Can The Solution To Spam Be Hoax Spam?

from the creative...-but... dept

Kevin Stapp points us to a proposal by Glyn Moody that one way to tackle the spam problem is to have the government send out more spam itself. Yes, it sounds crazy at first, but there's more to the plan. The basic idea is that the sort of folks who fall for spam are likely to click on the links found in this "fake" spam as well -- and we'd then use that as an opportunity to "educate" those poor deluded fools to stop clicking on spam links or responding to spam emails. The good thing about this plan is that it's one of the very, very few anti-spam ideas out there that actually focuses on the real problem: that spam works. There are still people out there who respond to spam. Where it gets more questionable, though, is in figuring out whether or not this plan would work. The people who regularly fall for spam don't seem all that likely to "learn" from such actions. While a few might, I'd guess that most won't -- and the additional burden on email networks hardly seems worth it to convert a few clueless emailers over to the bright side.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Thom, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 5:49am

    Fine them

    This is a perfect opportunity to counter spam and generate much needed revenue for the government. Call it a stupid tax. If you respond to the "spam" you get fined for your stupidity, a minimum of $20 for the first offense, increasing by $20 on each subsequent offense.

    Better than the lottery, because it will only hit those wealthy enough to own computers and have internet access, plus people will take notice and learn when they get fined. Some of them anyway.

     

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  2.  
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    anon, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:07am

    Re: Fine them (entrapment)

    Not to say that it's not pretty mindless to be fooled, but that stinks of entrapment.

    It is a good way to educate people, and if you really think there is a need to have some sort of negative reinforcement then they could always redirect them to some sort of rick-rolled site.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:13am

    Re: Fine them

    Wealthy enough to own computers and have internet access? Do you really think that you have to own a computer to get internet access? How asinine. I know a ton of homeless people who use the internet in the library.

     

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  4.  
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    Duane (profile), Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:26am

    the biggest problem is...

    Spam works. People click on spam, not because they're stupid, but because they want some of that, whether it be larger equipment, online degrees, or a great deal on this undervalued stock.

    Moreover, it is quite hard to systematically tell the difference between spam and mass e-mails, most people can't tell the difference and report it all as spam anyway.

    I like the idea, it sounds cool, but in practice -- thumbs down.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    I like this idea

    Those who already know about spam will just ignore and block it while those who don't will fall for it and hopefully get educated.

    I don't think this needs any government intervention at all. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who are perfectly willing to do this themselves for free. I'd do it but I'd bet Comcast, Yahoo, or Google would probably cancel my account for it.

     

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  6.  
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    Whisk33, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:45am

    Does the ends justify the means? Employing deceptive means (fake = deception) to educate. It seems opposite to the role of government which is to protect the people. (Even if they are stupid). And then add the potential for corruption, now instead of fake scams they are real scams...

     

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  7.  
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    Cunky Vomit, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:51am

    60-75% of the messages that I receive are spam. Even though I never see spam, my spam soap report tells me these things.

    So I NEVER see spam, so normally I wouldn't care. Except for I do see my pay check, and I see the taxes taken from it, and I don't think I want the government taking that money to make more spam.

    I could see the government making it illegal to filter their spam as it would be educational in nature. It would suck getting spam again.

     

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  8.  
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    BP, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    eh

    As someone once said: You can't fix stupid.

    I don't think this will work well. It seems to be a cop out instead of solving the real problem.

    To solve it, stop the revenue flow. Money has to be sent somehow for the majority of spam to accomplish its purpose. A government team just needs to find the routing, paypal, credit card processing, etc account and break that link.

    If the stupid users can't pay for the service, then the spammers won't spam. Legit services that use spammers- fine them. If Tyson can't use illegal immigrants in their chicken houses, then CompanyXYZ shouldn't be allowed to employ spammers.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    well, the populace needs to decide, will they view it as the same as the cops that pose as child predators online? it's ok for a cop to pretend to be a child molester but not a fr some government agent to pretend to be a giant spam company?

     

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  10.  
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    Gyffes, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re: Fine them

    Fine, fine, you and all your homeless friends use the library's computers.. but do you often click on offers to buy fake V1@gr@ and to refi your cardboard boxes?

