Fighting spam two ways

I read a statement in a very right-leaning publication not long ago that made me really mad. It made the statement that government regulation is never the solution to a problem, and the problem of spam should be dealt with through software, not legislation.
This is a statement from a very clueless knee-jerk conservative. Don’t get me wrong; I’m conservative too, but I have a brain and I’m going to use it, even when I’m not towing the party line. Software does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of spam taking up 50% of the SMTP traffic coming in through my employer’s T1 line. That problem probably isn’t big enough to cost anyone a job yet. But is spam costing some people their annual keep-up-with-inflation raises? I think it could be.

Missouri has an anti-spam law. I think that’s a very good thing. Spam that doesn’t have a subject line that begins with the four-letter string adv: is illegal in Missouri. Spam with adult content that doesn’t begin with the eight-character string adv:adlt is illegal in Missouri. There are a few other regulations as well. The punishment? A $5,000 fine per message, not to exceed $25,000 per day.

I hope that amount is high enough to fund a decent-sized army of spam hunters in Jefferson City.

So if you live in Missouri, or work in Missouri, or there’s a decent chance that your mail server is in Missouri, or you can get your mail server moved to Missouri, or can determine that your spam originated from Missouri (you must be really

The problem with spam is that it costs next to nothing to do it. But if a spammer gets five complaints a day from Missourians, that amounts to over $9 million a year. Even the Alan Ralskys of this world may have difficulty with that bill. Spam has made some people multi-millionaires, but it’s hard to imagine Ralsky being able to foot that bill.

There’s a precedent in Missouri. Missouri had a no-call list before the embattled federal no-call list came into existence. There was a body shop not far from me that was literally sued out of business due to this law. A couple of poor-little-small-business-being-picked-on-by-the-government stories predictably showed up in the local press, but I’m still trying to figure out why he was picked on. He broke the law and couldn’t afford the consequences.

And that’s what we need to do with spammers. I won’t shed a tear, but I might throw a party.

In the meantime while I wait for Jay Nixon to sue some spammers out of business, I need a technical solution. Mozilla provides a mail client with built-in Bayesian spam filtering. It works pretty well. But there are situations where you may be pretty much forced to use Outlook in an Exchange environment, or some other product that doesn’t have built-in spam filtering. For those situations there’s POPFile, and if you need POPFile to work with Outlook in Corporate Workgroup mode, there’s Outclass. They work pretty well once trained. I’ve been using Outclass and POPFile for a number of months, and since I get between 30-50 spam messages per day, intermixed with legit stuff (of which I get several hundred a day), it probably saves me an hour or two a day, even when it classifies stuff wrong. But the latest Outclass has whitelisting, which will help that. (For some reason earlier versions of Outclass always classified mail from my boss as spam. I whitelisted him after I upgraded.)

The ultimate solution is 50 different states with 50 incompatible sets of regulations (such as some states requiring the exact string “[adv]” and others requiring “adv:”), making it virtually impossible to comply and still make a profit. Those who do manage will be so small as to probably not be bothersome. I’m not so eager for the Feds to step in simply because then it would be easier to be universally legal.

4 thoughts on “Fighting spam two ways

  • October 12, 2003 at 1:50 pm
    Permalink

    Serious question: What does China do about spam, (their version) and can we apply their solutions?
    Anyone?

  • October 14, 2003 at 7:01 pm
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    I read a statement in a very right-leaning publication not long ago that made me really mad. It made the statement that government regulation is never the solution to a problem, and the problem of spam should be dealt with through software, not legislation.

    Dave, do you have the title and issue number of that publication so we can track it down, or a link to the article so we can read it?

  • October 15, 2003 at 10:16 am
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    Making spam illegal isn’t likely to help, unfortunately. The majority of spammers are ALREADY breaking existing laws; why would they worry about breaking another? What’s needed here is some serious enforcement of existing fraud laws. Not that it would hurt to make spam, by itself, illegal – if there are severe penalties and vigorous enforcement, it could help.

    What’s needed is to take the worst spammers out of circulation, and make such a public example of them that the rest of the crowd is intimidated out of the business.

    Never go on an adventure without a hat!
    Indy

  • October 19, 2003 at 11:05 pm
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    My guess is that you’re not using Outlook Dave. For anyone who is check out Spambayes (http://spambayes.sourceforge.net/). Once you’ve trained it it works well, even with some idiosyncracities.

    My email (above) has been the same for seven years and was listed on our corporate web site with my name and position (Vice President Information Technology at the time). I get 3000 to 4000 spam a day. Spambayes cuts that down to about 50 that I have to sort through. THAT is lovely.

    As for submitting this stuff to the state, pfft, yea. I’ve got enough problems getting my work done much less prosecuting someone. :\

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