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How To Reduce Spam In Your Inbox And Enhance Your Email Security

(category: Spam, Word count: 412)
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Spam is the internet's equivalent of junk mail. Spam is defined as an e-mail message sent to people without their consent or permission. Addresses of recipients are often harvested from Usenet postings or web pages, obtained from databases, or simply guessed by using common names and domains.

Spam is sent to promote practically any product or service ranging from "Adult" products to logo design for websites. It is also used by hackers to spread viruses or links to dangerous websites used to gather your personal information like credit card details or passwords for sites like Ebay or PayPal. To the average user these messages appear genuine. Even the link has a genuine looking domain name. This technique is known as "Phishing."

Here are some smart strategies and tips you can employ now to start reducing Spam and boost your email security.

- Configure your anti virus software to automatically scan your incoming email for viruses. Email is still widely used to distribute malicious software. Make sure you keep your anti virus software definitions up to date.

- If you are someone that frequently signs up for "freebies" or other stuff on the internet start using a separate e-mail account just for this purpose. Accounts from providers like Yahoo!, Hotmail, and Google's Gmail all come with generous storage as standard.

- If sites don't accept free e-mail address from the services listed above then use a free disposable email service like Sneakemail - http://www.sneakemail.com.

- If you are posting your email to a blog or your website then submit it in a way that is only recognizable to a human. For example if your email is johndoe@hotmail.com then post it as "johndoe at hotmail.com".

- Never open a message from an address you do not recognize - always delete it straight away. This is especially so if there is an attachment. Never reply to a message as this only confirms the email address is "live" to the spammers.

- If you get an official looking message from your bank or Ebay or another site you are not sure is genuine here is what you do. Instead of clicking on the link embedded in the mail log on to the site normally via your browser. If there are any genuine serious problems you should get a message when you log on. Alternatively contact the site's customer service via the phone if possible.

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Problems With Spam Learn How To Treat It

(category: Spam, Word count: 580)
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The first step in your antispam campaign may well be to understand spam and how it works.

Spam is usually defined as unsolicited e-mail that is delivered in bulk. It has become so prevalent because it's cheap, reaches the greatest number of folks in the least amount of time, and because it's unregulated. In the U.S. alone more than 50 million citizens are online, with their own Internet accounts.

For spammers this is an ideal situation. Even were it not to work, there's virtually no punishment other than subsequent inability to spam until a way is found around it. And ways are constantly found around just about everything we do in our antispam campaign. That's not to say you shouldn't try though.

Here are some of the things you can do:

First, don't respond - not even to say, "Hey you not nice person, get off my computer." First, it's a waste of time. As soon as the first batch of spam has been sent that spammer may very well have deleted that email address. It'll just bounce back. The second is that you're not talking to a live person anyway. And any response, no matter how negative, is noted by their system as a response. What this means to the spamming system is, "Hey this guy is interested. He answered our message. Let's send him the second message." If you have a provider that lets you note spam then do so. Block it if you want but that seldom really works. It's worth a shot, though, unless you're limited to the number of blocks you can place at which point you'll be forced to pick and choose.

If your provider allows spammers to get through what is going to happen eventually is that other sites will begin to block your provider if they do in fact police spam. Then you'll have trouble sending and receiving e-mail. That's when you step in and tell your provider that they start blocking spam or you're gone. There's nothing like an irate customer threatening cancellation to spur them into action. If they should not respond by blocking spam, then do follow through and change providers.

The primary principle for preventing spam is to avoid mailing to a list. We're all tempted to organize our emails into lists - business clients, friends, and so forth. Then we mail them all the same message. Saves time and effort. The problem here is not that you sent out one message but you didn't use the software necessary to hide each person's email from the others.

Not only does this set you up for spam but it's also just plain rude. It's like telling all those folks what your sister-in-law's address and phone number is without first asking her if it's okay to tell the buddy of your best friend's high school teacher where she lives. No, it's not. But where spam is concerned what happens is that a few of those folks are undoubtedly going to add everyone whose address they see to their own list, and send it on and on and on ad infinitum. It snowballs, and sooner or later there's a spammer who receives your name and your e-mail address.

Don't sign up with a site that offers you an antispam service. "Sign up with us, they say, and we'll add you to an antispam list." Wrong! They're spammers and you're now on their list.

