• United States
News Editor

Primary purpose? . . . To deceive

Feb 09, 20044 mins
MalwareMessaging AppsNetworking

The sender doesn’t want there to be any mistake about the “primary purpose” of his e-mail, so he spells it out clear as day:

“The primary purpose of this e-mail is to deliver you a ‘Crazy USA State Law of the Week.'”

And that’s just what the e-mail does; the crazy example in this case being: “It is illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder in Massachusetts.”

Of course, drawing attention to crazy state laws isn’t the sender’s only purpose. There is also a link that urges: “Click Here to E-mail Advertise Your Web Site to 1,850,000 0PT-IN E-mail Addresses for FREE!”

In other words, we’re talking about garden-variety spam. So what’s up with all the “primary purpose” nonsense and recitations of silly state laws?

Credit the nation’s newly enacted CAN-SPAM legislation for this burst of spammer creativity. Among the law’s provisions is an escape hatch exempting e-mail whose primary purpose is noncommercial. Whether such a clumsy dodge would protect any spammer from the law’s wrath is highly questionable, but you can bet there will be more and better attempts.

“They’re already finding ways to capitalize on the perceived loopholes in the law,” says Susan Larson, vice president of global product content at SurfControl, a Web and e-mail filtering vendor. She says about 5% of spam recently examined by SurfControl shows evidence of senders trying to skirt and/or exploit the provisions of CAN-SPAM in various ways.

No surprise there.

However, what should be of concern to all – particularly consumers and lawmakers – is that this latest trend in masking spam attempts to “give an illusion of compliance” that might lull recipients into a false sense of security that they’re dealing with a legitimate company, Larson says.

The new breed of junk e-mail usually does include the physical address and opt-out mechanism mandated by CAN-SPAM, but don’t be putting much faith in either one, as they are almost always bogus.

“We haven’t seen any spammers who appear to be truly complying,” she says.

Again, no surprise.

It’s far too early to judge the ultimate effectiveness of CAN-SPAM, of course, as the law has been on the books only since Jan. 1. But unless there is an all-out enforcement effort – the type that strikes shock and awe into the hearts of spammers – it’s difficult to see much good coming out of this law.

By the way, I have no idea whether it’s really illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder here in Massachusetts.

But it sure as heck should be.

A toast to minibar innovation

Wireless vendors often conjure up far-fetched scenarios to hype their technology. My favorite was an IBM trade-show demonstration that depicted a befuddled American tourist standing at a subway stop in Germany. He was staring at signs in German, which the tourist didn’t speak. The wireless solution: snap a photo with a cell phone and forward it to a German-to-English translation application.

Such silliness never fails to amuse.

So it was with great surprise that I found myself muttering approvals after reading a press release from BarTech Systems International about the company having installed “the world’s first wireless minibar network at the world-famous Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C.”

“Each e-fridge minibar is given an IP address, which allows it to communicate with Bartech’s central unit through wireless access points,” the company says. “The result is continuous real-time information exchange between the Bartech refreshment center and the Willard’s guest room accounting software or Property Management System.”

A well-stocked minibar might not be the killer application for wireless, but it says progress in any language.

The primary purpose of providing this address really is to encourage reader correspondence: