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What does it take to stop a spammer?

May 29, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMessaging Apps

* It’s time to hit spammers where it really hurts

Although spammers are pests and cost business huge amounts every year in both hard and soft costs, at their most fundamental level spammers are just businesspeople. Unlike creators of viruses who are vandals that will continue doing what they do for the thrills, the challenge or the secret notoriety of their work, spammers don’t spam for fun – they spam for profit.

Consequently, the best spam eliminators focus on business basics: spammers’ profits and their cost of doing business.

As I’ve discussed in a previous column, spam-blocking technologies are a key line of defense in decreasing the profitability of spam. For example, if I stood in front of a store and forced 19 of every 20 people walking into that store to stay in the parking lot instead of going into the store, I would seriously curtail that store’s profitability. Similarly, if a spam filter can block 95% of spam from entering a mailbox, spammers’ profitability is automatically reduced by a corresponding amount simply because their message never reaches most of their potential customers.

It’s also important to block directory-harvest attacks (DHA), a technique used by spammers to glean fresh e-mail addresses. In essence, technologies or services that block DHAs block spammers’ access to the raw material of their industry – fresh e-mail addresses – thereby raising their cost of doing business by forcing them to seek alternative sources of these addresses.

While I don’t think antispam laws will have much impact overall, prosecutions of alleged high-profile spammers can discourage potential spammers from practices like identity theft and other illegal activities. Much like tough laws and high-profile prosecutions discourage some illegal activity by increasing the risk – and therefore, increasing the cost – of doing business illegally, high-profile prosecutions of spammers could also have an impact on some potential identity thieves.

Finally, spam recipients need to stop buying the stuff they see advertised in spam, no matter how good the deal might look.

In short, spam needs to be stopped by going back to the basic rules of business that focus on profitability and the cost of conducting business. If we can reduce the profits and increase the costs sufficiently, spam will stop simply because we’ve made spamming too unattractive a business practice. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue. Please drop me a line at