided in 2001 to allow each member country to enact its own spam laws, thus avoiding a continent-wide directive and directly confronting the communications ministers of the union. Paradoxically, it also decided, in March 2002, to restrict SMS spam. Confusion clearly reigns. Finally, in May 2002, it adopted strong anti-spam provisions as part of a Directive on Data Protection. Responding to this unfavorable legal environment, spam is relocating to developing countries, such as Malaysia, Nepal, and Nigeria. In a May 2005 report, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) warned that these countries lack the technical know-how and financial resources (let alone the will) to combat spam. Their users, anyhow deprived of bandwidth, endure, as a result, a less reliable service and an intermittent access to the Internet; "Spam is a much more serious issue in developing countries...as it is a heavy drain on resources that are scarcer and costlier in developing countries than elsewhere" - writes the report's author, Suresh Ramasubramanian, an OECD advisor and postmaster for Outblaze. ISPs, spam monitoring services, and governments in the rich industrialized world react by placing entire countries - such as Macedonia and Costa Rica - on black lists and, thus denying access to their users en bloc. International collaboration against the looming destruction of the Internet by crime organizations is budding. The FTC had just announced that it will work with its counterparts abroad to cut zombie computers off the network. A welcome step - but about three years late. Spammers the world over are still six steps ahead and are having the upper hand.

         
    The spamming trap for online business beginners

     

    People who begin their online business ventures would naturally be unaware of many of the internet business rules, protocols and etiquettes. Yet, as in any law, the internet law does not forgive for ignorance. One of the most important issues that are governed by many controls over the internet is Spamming. A beginner in online business can very easily fall unintentionally into the spamming trap while conducting internet marketing activity to promote his/her business. Spamming has many faces and forms depending on the marketing activity performed. We will list the marketing activity, the possible spamming forms within each marketing activity, possible consequences and how to avoid unintentional spamming in each spamming form. 1- E-mail Campaigns: The most common spamming method is conducted through e-mail campaigns. E-mail spamming is when you send an e-mail promoting your product or service to someone who did not request any information from you. In many cases beginners fall into the trap of buying lists of e-mails from questionable sources and when sending the e-mail campaign they would realize that one of the following occurred: a. Received direct complaints. b. The e-mail account gets shut from the ISP or the hosting provider. c. Contacted by internet police. How to avoid e-mail spamming: a. Make sure that the person who you are sending your campaign to has requested information from you or allowed you to send him e-mails. b. When buying e-mail lists make sure that the list is safe and has allowed e-mails to be sent to them. c. Ensure to have a statement at the end of your e-mail that would allow the recipient of your e-mail campaign to opt out if they do not wish to receive any communication from you. 2- Link Submission: Spamming in Link submission could be done in different forms but to cut the story short, you should follow the rules of each directory carefully. Among the very famous rules that are common across many link submission directories: a. Do not submit your website link in more than one category. b. Do not submit different pages of your website; submit only your top level link. c. Do not submit your link more than once. Search the directory to check if your link already exists. Failing to follow the rules of each directory would delete your link immediately at this particular directory. 3- Article Submission: Just like link directories, article directories have their own rules as well. Not complying with these rules will make those directories decline your articles. Among the most famous rules are the following: a. Submit your own work and not somebody else's. b. Submit a topic that is acceptable by the directory. c. Do not make your title all in Capital letters. Use Title Caps form. d. Do not Bold your key words within your article. 4- Posting in Forum: Again you have to read the rules of each forum you intend to be part of before you make any posts. Among the most famous rules are the following: a. Do not advertise your business in your posts. b. Do not include affiliate links in your posts. c. Follow the exact rules of the forum for your sig. file. Failing to comply will make the forum moderators cancel your account permanently. 5- Blogging: Filling your Blog by copying other people's articles could eliminate your account permanently with your Blog host. 6- Search Engine Related Spamming Activity: a. Filling your site content with your keywords will be considered spamming by search engines. b. Submitting your website to link farms will be considered spamming by search engines. c. Adding huge amounts of content to your website while your site niche does not usually require such additions will be considered spamming by search engines. d. Submitting your website to FFA's could be considered as spamming by search engines. e. Including Keywords in your Keyword tag on your website while they are not related to your website could be considered as spamming by search engines. I hope this will help all online business beginners to avoid the spamming trap and have a smooth and successful internet marketing activity.

         
    The threat of spam and basic preventative measures

     

