Sunday, May 20, 2007

Spam: It's Not For Breakfast Anymore and No I Don't Need Bigger Boobs!

Most of us get spam every day. Some of us get a little, and some of us get a lot, but if you have an e-mail account it is always there. For example, the picture to the left is just a highlight of some of the crap that comes through my e-mail server everyday. So how do we protect ourselves and our kids from this crap? Read on...

Spam is incredibly annoying, especially in large quantities. If you have a public e-mail address you can receive hundreds of spam messages for every legitimate message that arrives. Even with good filters, some of the spam makes it through. And filters can sometimes delete messages that you really do want to receive. Spam is free speech run amok.

Where does all of this spam e-mail (also known as "unsolicited commercial e-mail") come from? Why is there so much of it? Is there any way to stop it? In this blog, I will answer these questions and many others as I take a dive into the sea of spam.

Spam is a huge problem for anyone who gets e-mail. Some of the spam I get is shocking. I didn't know I needed breast enhancements, Viagara, Cialis or a penis enlargement. The problem with this crap is that it is increasing in numbers and is quite effective. According to Business Week magazine: In a single day in May, AOL blocked 2 billion spam messages -- 88 per subscriber -- from hitting its customers' e-mail accounts. Microsoft says it blocks an average of 2.4 billion spams per day. According to research firm Radicati Group in Palo Alto, Calif., spam is expected to account for 45% of the 10.9 trillion messages sent around the world in 2003.

If you are sick to death of getting emails that tell you to forward to at least X number of people in the next 15 minutes so that wonderful things and miracles will happen if you do and there will be consequences if you don't, then you will enjoy this little SWF video about the myths of spam that was sent to me by a friend of mine. Click Here To View It! It's not spam, so don't worry!

Spam definitely makes money for the sender; they wouldn't continue to send it so relentlessly otherwise. Spam works because of the huge volume of messages sent. It's easy and inexpensive to send spam. Even with a dialup connection, a spammer can send out hundreds of thousands of messages in an hour for next to nothing. And even though the vast majority of people who receive a spam message will not respond to it, the tiny fraction of recipients that do are enough to make sending it a viable proposition. According to Vincent Schiavone, CEO of the ePrivacy Group, "A small spammer may send out 10 million e-mails a day. If only 100 people buy, then their expenses are covered." Anything beyond those 100 responses is profit.

Successful spammers do a lot better than that. For example, Ron Scelson, known as the "Cajun Spammer," claims to get responses from 1% of messages he sends: that comes to 10,000 responses per million messages sent, 100,000 responses per day if he sends out 10 million messages. Scelson, who works on a commission basis, says he makes between $4,000 and $5,000 for each mailing.

One of the problems with spam, and the reason why there is so much of it, is that it is so easy to create. You could easily become a spammer yourself. Let's say that you have a recipe from your grandmother for the best blueberry muffins ever created. A friend suggests that you sell the recipe for $5.

You decide that your friend might be on to something, so you send an e-mail to the 100 people in your personal e-mail address book with the subject line, "These Blueberry Muffins Have Been Described as Heaven -- You Can Have the Recipe for $5!" Your e-mail contains a link to your blueberry muffin Web site. As a result of your 100 e-mails, you get two orders and make $10.

"Wow!" you think, "It cost me nothing to send those 100 e-mails, and I made $10. If I sent 1,000 e-mails I could make $100. If I sent a million e-mails I could make $100,000!

I wonder where I could get a million e-mail addresses...