    Read the comment as he clearly intended, you arrogant pimple.

     

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    Esteban El Guapo, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 6:58am

    Re:

    All education is fundamentally based on deception, as you will see if you look behind you...

     

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  12.  
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    Kevin S. Brady, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:16am

    Don't want to see it - in any form

    For those of us smart enough to know what spam looks like and who have the means to filter it out, the remaining issue is one of bandwidth. Those junk emails take up a chunk of that. While the ends seem admirable, do I want the government to choke off a little more of my bandwidth while they add to the flood? I think not.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:19am

    Re: I like this idea

    How do you you you're not already sending spam on a compromised PC? Maybe you've got a spambot on your system spewing out some of the stuff.

    Don't laugh, it has happened to some of the savviest users.

     

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  14.  
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    I Heart Mammary Glands, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:26am

    So you want to increase spam to slow spam...

    BP got it right - "As someone once said: You can't fix stupid." No matter what you do, if someone deliberately does something they know is wrong or even just a bad idea - they will keep doing so.

    People that are dumber than a box of stupid (or a bag of hammers) will not change, even when acted upon by an outside rod of intelligence. These people have a high saving throw against intelligence and they ALWAYS make that saving throw.

    The horrible part to this whole thing? The spammers in this country have the right to spam. Yes, you heard me right (so feel free to flame me - you have that right as well)! Spammers have the right to spam. I loathe them as much as the next guy, and would cheerfully commit felonies upon their person given the chance. I unfortunately also have to defend their right to be asshats - just as I defend the peacenick's and hippie's rights to be idiots.

    Spam filers that actually work are becoming easier to get. Apple Mail and Microsoft Entourage both have refined filters that get most of the spam out of my inbox. The new Windows Mail in Windows 7 seems to filter it fairly well, although I haven't had a long time to test it like the others.

    Ok, all you peacenicks, hippies, and whiners out there - FLAME ON!

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:28am

    Re: Fine them

    yes because owning a computer AND having internet is only for the rich... I'm sorry this is just so asinine and stupid. It just hurts my head! If you are a troll... well done sir you have certainly trolled me. If you meant that with all sincerity GRAAGH! ARRAGGH BRAIN MELTING!

    I do like the idea of a tax on people that click on spam. I get a $100 ticket for taking a U-turn in the middle of the night with no one around except me and a cop with his lights off hiding. why do these idiots punish us all with promoting spam.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    I have an idea

    "Does the ends justify the means? Employing deceptive means (fake = deception) to educate. It seems opposite to the role of government which is to protect the people. (Even if they are stupid). And then add the potential for corruption, now instead of fake scams they are real scams..."

    The problem is that there aren't enough life-threatening situations to weed out the less-than-smart.

    We need to find a way to remove stupid people from the gene pool

     

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  17.  
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    Joe, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:36am

    Re: Re: Fine them (entrapment)

    That would be classis, rick roll spam. Just add in some $ figures for how much spammers can get them for so they know they were rick rolled, but it's better than the alternative.

     

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  18.  
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    David M., Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    You can't fix stupid.

    Another one on: "As someone once said: You can't fix stupid.
    "

    As soon as you make something idiot proof someone goes and invents a better idiot.

     

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  19.  
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    Kevin, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:44am

    HOW ABOUT....

    How bout an importable list of known SPAM emails, and having the email service develop a filter system that lets you import these list to permenatley block these emails?
    Hopefully kept up to date.

     

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  20.  
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    Kevin, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:46am

    Re: Re: Fine them (entrapment)

    How bout an importable list of known SPAM emails, and having the email service develop a filter system that lets you import these list to permenatley block these emails?
    Hopefully kept up to date.

    Maybe someone can florish this idea?

     

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  21.  
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    Ryan, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:47am

    hmm

    sounds good to me, but let's go one further and make the govt sent spam install a virus that nukes the computers of those who click on the links.

    Since they won't learn the easy way, let's let them learn the hard way. After reformatting every time they click an email link, they'll eventually learn - or just stay off the internet.

    Either way, win win.