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Spam Filter Bayesian Filter To Fight Back Spammers

(category: Spam, Word count: 556)
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The most prolific and path breaking innovation of last century had been the developments in the communication field. It literally changed the business working, product marketing, support services and most importantly, the advertisement campaigns.

But just like all goods things comes with a price, so was the communication. It brought in the problems of Spam Emails. Automated mailers with mass mailing capabilities, growing marketing dependencies on this tool have seen the large losses in terms of time and money.

There have been many ways of targeting spam mails like blacklisted domains, banned IPs, words in subject and many more. The spammers have always found out a way to change their identity. But here is the catch. The spammers are being paid to send the message. They can change their Domains, IPs, subject lines, but how much they can play with the contents? And that's where content based filtering comes into focus. Now we can understand that by targeting and focusing on message body, there is a better chance of filtering spam emails.

Apart from the usual spam emails, the new menace has been created by the "phishing emails" targeting primarily eBay and PayPal accounts. These emails come as a "Last Warning", "Attention Required", "Password Change Required" or "Your account is suspended" among many more. These mails appear to have come from eBay or PayPal and provide a link to their own page.

These pages are designed just like the original pages and the unsuspecting user ends up providing his/her sensitive information like username/password or Credit Card Information to these duplicate pages. Here I would like to add one piece of advice to all users that you should always see where the link is taking you by seeing the tool tip and then if sure, follow the link.

The role of content in marking the mail spam or not spam has been achieved using the Bayesian filter. Together with the Black List of spammers and White list of trusted emails ids, is the best technique to counter the spam. The most interesting fact is that Spam Filter with Bayesian algorithm is a self learning filter. The more you use, the more secure you shall be within a matter of few days.

The spam filter integrate easily with popular emails clients such MS outlook and Outlook Express. With due course, up to 98% of the spam mails can be stopped from entering your Inbox. The Spam Filter for Outlook Express and Spam Filter for Microsoft Outlook, with the features of White List/Black List and properly used Bayesian Algorithm will help prevent spam mails, phishing mails and fraud mails from bothering you further.

There has been a considerable increase in the spam mails containing Non English Characters also. The Bayesian Algorithm based Spam Filter also must have the capability to parse non English characters and mark as spam mail.

To get rid of continuous spam mails, phishing mails, fraud mails and Non-English mails, you might like to try Official Spam Filter for Outlook Express 1.2 and Official Spam Filter for Microsoft Outlook 1.2. Official Spam Filter has the capability to seamlessly integrate with MS Outlook and Outlook Express and provide following features:

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Methods To Fight Spam

(category: Spam, Word count: 1667)
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Fighting Spam..

Industry experts estimate that three out of every five e-mail messages that are sent today are spam.

This is not only a nuisance; it is costing us all time and money which could be better spent on productive ventures.

Bizwala is committed to fighting spam & blocks a great deal without customer intervention. Our systems are updated daily and we are always working to improve our spam filtering.

Though we may never be able to block it all, we can offer some suggestions to combat spam effectively.

-------------------------

Q: How can I prevent spam from reaching my e-mail account?

A: People who send spam compile their mailing lists in many ways. Methods to compile such lists include:

Sending spam to e-mail addresses that are most commonly used. A common tactic consists of building lists of targeted addresses that use frequently used words such as "webmaster" or "info" (for example, "webmaster@mydomainname" or "info@mydomainname").

Obtaining e-mail addresses that are automatically "harvested" from web sites by specialized software.

Compiling lists of e-mail addresses that are either chosen or generate at random (for example, " joe1@mydomainname", "joe2@mydomainname" or "joe3@mydomainname". This method is becoming increasingly frequent.

Because spammers often send spam to undefined e-mail aliases such as aabbcc@domain.com, ccddee@domain.com, mfrds@domain.com, you can combat the receipt of spam effectively by not using a catch-all address . (The catch-all is an alias that is used to recieve mail sent to undefined addresses/aliases .)

Q: What is spoofing and how can I fight it?

A: "Spoofing" occurs when a spammer uses some version of your domain name in the "From" address field. Spammers use spoofing to try to hide their identities and to pass blame for spam to innocent Internet users. The large amount of spam messages - many of which are sent to invalid address - result in a significant amount of "bounced" e-mail (that is, mail that returned as being undeliverable). Unfortunately, bounced mail is sent back to the address found in the "From" line of the spammed message.

Typically, the "From" line is also an undefined e-mail address not found in your mail settings. To combat receiving bounced mail messages, you can use the "devnull" alias that we mentioned in the previous question and answer.

Q: Even if my account is not generating any spam, can the mail server I use get blocked because of spam?

Unfortunately, yes. The main cause for blacklisting your mail server depends on where the spammed e-mail is ultimately received and how the ISP who maintains that location reacts to spam and to spam complaints. Many account holders with Bizwala forward e-mail messages that are sent to there hosting account. For example, a message sent to info@mydomainname could be forwarded to myaccount@aol.com or myaccount@yahoo.com. At other times, clients may be forwarding e-mail messages to accounts that are invalid or otherwise not in use. The processing of the forwarded e-mail message is handled by the mail server that your account uses (specifically, the MTA or Mail Transport Agent). Because a Bizwala mail server is the MTA, it is possible that the mail server could be blacklisted even though you (or any other Bizwala client) is not responsible for sending the spam in the first place.

In short, you must be careful about where you forward e-mail, how you report spam, and to whom you report it.

Note: Bizwala reserves the right to terminate a client's services for violations of our Acceptable Use policy. Unacceptable use includes forwarding e-mail messages to addresses that are invalid (not within the client's control) and/or sending mail with malicious intent.

Q: How can I filter spam in my Inbox once I receive it?

First, do NOT click any links in the spam or try to reply or unsubscribe to the spammed e-mail message. Often, these links will subscribe you to even more spam lists despite the fact that those links appear to promise that you will be unsubscribed. And, as spammers are always looking for legitimate e-mail addresses to spam, replying to a spam message in any way only tells the spammer that your e-mail address is valid.

Second, some e-mail programs have built-in functionality that deals with spam that reaches your Inbox. Outlook 2000 (and newer) is one such a e-mail program.

Outlook creates a folder called Junk Mail, where you can move junk e-mail and then review it before deleting. Or, you can have junk e-mail delivered to your Inbox, but color-coded so you can easily identify it. The list of terms that Outlook uses to filter suspected junk e-mail messages is found in a file named Filters.txt.

You can also filter messages based on the e-mail addresses of junk and adult content senders, allowing you to move or delete all future messages from a particular sender. You can review the Junk Senders list and add and remove e-mail addresses from it.

If you do not use Outlook 2000 or higher, please refer to your mail program's help files for any information related to spam filtering.

Q: Are there any low cost programs out there that I can install to help filter the spam?

A: Yes. There are many programs available that use a variety of methods to help e-mail end users filter spam. Effective spam prevention should include client-side software (that is, software that is installed on your local computer). Below are some links that you may want to visit:

Cloudmark Safety Bar: http://www.cloudmark.com

Realize that there are many products on the market that you can install on help filter spam. However, as we are not affiliated with the vendors or authors of those products, we cannot specify which of those products would work best for your specific situation. We ask that you "do your research" in order to locate which product is best for you.

Q: The spam that is reaching me is being sent to defined e-mail accounts. What can I do about it?

A: If any of your defined e-mail addresses are receiving too many spam messages, it may be well worth it to you to change your e-mail address. For example, if "info@mydomainname" is the recipient of too much spam, it may be a good idea to delete "info@mydomainname" in favor of "information@mydomainname. We realize that this may be a tough decision, but such an action could be a huge benefit as it would immediately reduce - if not entirely eliminate - the amount of spam that you would be receiving at your e-mail address.

Q: How can I prevent my e-mail address from being added to spammer's mailing lists?

A: As mentioned above, spammers use a variety of methods to compile lists. We have created a help document that will give you some useful tips about how to prevent your e-mail addresses from being added to lists.

Protect Your Privacy

If you plan to enter your information to any Web site, please review the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of the Web site. If the policies do not clearly indicate what will be done with your information, you should reconsider posting any details to that Web site.

Publishing Your E-mail Address on Your Web Site

Instead of having a simple "mailto" link on your Web site, such as "Please e-mail me at joe@example.com," consider using an approved form mail script that allows Web site visitors to fill out a form to send you e-mail. Bizwala offers such a script free of charge. This will help prevent e-mail address harvesting robots and other spammers from capturing your address. email support@bizwala.net if you need assistance in setting up a spam deterrent form mail

Member Profiles

Try to stay away from creating and posting a member profile, on any Web site, for others to see publicly. Spammers are always reviewing such information for new e-mail addresses.

