A tired girl would like to chat

I don’t know about you but I have become somewhat disappointed with my spam of late. Don’t think I’ve been abandoned by spammers or anything as drastic as that. No, it’s simply the quality and the subject matter that I find disenchanting. In a word, spam has become boring.

I have a rather equivocal attitude towards spam. It irritates me, of course, and I have spent unconscionable amounts of time playing with filters and writing my own in the hope of eliminating it. On the other hand, on a slow day I have to admit that the regular drip, drip, drip of spam is reassuring: it shows that the email system is still functioning and I haven’t been disconnected.

It is fashionable to refer to spammers by all sorts of insulting euphemisms, most implying that they are stupid. Let’s be clear: spammers are anything but stupid. Those who send out the actual emails, filling them with spelling mistakes, breaking the HTML so that the damn thing doesn’t even display, getting your name hilariously wrong, etc., yes, they are stupid but they are just the foot soldiers as it were. The generals, the organizers of spam who work behind the scenes, are a very bright bunch.

If you don’t believe me, reflect for a moment on how hard it is actually to stop spam coming into your inbox. The main weapon these days is the “naive Bayesian filter” and this is the best technique so far but even that doesn’t offer a complete solution. It has to learn what is spam and lets some through during the process. One way in which spammers show their cleverness is in coming up with new patterns of spam designed to fool the naive Bayesian filter until it has learned that they are spam, by which time the spammers will have designed something else. I sometimes think that if these chaps were to direct their talents into socially acceptable domains they would become heroes rather than villains. The trouble is that they would be poor heroes instead of rich villains. Aye, there’s the rub.

As I was saying, spam has become boring. Today’s crop contains “enlarge your dong”, “buy these killer shares”, “buy our meds”, “buy ripped-off software”, “a tired girl would like to chat with you” and “a bank with which you don’t even have an account wants to check your account details”. A serious case of déjà vu. Have spammers run out of ideas or what? Come on chaps, we need some new topics. (That reminds me: I haven’t heard from Miriam Abacha lately. I do hope she’s OK.) What? No, I’m not going to suggest any new ideas: that’s your job.

I don’t doubt that some of you are reading this with a frown of disapproval, thinking “Spam is a serious business and shouldn’t be joked about.” I agree that it’s serious but the problem isn’t really the spammer, you know: it’s all the silly people who respond to their blandishments. If no one bought from spammers, they would go away. It is that simple but simple problems are often the hardest to solve, especially when they involve daft people.

So spam will be with us for a while yet and we might as well have fun with it. Accountants can tot up the costs of dealing with spam, amateur programmers can design spam filters, those of a vengeful spirit can track the spammers down and try to prosecute them, poets can fashion spam messages into works of art and I can feel assured that my email is working and all’s right with the world.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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9 Responses to A tired girl would like to chat

  1. athinkingman says:

    ‘The main weapon these days is the “naive Bayesian filter” and this is the best technique so far but even that doesn’t offer a complete solution.’

    I was starting to drown under spam (for business purposes I need to include my email address on one of my websites), and like you, was finding the filters less than effective. I then discovered SpamArrest (http://solutionssquirrel.blogspot.com/search/label/spam) which may be of interest to you.

    It approaches spam from the other end. It assumes that all emails are spam, and puts the emphasis on the senders to prove that they are real rather than a computer generating garbage. It does this by sending a polite email to each letter that comes to your inbox asking the sender to enter a code. Once they have done that, your sender is remembered as legitimate. If a spammer decides to enter the code (highly unlikely) you simply remove their authorization.

    I have found it to be very effective. And if you want to keep the fun of reading spam, you can always look at the stored emails on your SpamArrest account (SpamArrest keeps them for you for a while).

  2. SilverTiger says:

    Yes, I am aware of the “challenge-response” method of blocking spam but I don’t favour it. The reason is that you cannot always guess what from-address a genuine sender will use. Your ISP might send you a renewal notice from, say, renewals@acmeisp.net with the return address noreply@acmeisp.net. You will never receive the renewal notice because the challenge will go to ‘noreply’ which is nothing more nor less than a dustbin.

    If you are reduced to looking through your spam to make sure there are no trapped genuine emails, then you are no better off than with a standard filter.

    I agree that when people are flooded with spam (that is not my situation – yet), desperate measures may need to be taken. I will certainly consider using a challenge-response system when they come into more general use. At the moment I feel their use is nearly as problematic as spam itself.

    The ideal spam filter is one that stops all spam and lets through all genuine emails. Such a system does not exist at present. You have the choice of letting through all genuine emails and some spam or of blocking all spam and some genuine emails. Which a user chooses depends on individual philosophy.

  3. athinkingman says:

    I take your point about the absurdity of having to check your spam. That clearly would be self-defeating. SpamArrest does allow you to authorize whole domains, so that get’s round the problem you mentioned. I now authorize all important domains where different departments/users are likely to have different addresses, sit back, and let the software do the work. It has made a huge difference to me as I was approaching 50 spams a day.

  4. emalyse says:

    Spam, like death and taxes is a fact of life. There’s the law of diminishing returns when it comes to tackling it in that by the time a system to filter has been perfected then spammers choose another route.Solutions tend to need holistic solutions. Most forms of communication have unwanted messages; snail mail, phone, Instant messaging even mobile phones texts.There is the other side in which people don’t use enough disposable emails and broadcast their own private mail addresses a bit too much together with all those people who own and use infected and malware strewn home computers and open address books incl. friends that have your email address in their insecure email setup and so addresses are harvested that way (which easily negates your own efforts). It’s a fun game.

  5. SilverTiger says:

    To athinkingman: Another objection I have to challenge response is that it puts the onus on the genuine correspondent to jump through hoops. On occasion I have had my emails challenged and haven’t bothered to reply. It really does irritate some people (including me).

    To emalyse: I agree that annoyances affect all areas of life, not just computing though we notice them particularly there. For example, I regard the ubiquity of advertising everywhere I go as a form of spam. I don’t ask to have adverts thrust in my face at every turn but I have to put up with them anyway.

    The special number 30 bus, Spirit of London, is immediately noticeable because of its lack of advertising. I always cheer when it goes by.

  6. David Lewis says:

    I had been a loyal and paying customer of Spamarrest for some time, recently their service has been erratic and I lost a number of important messages. After not receiving adequate support I decided to cancel my recently renewed account and asked for a refund of the unused portion. Here is their response:
    Hi David,

    Thanks once again.

    David, I am very sorry to tell you that we are not able to offer you a refund for your account. You may continue to use your Spam Arrest account till 2008-10-01 by reactivating the account.

    I truly apologize for your inconvenience, David. Please do let me know if you need anything else.

    Best Regards,
    Technical Support Specialist
    Spam Arrest

  7. SilverTiger says:

    I think that in the best of all possible worlds, where a customer feels he has a genuine complaint against a product, the manufacturer should make a refund. I think that you were reasonable in asking for a refund of only the unused part of the subscription. Unfortunately, this is not the best of all possible worlds and good sense does not always prevail. Perhaps SpamArrest had some reason to fear that if they made an exception for you this might provoke an avalanche.

    I hope you find an alternative spam filtering method that will perform to your satisfaction.

  8. deep says:

    i want to make u my friend

  9. SilverTiger says:

    If genuine, you can use the email address shown in the right-hand sidebar.

Genuine comments are welcome. Spam and comments with commercial URLs will be deleted.

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