     

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  22.  
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    chris (profile), Feb 4th, 2009 @ 8:04am

    spam is a business

    for some people it makes a lot of money.

    why not flood the market with counterfeit spam lists?

    a counterfeit list is a list of valid email addresses that accept email but then delete it.

    mailinator.com is a good example. mailinator accepts all email, holds it for a few days, and then deletes it. you can use any username you want, and the username becomes the key to retrieve any messages that are stored, like so:
    techdirtfan@mailinator.com

    if you go to mailinator.com and enter "techdirtfan"

    people hire spammers to do campaigns and spammers rent, buy, or trade lists to run these campaigns. people pay for the lists and services because they promise results.

    if those lists are contaminated with counterfeit addresses, it costs more to deliver the same results.

    put the counterfeit addresses online, then the harvesters and spiders will pick up the counterfeit addresses and dilute the lists of "real" addresses.

    also, sell cheap lists of the counterfeit addresses so the street price of a spam list drops below a manageable level.

    past the spam problem is the "lead aggregation" problem, where people get suckered into filling out forms in exchange for something.

    why not set up a collection of bots to fill out these forms? if they are filled junk information it becomes harder to convert those leads into sales.

     

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  23.  
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    I Heart Mammary Glands, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 8:24am

    Won't work

    Getting a list of "known spam address" won't work because the addresses are counterfeit anyhow. I can guarantee I have never sent an ad to myself for a product to enlarge myself, or an offer to buy Canadian Pharms.

    There was a method being bandied about a few years back that would "sign" emails to show they were real, but it seems to have dropped off the map. Perhaps the spammers found a way to get by it and it's no longer viable.

    Any way you go, spam is here to stay. Best thing to do it get a better filter and use discretion when reading emails. You can't fix stupid, but you can avoid being stupid in the first place.

     

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  24.  
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    chosenson, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 10:48am

    Re: Won't work

    "You can't fix stupid, but you can avoid being stupid in the first place"

    Amen.

    You could not have said it better.

     

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  25.  
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    snowburn14, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 10:52am

    Admittedly Clueless

    To start, I have to agree that the "educational spam" idea would never work. These people are interested in deals that are too good to be true, not reading up on how their idiocy is causing problems for everyone else. Perhaps if they were led to believe they would win a free car if they passed a reading comprehension test or something I guess, who knows? And while I am strongly in favor of anything that could be categorized as a "stupid tax", a politician could never get re-elected sticking it to the single largest voting demographic in the country, so such things will never happen...
    Now, I must admit to my own ignorance as to all the ways an email address can be spoofed. I have read up on a few, and it seems those are actually preventable by whoever runs the domain of the spoofed addy. I can only assume that there are plenty of other ways to go about it, but it seems like somebody (smarter than me) should have figured out a way to reliably authenticate email by now. And once that is in place, something similar to the "no call" lists we have to prevent telemarketers from calling should be done with email. Frankly, I'm surprised there aren't any (more?) internet providers, or even just email providers, lobbying for laws to be put into place so they can go after anyone clogging up their servers with spam and devaluing the service they provide. The first such provider who could guarantee that anyone sending their customers spam would be fined or imprisoned would have half the population switching over to them in a week. Of course, the next trick they'd have to pull would be luring the spammers who don't live in the US onto our soil...

     

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  26.  
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    kirillian (profile), Feb 4th, 2009 @ 11:03am

    Actually, I think y'all missed an even worse problem

    Let's say we actually implemented this campaign...what's to stop spammers from doing the same thing? After the news media gets in a buzz about how the government is trying to educate people about spam by spamming, just think how easily the spammers could convert some of their operation to setting up FAKE education sites that provided drive-by viruses that created new bot-nets or something. I'm sure that actual spammers could think up even more malicious things than that, but surely you have to realize that "educating" people through the use of spam really opens up new angles of attack for the spammers...and we don't really need to be giving them any help...they're already good enough at finding new methods as it is.

     

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  27.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 11:31am

    So pitifully misguided and appallingly stupid

    One of the primary principles that has guided all abuse control methodologies for decades (and thus covers spam, spyware, DoS attacks and much more) is that it's never acceptable to fight abuse with abuse. That principle is more than just merely ethical guidance: it reflects awareness that fight-fire-with-fire strategies DO NOT WORK. (This is one of the lessons that the imbeciles at BlueFrog failed to learn.)