Product Registration

Many of us register products online. Many times the product registration form has options pre-selected that enable the company to solicit you by e-mail, even though you may not want it. Be sure to review the options you are selecting and any options that may have been selected for you by default.

Posting to a Newsgroup

Never post anything to a newsgroup with your real e-mail address. Consider cloaking the address or using a "disposable" e-mail address. Consider creating and using an e-mail address from one of the free e-mail address providers.

Do Not Reply to Spam or an Unsubscribe Request

Never reply to a piece of spam or request to be unsubscribed. Your reply confirms that your address is working and provides the spammer the opportunity to add your address to their list or sell it to another entity. This actually helps facilitate more spam.

Report Spam

An effective way to help prevent spam is to report it to the ISP or mail administrator where the spam originated. Such reports help ISPs to identify the user or users who sent the spam. Report the spam, including full headers from the spam, to the ISP abuse department or postmaster e-mail address.

Federal law strictly limits the information that online service providers may disclose about their users. However, e-mail messages do contain some information about the sender.

E-mail headers contain an Internet Protocol (IP) address that corresponds to the sender's Internet service provider (ISP). A line in the e-mail message contains an 8 to 12 digit number, separated by periods. For example: "Received: from [123.456.78.91] by . . ." The "123.456.78.91" represents the ISP's unique IP address for the sender. Most spam headers have multiple "Received: from" lines. If the e-mail message has not been forged then, in general, the first such line from the bottom is the true origin of the spammed message.

After you identify the IP address, you can search to determine which ISP provides this person with Internet access. A Web site that attempts to determine the actual computer with that IP address is located at http://www.arin.net/whois/index.html

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Computers And Consumers Understanding Avoid Identity Theft

(category: Spam, Word count: 593)
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Computers and Consumers - Understanding & Avoid Identity Theft

The Internet has given over a billion people, worldwide, a way to instantly find information. The number of threats to a consumer's security increases as the consumer connects with more computers, companies, and people online. The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"), the nation's consumer protection agency, says that all Internet users should understand the importance of online security and should take measures to protect themselves.

Why the Need for Security & How to Protect Yourself

The Computer: Part of a computers sophistication lies in its ability to connect with other computers over the Internet in order to bring you information. When it is connected with other computers, it opens itself up for the transmission of information, which can create vulnerability for the computer. Hackers can connect to the computer, scan it for open ports, and gain access to unauthorized information about the computer user.

Most computers have an Intrusion Detection System ("IDS") that monitors the computer for suspicious activity. When suspicious activity is detected, the IDS sends an alert that an intrusion has occurred.

An IDS alone will not protect your computer from incoming hackers and viruses. Computer users also need to protect themselves with firewalls, which create a barrier between hackers and the computer and help to prevent access to unauthorized information.

The Computer User: The computer user can also accidentally open doors that will lead to a security breach, such as when the user is using the Internet to make purchases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. e-commerce sales for the year 2007 were $136.4 billion. Although the Internet has made shopping a whole lot easier, it has also increased the number of instances of identity theft. A study conducted by the US Department of Justice reports that 6.4 million households experienced some kind of identity theft in 2005. Consumers also open themselves up to increased junk e-mail called SPAM when shopping online. Thankfully, there are ways to minimize your risk when shopping online.

Be careful where you post your personal email address. Consumers using the Internet increase their chances of receiving SPAM e-mail each time they provide their e-mail address to make a purchase. As mentioned earlier, hackers can access consumer information by scanning ports that are not secure. Consumers can help protect themselves by only providing information that is necessary when making the purchase. There are companies designed to help protect consumers from e-commerce identity theft and SPAM.

When providing payment information, consumers should always make sure the site is secure. An easy way to determine whether a site is secure is to look at the web address bar at the top of the screen. The http, which precedes the address, should change to https when checking out on a shopping site. The 's' indicates that the consumer is shopping from a secure page.

Finally, a consumer should avoid using ATM/debit cards to make purchases, as the breach of this information could lead to unauthorized access of the consumer's bank account information. Use a credit card instead. Most credit card companies will work on behalf of their client, should a hacker steal their credit card information. In many cases, the consumer will only be responsible for $50 of the transactions.

