Feb 26 2007

Spam: It's Not Just for Okinawa Any More

Spam:  It’s Not Just for Okinawa Any More

My mother-in-law asked me the other day why she has so much spam in her inbox — hasn’t the problem been largely solved?  While I know many people who read my blog are in the industry and know the answer to this, many aren’t/don’t (this was feedback from my reader survey a couple weeks ago), so I thought I’d take a minute and give an admittedly overly-simplistic explanation of two big trends going on in spam these days that are keeping filters working overtime dealing with the sheer volume of spam flooding their networks.

Trend #1:  Image Spam.  These are mostly those "hot stock" scams you see emailed around, but there are other spam types that have taken to producing image spam as well.  Image spam is where the spammer just makes the entire message into a graphic, making it hard to "read" for content filters, and therefore more likely to pass through the filters.  It’s one of the reasons some ISPs have started to disable images other than from trusted senders.

Trend #2:  Botnets or Zombies.  Spam, when coupled with viruses, makes for a marriage made in hell, according to my colleague Neil Schwartzman.  Some of the bad dudes in the Internet’s Axis of Evil have figured out that if they can infect your computer with a virus, they can use your computer to send out spam for them — usually without you knowing it.  This makes the spam harder to detect, since it comes out in smaller batches, and it comes from a variety of sources instead of a billion pieces of mail coming through one pipe that can be easily shut off.

As I said, overly simplified, but at least a couple things for non-industry readers to use as fodder at their next cocktail party.

So, you ask, what the heck is the headline of the post about?  I went to dinner the other night at an Okinawa-style Japanese restaurant with a couple of friends.  Okinawa is the southern-most province in Japan, and one that had an enormous American influence during and after World War II.  As a result, one of the local favorites, prominently displayed on the menu, is Spam.  Really.  In a nice restaurant.  Fortunately, my chopstick skills were better at blocking the stuff than my ISP is some days!