    Moreover, the proper (and only correct) definition of spam in the context of email is "unsolicited bulk email". Note that this definition -- which predates the term "spam" itself -- does not mention content of motivation. So-called "educational spam" is thus no different -- in terms of whether it's UBE or not -- than make-money-fast spam or 419 spam or porn spam or blank spam. So what's really being advocated here isn't a fix for spam: it's spam.

    Finally, the pitiful moron behind this idea has apparently not been paying attention for the past 30 years or so as attempts have been made to educate users on basic methods for dealing with abusive email, such as "do not forward chain letters" and "NEVER reply to spam". Those attempts have almost entirely failed. There is absolutely no reason to make another one, as it will most certainly fail just as badly. As Marcus Ranum wrote, referring to the non-solution of user education, "If it was going to work, it would have worked by now." But this is what you get when ignorant newbies show up and announce that they have conceived the "solution" to spam, even though it's obvious that they have almost no grasp of the problem -- and sometimes cannot even recite the correct definition. This is how we got the utterly worthless garbage called SPF ("Spam as a technical problem is solved by SPF"), this is how we got abusive techniques like challenge-response and callbacks, this is how we got BlueFrog, and now, apparently, this is how we've got another idiot flogging his dead-on-arrival idea to anyone gullible enough to buy into it.

     

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  28.  
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    matt brown, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Yes, Vundomonde all over again. Great idea Glyn!

     

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  29.  
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    pr, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 1:40pm

    A way to make this work

    I think I know how to make this "educational" spam concept work. When someone responds to it they get a message back with a local address where the (natural male enhancement|hot teenage virgins|$45 million in frozen Nigerian funds) can be picked up. When the respondent shows up they are put on a plane, given a pointed stick and some OD fatigues, and dropped off in Afghanistan. Pretty sure they won't do it again.

     

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  30.  
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    TJ, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 7:21pm

    3 strikes

    If something like this were to be done, I agree with others the fatal flaw is not being able to fix stupid. Maybe it would finally be a good use of the three strikes idea. Wiping the computer can be too easily resolved by a stupid person's tech savvy enabler friend/relative, and shipping people to Afghanistan isn't realistic. However, click on your 3rd official gov't educational spam and bam, no more Internet access. If that's too harsh, then how about spam school ala traffic school. Nobody wants to sit through that crap, and that could result in an aversion response that just might have some traction.

     

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  31.  
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    John, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 9:43pm

    Won't work

    Better than the lottery, because it will only hit those wealthy enough to own computers and have internet access, plus people will take notice and learn when they get fined. Some of them anyway.
    Um, if people don't take notice after their identity has been stolen, their bank accounts drained, and their computer hacked, how would an "education" site help them?
    And even if they went to the education site and read about why they shouldn't click on links, would they remember it when the latest scammer says they won a million dollars in a UK lottery?

    Second, how do these "educational" e-mails get past all the spam-fighters? Will filters block these e-mails? Will users report them to SpamCop and other black lists, thinking they're real spam e-mails? And what happens if the educational e-mails get put on black lists and get blocked? Oops, no more anti-spam e-mails.

    The better idea is to have a licensing procedure for owning a computer. You need a license to drive a car and the only risk is that you'll get into an accident. If you click on the wrong link and infect your computer, you could turn your PC in a zombie and send out billions of e-mails, wasting bandwidth and untold amounts of time and productivity.

     

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  32.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Feb 5th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Re: Won't work

    There's no need to ask whether or not these would be "real spam e-mails". OF COURSE they are, since fit the canonical definition of spam: (a) unsolicited (b) bulk (c) email. It is irrelevant who is sending them or why they're sending them or what's in them or anything else. Thus, the proper response to these is the same as the proper response to any other spam: blacklisting.

     

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  33.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Feb 5th, 2009 @ 10:51am

    Government spam

    Pegging on extremes is no better here than in other areas. First, "fines" and "entrapment" (in the comments) - get real!
    However, a moderate program by the government could be a good thing - and "flooding" the system? Sure, if we assume the idea requires we "peg" on an extreme! Otherwise, no.

     

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