What to Do About Spam?

My mother sent an e-mail to me last week recommending a miracle pill that would make me smarter, grow more hair on my balding head, and enlarge my male member. One pill...such a deal. Oh, and if I acted quickly, I could chop a percentage point off my mortgage rate. I was so excited I re-read the note. It was then I noticed that the e-mail began, "Dear Friend." Suspicion crept in; my mom never calls me that.

I'm now lowering my expectations. I'd be satisfied merely to find a magic pill that will make my junk e-mail, or spam, go away. Seriously, it's ruining my love affair with e-mail. Opening my Web connect used to be a high note of the day. I now dread the barrage of sexual offers and persistent requests from African diplomats for my help in smuggling millions of dollars out of their overflowing national treasury.

Spam is out of control; it accounts for a full 50 percent of all electronic mail. And it's getting worse. Spammers seem to hurdle every obstacle thrown up in the ether to stop them. A filter can block e-mail from addresses an individual doesn't list as an approved sender. But along came virus-powered spam, so that junk mail is likely to come straight from the computers of close friends and family.

The utter interdependence of computer networks makes e-mail an easy target. A virus launched one morning can infect computers all over the world by the end of the day. The Slammer virus, which hit in January of this year, spread to more than 100,000 computers in the first 10 minutes alone. The author of the SoBig virus, another of the year's more dastardly villains, turned thousands of computers into virtual slaves posed to do the virus's bidding as electronic mail carriers. Information security teams are worried that virus worms already have wiggled into major corporate or public networks, lying undetected until they perform some act of sabotage or thievery.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2003
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