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Monday, November 19, 2018

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Shrew tactics needed to combat spam


According to a recent study, legitimate communication over e-mail constitutes a rounding error. Even with the best spam filters available, set up on multiple levels, mass unsolicited e-mail still winds its way into inboxes all over the world, taking up space and time. What’s more, there are ways to use images in e-mail to verify that an address is indeed valid, and is worth spamming.

Resolving the spam issue is not going to be as simple as passing laws or applying more spam filters. In fact, it will take several policy and technical changes. Some of them will be relatively simple, yet others will be quite complex, and the changes will probably upset many people. If there is to be an end, however, to the barrage of people hawking all sorts of sexual enhancements, pornography and shady loans, these changes must be made.

The first thing that needs to change is pricing on domain names. Currently, domain names can be had for less than $20 a year. Spamming becomes incredibly easy to do, particularly with the help of small programs called scripts that do most of the work for the spammer that generate e-mail addresses, compose the e-mails and send them. Therefore, there needs to be a change in how domains are registered. For the first year, the price of a domain needs to be incredibly expensive – perhaps in the neighborhood of $200 monthly. After that, the price can drop.

The second part of the solution is a bit more technical. There needs to be a new e-mail protocol to replace the current one, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. SMTP was designed around a non-commercial Internet that only served universities and the U.S. military. Therefore, it could be readily assumed that each message sent over the protocol was legitimate.

The new protocol would need to be unable to support graphical content, save through attachments that are not loaded at viewing time. This way it would be impossible to send images that must be retrieved from the spammer’s server, thus betraying the fact that an e-mail address is indeed valid and worth targeting.

Of course, the spam problem is only one aspect of a much larger Internet issue – most aspects of the Internet were designed for purposes other than the ones for which they are used today. Indeed, most of the technology on which the Internet is based is antiquated. A large part of Internet Protocol needs to be re-thought and re-implemented.

McCormick, a computer science post baccalaureate, can be reached via [email protected]


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