Geek Rant: Spamming

It’s 2am and I have a lot on my mind, still, and I can’t sleep. I figured that if I can’t concentrate on anything else, I can always focus on a nice Geek Rant. Last time I wrote about the lost art of Internet Anonymity, but tonight I want to write about Spam.

For those uninitiated in the ways of Spam, let me show your 3 of my favorite examples:

Subject number one (penis enlargements): “A 2 to 3″ gain guaranteed”
Subject number two (cut price viagra): “We charge nothing to write prescriptions, all…”
Subject number three (magic weight loss): “Lose Weight While Taking a Shower”

It is annoying and it ruins the email experience. When I started my first hotmail account I was a kid. It was nice and safe and never had to worry about some jerk sending me garbage like this. These days if I had a child I would not let them have an email address unless I was able to monitor what they were receiving and block out such things.

Anyway, I am very slow getting to the point. Not so long ago popular television show A Current Affair (ACA) did an interview with a known and admitted Spammer. To quote him directly he said, “I am not doing anything immoral or wrong”. Let’s analyze this.

If you had a “No Junk Mail Please” sign on your letterbox and walked out one Sunday morning to find the latest Ikea catalogue, would you be upset? Of course you would and I, like most people, would be a little cranky about it too. So where is this sign or option for your email account? Is there one? No there isn’t.

If you didn’t have the same sign, what is the most junk mail you would get a week? 10 pamphlets at the most? On average my hotmail account receives upwards of 50 Spam emails a week and then another 300-400 that are blocked by the Hotmail Spam Filter.

But this doesn’t say that it is immoral alone. No. Why do I get so much Spam at this particular email address? Because whenever I sign up at a bulletin board or mp3 related site I use this email address, knowing full well it will happen. Doing this allows my own email address not to be filled with the garbage emails that my Hotmail account is filled with.

This is becoming a long post, but I really can’t sleep and this is a topic that really upsets me. My next point is to point out some of the ways that “Spammers” collect email addresses.

Harvesting: The Spammer goes to a website, any website, and just has a look. Most websites have a “contact me” or “email me” link on them. By clicking this it is an easy way to find out someone’s email address. Harvesting involves the same thing, but in large mass quantities. Instead of physically going from website to website, the hacker uses a program to automatically seek and destroy. This, in essence, is hacking. It’s the use of information for illicit purposes.

Data Snatching: This is where the Spammer gets a little more technical and actually intercepts the data being submitted via users on a website. Have you ever visited your friends website and followed the little “feedback” link to a tiny form and submitted your email just so they can feel special? Well you most likely gave your email address, unknowingly, to Spammers. For a better picture of what is going on during this process, have a look here.

There are a lot of other ways they can catch email addresses, but this post has become quite long and in depth as it is. All I really know is that it is simple to see the problem here. Spamming is essentially Hacking. From someone who started out with a little hacking when he was only 14 and came very close to being taken around the proverbial block, I know that “Hacking” is a crime. But Spamming, which is almost the exact definition of one type of hacking, seems to be perfectly acceptable.

Spammers intercept data submitted in good faith by users and uses it for their own purpose. Hackers don’t do half as much. I know from my own experience that most of the time when I would use a system it was just to try and run a second IRC client, compile some source code, or find porn without getting in trouble at school. I have had warnings for these tiny things, but I didn’t fill anyone’s inbox with obscene advertisements about viagra and penis enlargements. I didn’t hurt anyone or do anything at all destructive. Also note; Hacking does not necessarily involve making virus’ and in no way am I or any other “Hacker” I know involved in said activity. Virus’ are disgusting and the culprits should be caught and hung.

Hackers are looked on as evil and wrong, as if every Hacker has an evil plot to steal 0.05 cents off every transaction made from the banks. Most hackers are simply curious to know more about computers and programming. Hardly ever have I, or any of the Hackers I have known, ever done anything that could be considered destructive. Who really wants to crash a system across the globe that would be better used for something fun like programming? No one, but if Hacking is a crime, then so is Spamming. Personally I find Spamming to be a lot more destructive than almost all Hacking.

Wow, this is a long post. Hope I haven’t bored anyone. I’d love some comments! 🙂