• United States

Spam gets sneakier

Nov 18, 20032 mins

* One method spam is using to get through filters

I’ve been watching with growing dismay as the number of unwanted and offensive messages has been rising in my e-mail over the last year. I’m not alone: Reports over the last year have been practically unanimous in suggesting a significant growth in the problem of unsolicited commercial e-mail, or “spam” – to the point where as much as half of all e-mail is now spam.

Spammers have always been sneaky about their sleazy unwanted e-mail, with tricky subject lines and forged headers a commonplace for years. However, my own observations, confirmed by industry reports, show even further depths of depravity among these horrible people.

One increasingly frequent dodge is to put random punctuation in the subject lines. I have to be careful in giving examples here, because I don’t want our readers’ anti-spam filters stopping this message, so I’ll leave exact details to your imagination. Suffice it to say that body-enhancing drugs (none of which should be taken without medical supervision anyway and some of which make claims that are patently impossible – or at least, one hopes so) now have subject lines something like “$PE.ND YOUR MON.E!Y ON USEL.ESS STUFF TO GET BIGG.ER.”

As a result, my own anti-spam filter is failing to pick up some of these messages and I have to add details to my second-line filters. However, since the number of positions where one can put a variety of punctuation marks and other symbols is far larger than my patience, manual intervention is doomed. The anti-spam companies are just going to have to strip punctuation out of the text when scanning for recognizable spam strings.

More on the spam problem in the next column.