The Day the Spam Stopped
By Robert McMillen
Remember when Spam was just that nasty smelling stuff you wouldn’t feed your dog unless you were so broke you had no other choice? I’m talking so broke that you lived on three food groups: Spam, mac and cheese, and cups of instant noodles.
Somehow email took on that term in the early 90’s when someone (and many people claim it) called unwanted email “Spam”, and later we decided that email that is desirable is called “Ham”. The names stuck better than Spam to the ceiling, and now when we install a new Spam filter this is the terminology we use.
I had many emails (Ham ones) that were asking me why all of a sudden they are receiving less Spam this week. We have a Spam filter that normally receives around 300,000 email messages a day and 95% of them are Spam. Every night the Spam filter sends a report of what email has been filtered and, as of Tuesday, that number dropped to around 50,000 per day. They (and I) were concerned that there was something wrong with the world wide email system, or there was something wrong with our filter that was blocking our email.
I did extensive testing and research trying to figure out where the Spam went. It seems strange to be looking so hard for something none of us want, but there I was into the wee hours of the morning wondering “what in the world happened to all the Spam?” I checked Russia, China, Poland, all parts of Africa, and even Lithuania (they actually like the Spam there because it makes them feel part of the real world). I even checked under the stove and in my cabinets but all I found was the real canned Spam (my sister bought it, I swear).
Finally I found the answer. Spam has become such a worldwide epidemic these past few years that the FBI has setup a task force to deal with it in their cybercrimes division. Prosecution can be tough because many of these companies operate in multiple countries. They infect computers worldwide through servers thought to be untraceable. The zombie computers then send Spam email trying to get you to buy things they are being paid to Spam you for. In times past, the zombie computers were controlled by a head server, but now they are so sophisticated they have become “headless” and can drone on by themselves.
It was thought that no one could stop the onslaught until this week. A little known group of individuals (not affiliated with any governing body) figured out how to stop them. Despite billions being spent on the scourge of the internet, that Bill Gates once said would be solved by 2006, the Spammers had outsmarted everyone but these internet sleuths. Paul Ferguson, who is the advanced threat manager for Trend Micro along with several of his cohorts, discovered that all of this was being controlled by customers under the names Hurricane Electric Internet Services, Global Crossing Ltd and the McColo Corporation in California. There is no evidence that they knew they were hosting the Spammers, and once they received the report from Ferguson laying out the real source of all the Spam, these companies dropped those customers. Spam then fell by two thirds as of last Thursday. That’s 60 billion email messages a day that were all Spam.
The FBI has also read the report and will hopefully come up with some arrests this time. We eventually have to get our money’s worth right? Well, probably not. These guys are so smart that industry analysts from the likes of Symantec Corporation say that by Christmas, Spam will likely be back to normal levels.
But I am an optimist. I believe the economy will recover in January, taxes won’t go up, and Spam will stay where it is. The Tooth Fairy is coming over tonight to hopefully leave me a dollar (I’m putting one of my kid’s teeth under my pillow). I’ve also asked Santa for world peace.
I came downstairs today to make myself breakfast and, although no one will admit to it, one of the cans of Spam was open and sliced up on a plate. If you’ve forgotten what this smells like when you have an empty stomach in the morning, let’s just say you would be better off getting the email kind of Spam.
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