When a consumer shops wisely on the Internet and acts in conjunction with private Internet security sites and the FTC they will decrease the chances of being one of the six million households affected by identity theft.

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Real Businesses Send Spam Too

(category: Spam, Word count: 893)
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Unsolicited Commercial Email or Spam has grown at epidemic proportions. It is rapidly becoming the number one problem that Information Technology departments deal with on a day-to-day basis, surpassing computer viruses. The volume and percentage of unwanted email received in business and personal email inboxes is starting to overwhelm and drown out legitimate email.

Although the vast majority of this bulk email is being perpetrated by individual spammers and a few large bulk mailers pushing pornography, gambling, get rich schemes, 'medicinal cures' and bootleg software, real businesses have been caught in the web also by committing several errors. The three ways a legitimate business falls into the Spam mode are: 1. Legal non-Compliance, 2. Violating Trust, and 3. Lack of Value.

Legal non-Compliance

Through the end of 2003 it was very difficult to comply with Spam laws as twenty six states had passed their own laws dealing either directly with the process of sending unsolicited commercial email or the format requirements of bulk email.

With the passage of the Federal law - "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003? or better known as the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, it has become a lot easier to understand and apply the rules. Real businesses should have no problem complying with all aspects of the law and those that don't will find themselves in legal jeopardy for significant penalties.

The process components of the law won't be an issue for real businesses, they don't fake the reply address, they don't hijack someone else's mail server nor do they contain falsified routing information. Where they are likely to fail are in three specific areas.

1)Neglecting to include a valid physical address in the body of the email.

2)Not having a functional Internet-based opt-out mechanism, which must be active for a minimum of 30 days after the email has been sent.

3)Failing to include clear and conspicuous identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation. Most State laws approached this similar provision by requiring the use of the letters ADV: in the beginning of the subject line. The Federal doesn't specify how this is to be accomplished; thereby, leaving it open to a wide range of interpretation.

There are several additional areas that are process related that may trip up the sender unintentionally.

1)The sender rents or purchasing a defective email list, for example one that has individuals that have already opted-out of email communications.

2)They use a 'tricky' subject line to entice recipients to open the message. Subject lines that stretch the truth could be identified as misleading the purpose of the email and therefore be a violation.

3)Agents or related 3rd parties that have business relationship with the firm send out Spam. This could put the company in jeopardy if it can be proven that they were aware of the related company's activities.

Although the Federal law isn't perfect one significant advantage it does offer to real businesses is that there is now only one place they need to go to check the rules before a company embarks onto an email marketing program.

Violating Trust

Trust is one of the major stumbling blocks keeping the publics' enthusiasm for the Internet in check. And when it comes to providing their email address that is in the eye of the storm. The overwhelming concern people have about providing a company their email address is that it will be shared, loaned, rented, sold or carelessly unprotected. Sharing lists internally between product lines, departments, or divisions and externally with 'business partners' stretches the permission basis originally given by the subscriber. When opt-in lists developed at one website are resold to list brokers, real businesses that rent these lists automatically become spammers because recipients are typically applying this litmus test to commercial email they receive: "Email marketing is for product/service information I've specifically requested, Spam is sent without asking for it".

Businesses embarking down the eMarketing path often have in-house databases that include email addresses of suspects, prospects, and clients. The conversion of these lists, developed on a relationship basis, to a formal subscriber list treads a fine line and should be considered very carefully before assuming that permission has been granted.

Lack of Value

Every time you send email to your list members, you will be judged, and in some cases, it may appear to have been done unfairly. In today's environment subscribers are now becoming annoyed at a variety of shortcomings, such as messages about products they seldom buy, messages that serve the sender more than the recipient, unsubscribe processes that don't work, 'hard sell' messages or even messages in formats that can't be properly displayed in the recipient's mail program.

The plain simple truth is that even in a permission email environment, recipients are now applying their own tests for Spam whether they opted in or not. These are natural human reactions to the mailings they receive - it can be as straightforward as "Email marketing is email I like, Spam is email I don't like."

Real businesses need to insure that they aren't jeopardizing their brand name by meeting or exceeding the best practices for email marketing. Auditing the list, evaluating your content and insuring proper conformance with the documentation process in the permission mailing process are the key components to a successful campaign.

