• United States

Spam cure: Nail the vendors

Aug 02, 20044 mins
MalwareMessaging AppsNetworking

The United Nations has decided to take on spam. Leaders from industrialized and evolving countries figured it was time to bring spam on an even political keel with AIDS, hunger and the war on terror. After all, the global economy wants Africa, South America and others to participate in e-commerce, e-learning and e-everything. It’s good for everyone.

But what the citizens of these under-technical societies are discovering is, instead of providing a wealth of information and opportunity, security problems, worms, viruses, hijackers and spam beset their online experience.

Ask yourself: If, 15 years ago, you were similarly offered a plethora of opportunity with the emerging Internet, only to be beaten back behind your modem incessantly by hostiles at every turn, what would you do? Most of us Westerners, intent on instant gratification, would have collectively screamed, “Hell, no” and stuck with our faxes and pcAnywhere.

So in comes the U.N. and the International Telecommunication Union, which held the ITU World Summit on the Information Society Thematic Meeting on Countering Spam last month in Geneva. According to William Drake, senior associate at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva, the confab was “interesting but inconclusive.” How quaint a phrase for a plague that costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars per year in lost productivity, maintenance and vigilance. Yet, at this Countering Spam symposium, the U.S. turned spam into a questionable political debate, stifling international agreement. As a national policy, we are trying to avoid a global cooperative effort to stifle spam by stonewalling efforts to go after U.S.-based spammers. Voilà! The CAN-SPAM act is more than a joke.

Every reasonably sane person I know wants spammers to die. But what is a spammer? My ISP has one definition, yours has another, and we all know spam when we see it. But none of these is a solution, nor is involving the U.N.

So I have come up a solution that might help, because I have absolutely zero faith that an impotent global agglomeration of non-technical professional diplomats will come up with any effective response. Forget the spammers; nail the vendors. The vendors are the ones who hire the spammers to spam us, so let’s do it right back to them.

Get the phone numbers of the vendors of Viagra, penis enlargers and other multilevel marketers. Distribute the numbers and have all 10,000 of your close personal friends call the vendors’ toll-free numbers every hour for a few days. That will help put these vendors out of business, and it’s legal denial of service.

Complain to your state attorney general – over and over again. This is like Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which enough people doing something actually swings the political machine into action.

Lawmakers: Don’t ban spam; ban hiring spammers. Go after the people who pay the spammers. We have laws against people hiring others to do their dirty work. Murder for hire is illegal. Cooperating in a criminal enterprise is illegal via the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act. This is the same thing.

Unless you have your own, self-created, built-from-scratch mail list, it’s a spam generator. Make using purchased databases illegal.

Think “state’s rights.” Forget the feds. Forget the U.N. Spam is just wrong. Make it illegal in your state to create spam, to hire people to spam or to distribute spam. Then sue.

This last point is not likely to make ISPs my fans. ISPs like to say, “We’re only the wire. Don’t censor us!” But the technology to eliminate spam was designed nine years ago and made available to the ISPs, and they chose to ignore it. They have become part of the problem.

There are some who say that spam drives the U.S. economy and we need it. But I don’t buy that. That’s just BS – just another piece of spam. Let me know what you think.

Winn Schwartau is the president of Interpact, Inc., a security awareness consulting firm, and the author of many books including " Information Warfare," " CyberShock," " Time Based Security" and " Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids." His popular speeches entertain government and commercial audiences on three continents.

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