    Everyone who uses the internet has more than likely been targets of spam at one time or another. At first they are easy to dismiss for internet experienced persons, however for the inexperienced user of the internet, the messages contained can sometimes be intimidating and in some instances lead to trouble (I will come onto a personal example later). Spam can take several forms; email and search engine spam are just two, but the one we will concentrate on in this article, and also the one you will, and have most likely encountered, is via email. Spam is defined as unsolicited bulk mail, much of which is caught in your “bulk” or “trash” folder found in your email service provider control panel. You have probably often seen a mass of these types of emails in you bulk folders when checking for email that you actually have consented to receive, as many emails are caught by spam filters even though they should not. The majority of spam you may receive will be of a sexual or gambling nature, however over the past few months I have noticed an ever-increasing number of scam emails asking for sensitive information, claiming to be someone they are not. Paypal and eBay scams are a prime example of these types of emails known as “phishing scam emails”. The email will be along the lines of: “We have noticed an irregularity in your account details and require you to update them immediately. Failure to do so will result in the permanent closure of your account” You can see how these emails can be pretty alarming to an inexperienced internet user who may only occasionally use the internet to sell or buy items on eBay for example. Some of the emails will look very convincing, and will use the images and symbols of the respective company, however be very cautious and take heed to the following important point: If you are unsure of the legitimacy of the email, do not follow any link contained within the email to an external website. Instead, type the website address that you know is correct into your browser directly, so that you are safe in the knowledge that you are not using a fraudulent website. Failure to do this may result in your account being hijacked by the scammer; it’s as easy as this. You follow the link in the email to a website claiming to be, and also looking very much like one where you have an account. The website will ask you to input your username and password to access your account and voila, you will have now sent this information to the scammer, allowing them access to your account containing sensitive information about you. Another type of email scam that has been very popular is where you are notified to be the very lucky winner of a lottery, even though you have never entered the lottery in the location claiming your success! This is where the example of a personal experience comes in. Many people reading this will be thinking “I’ll never fall for one of these scams”, however the unfortunate reality is that many people will do so. An elderly relative of mine received one of these lottery scams from Spain, and then insisted on following up with the email scam, even though they had never even entered the lottery draw. The only stumbling block was that the bank account details required, needed to be sent by fax, which she couldn’t do, and despite the frustration that this caused I of course refused to help send it. There are measures that you can take to help avoid being targeted by spammers; a few have been mentioned here. However, in addition never reply to a scam email as it will notify them that the email address is live and also that you have read the email, leading to further spam. Of course there are many other threats from spam that are not discussed here, such as viruses and trojans being sent via email attachments. More details on spam can be found here: spam-blocker-online.

         
    Two main groups of spam

     

    There are two main types of spam, and they have different effects on Internet users. Cancellable Usenet spam is a single message sent to 20 or more Usenet newsgroups. (Through long experience, Usenet users have found that any message posted to so many newsgroups is often not relevant to most or all of them.) Usenet spam is aimed at lurkers, people who read newsgroups but rarely or never post and give their address away. Usenet spam robs users of the utility of the newsgroups by overwhelming them with a barrage of advertising or other irrelevant posts. Furthermore, Usenet spam subverts the ability of system administrators and owners to manage the topics they accept on their systems. I think it's possible to stop spam, and that content-based filters are the way to do it. The Achilles heel of the spammers is their message. They can circumvent any other barrier you set up. They have so far, at least. But they have to deliver their message, whatever it is. If we can write software that recognizes their messages, there is no way they can get around that. Email spam targets individual users with direct mail messages. Email spam lists are often created by scanning Usenet postings, stealing Internet mailing lists, or searching the Web for addresses. Email spams typically cost users money out-of-pocket to receive. Many people - anyone with measured phone service - read or receive their mail while the meter is running, so to speak. Spam costs them additional money. On top of that, it costs money for ISPs and online services to transmit spam, and these costs are transmitted directly to subscribers. The statistical approach is not usually the first one people try when they write spam filters. Most hackers' first instinct is to try to write software that recognizes individual properties of spam. You look at spams and you think, the gall of these guys to try sending me mail that begins Dear Friend or has a subject line that's all uppercase and ends in eight exclamation points. I can filter out that stuff with about one line of code. But the real advantage of the Bayesian approach, of course, is that you know what you're measuring. Feature-recognizing filters like SpamAssassin assign a spam score to email. The Bayesian approach assigns an actual probability. The problem with a score is that no one knows what it means. The user doesn't know what it means, but worse still, neither does the developer of the filter. How many points should an email get for having the word sex in it? A probability can of course be mistaken, but there is little ambiguity about what it means, or how evidence should be combined to calculate it. Based on my corpus, sex indicates a .97 probability of the containing email being a spam, whereas sexy indicates .99 probability. And Bayes' Rule, equally unambiguous, says that an email containing both words would, in the (unlikely) absence of any other evidence, have a 99.97% chance of being a spam.

         
    What is spam

     

    You have probably seen an increase in the amount of junk mail which shows up in your email box, or on your favorite newsgroup. The activities of a small number of people are becoming a bigger problem for the Internet. Chain letters that ask for money, whether for reports or just straight up, are illegal in the US whether they are in postal mail or e-mail. Report these frauds to your local US Postmaster. You may see e-mail coming from Nigeria or another African country, sent by someone who wants to use your bank account to transfer 20 million dollars. This is called a '419' scam and people have been killed over it. Spam is flooding the Internet with many copies of the same message, in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it. Most spam is commercial advertising, often for dubious products, get-rich-quick schemes, or quasi-legal services. Spam costs the sender very little to send -- most of the costs are paid for by the recipient or the carriers rather than by the sender. To the recipient, spam is easily recognizable. If you hired someone to read your mail and discard the spam, they would have little trouble doing it. How much do we have to do, short of AI, to automate this process? I think we will be able to solve the problem with fairly simple algorithms. In fact, I've found that you can filter present-day spam acceptably well using nothing more than a Bayesian combination of the spam probabilities of individual words. Using a slightly tweaked (as described below) Bayesian filter, we now miss less than 5 per 1000 spams, with 0 false positives. One particularly nasty variant of email spam is sending spam to mailing lists (public or private email discussion forums.) Because many mailing lists limit activity to their subscribers, spammers will use automated tools to subscribe to as many mailing lists as possible, so that they can grab the lists of addresses, or use the mailing list as a direct target for their attacks.

         
     
         
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