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Digging Into Spam And Filtering Services

(category: Spam, Word count: 419)
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If you talk to anyone who uses email, spam is something that is frequently on there mind. How often is it that you open your inbox checking for an email from your mom, and you end up with emails with subjective titles involving animals, and foreign objects.

There are ways to fight back against Spam, and one of the most popular is through the use of a spam filtering service. There is all different types of spam, and surprisingly not all of them involve email. Most spamming involves the advertising or otherwise promotion of a product, however this is not true in some cases.

Most common types of spamming include: Email spam, Link spam and search engine spam.

Email Spam is the simple act of sending out massive amounts of 'junk email' to anyone and everyone, in order to promote a product. Often times spamming has been exploited by more 'undergorund' industries such as the adult industry, but it would be unfair to say that other industries haven't used it as well.

Link Spam is a form of spamming or spamdexing that recently became publicized most often when targeting the increasingly popular weblogs. Weblogs is one of the biggest problems, however link spam also affects guestbooks, and online discussion boards. The purpose behind spamming these various places, is to display hyperlinks to a various page or product, which helps both with user exposure and search engine popularity.

Search engine spam is usually closely related with the above "link spam", as it is the process of creating countless numbers of pages, that populate search engines. Often times these pages will be full of garbage text and have no real value on there own. When a user visits them, they will either be re-directed to a completely different page, often times on another domain, or show prominent advertising.

Everyone can take their part in removing spam. The easiest way for a general user to not encourage spam, is not to use it. Spammers only spam, because it must be effective, otherwise they would find something better to do with their time. It is also recommended to get various levels of personal spam protection, which is often times included with anti-virus software. 3rd party solutions such as Hotmail, have very good spam detection, however often times spam will leak in, and in that case you can help hotmail out by notifying them of the occurence, so that they can better help protect you next time.

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Spammers And Spam Hunters

(category: Spam, Word count: 575)
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Sometimes I don't know which people are the worst. Those that spam or those that say they are going after spammers.

I deleted 145 spam posts on one of my blogs today. Fortunately I have moderate comments turned on so they never actually get posted. That makes the spammers bad, but that's the worst inconvenience spammers have caused me.

However those that supposedly are our Spam saviors. Those that say they are fighting spam have caused me more problems than the spammers themselves.

Sorbs.net lists your domain name as a spam domain name if you happen to be hosted on or near the same IP address as the spammers. Therefore you are guilty by association.

To get your domain name removed off of sorbs.net's list, you have to give them money. Sounds a lot like extortion since they manually add you to the list then ask you for money to be removed.

Then of course they tell you that they give the money to charity. I checked out the charity they say they give the money to. It goes to a legal defense fund they could use to defend themselves if you sued them. Some charity.

Twice now blogger.com has caused me spamconvenience. They have locked me out of one of my own blogs and one I manage for a client because their spambot said it might be spam. It also says that if you are a human reading this message then of course I am not likely a spambot and they will correct the situation.

They did this even though on that blog they require me to type into the little box whatever crazy letters they have in the little graphic to make each post on that same blog.

Half the time the little picture isn't even there. So you cannot type the little letters into the box because the little letters don't exist. So how can they use that method to make sure I am not spamming, then flag it as a spam blog?

However since I get paid to blog daily on the client's blog, my loss of income, that I am sure Google will not reimburse me for, is just that lost income due to the spam fighters.

They did this today to the client's blog. They are reviewing it they say. Like to see that blog? Go to http://hotelsandapartments.blogspot.com It's not spam.

The first time it happened was one day after I created the blog. It had exactly one post in it. Wow, what a spammer I am. They blocked me from logging in but sent me a very nice email, which I had not opted in for, saying they would be glad to review that blog too. They even provided a nice link to where I could fill out a form to request a review.

When I followed their nice link in the unsolicited email, (not spam), they sent me, it asked me to log in using the username and password that THEY HAD ALREADY BLOCKED ME FROM USING!

So that blog had to be rebuilt elsewhere. Again, I have had way more trouble from spam fighters than I ever have had from spammers. Well, that's all for my rant. Now I have to see if I can get the little picture below to load so I can see what stupid letters I have to type into the box so you can see this post.

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The Economics Of Spam

(category: Spam, Word count: 2136)
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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.com, 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.com.

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.

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