Tuesday, September 1, 1998

How I learned to stop worrying and love the SMTP MTA

FIGHT BACK AGAINST SPAM

By Jon Johnston

It begins: "I've found a way to make $4,000 by working only a few minutes a week. I've made my money, so I've decided to share my idea with others. If you'd like to know how you too can roll in unbridled wealth, please make a check for $35.00 and send it to..."

Congratulations, you've been spammed. You didn't ask for the email, but you got it anyway. This is typical of millions of emails sent across the Internet on a daily basis. You're not alone, and it is a growing problem.

The technical and legal term for spam is UCE, which stands for Unsolicited Commercial Email. Mail of this type typically involves offers for low rate long distance telephone, pornography sites, free golf balls, get-rich schemes, stock offerings, and offerings for bulk emailers capable of sending spam.

Receiving spam email

Receiving spam is seen more as a nuisance than anything else. Most users only receive junk email on an occasional basis, so management is usually reluctant to implement systems designed to deal with the problem. Managers typically remark that spam is not a problem if they're only getting a few messages a day.

Unfortunately, management and most email administrators are completely unaware of the total number of messages delivered throughout the system. One or two email messages per day to 10 people is a small amount of email; one or two email messages per day to 10,000 people is evidence of a much more insidious and costly problem. Such is spam, UCE, junk email.

Particularly insidious are spam messages that are delivered as executables, considerably larger than simple text messages. Many of these are not technically spam, since they are requested or forwarded by users, but for the purpose of this article we will consider them as such.

These types of messages tend to show up in great number around the major holidays; Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving (US) and include such items as animated presents opening to display an advertisement, Santa Claus coming down a chimney, or an animated turkey complete with machine guns taking revenge. The number of animations, executables, and bitmaps ridiculing the Clinton administration is enough to choke any mail system.