Stories, thoughts, observations, rants and dribble. Just another of my attempts to keep the interested people informed ...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The truth about spam: "Fw: FUNNY" is not as funny as you think

Getting nonsensical, unentertaining, "inspirational" or otherwise worthless emails forwarded to me, often by virtual (ha) strangers or long-ago workmates, is one of my pet peeves.  The obvious reason is that I don't find them interesting or worthwhile, I have better ways to use my time, and I don't care.  The less obvious reason is that I am fairly protective of my own privacy, and I don't want my email address handed over to complete strangers, especially the kind of strangers who will further propagate the sort of emails that I hate, or worse, not be actual people.  Why don't you just give them my phone number, address, and bank account details while you're at it?  Come to think of it, I received a 'warning' email today which included, not just a whole mess of email addresses, but all sorts of personal contact information contained in footers.  Be careful, people!

Before I launch into full rant mode, I'd like to pass the mic over to my completely wonderful, yet easy irritated, friend Dave, who wrote what he intended to be a passive-aggressive response to receiving an illogical but apparently compulsive forwarded email, and actually produced a well-written, educational missive about one of the dangers of the internet.  Like I said to him, if it were more succinct, I might be tempted to put it on a t-shirt. 

I have removed the names and email addresses, because I am a considerate personIf people really feel the need, the absolute, unavoidable compulsion to send me random crap (and I'm not talking about things you know I'll actually appreciate), for the love of God, learn how to use the bcc: optionPlease

Anyway, please read the following message, and feel free to pass it on to your favourite quasi-spammers.  Perhaps encourage them to read the whole thing by saying that something hilarious will happen when they scroll right to the end.

Hi there [name removed to protect baby seals] et al.,

Just so you're aware, it's physically impossible for anything 'funny' to happen if you forward a message to a certain number of people. All that will happen is that people will forward it hoping that something will happen. Which, as I'm sure you now know from forwarding this message, it never will. It just results in a whole bunch of spam being thrown around the internet.

But what's more, all the email addresses that people are forwarding to will be harvested by spam bots, giving spammers a whole bunch more addresses to send their "make your penis bigger!", "FREE viagra!" and "find hot prostitutes near you" emails. Thus these will start flooding your inbox, along with the emails with malware and worm attachments that can really fuck your stuff up.

It's actually quite a clever spam technique - promising the uninitiated users that something 'hilarious' will happen if they forward it to enough people. If you look below at the forwarded message, you'll see all those blue underlined links, all those email addresses to whom "[name removed even though he was one of the forwarders at fault]" sent it out to... well, as soon as this email is returned to a spammer, they can just copy all those addresses onto their database and know that these addresses have real people on the end of them, and so add them to their list of people to send out all their spam. They can also sell the list of email addresses to other spammers. This is actually how most spam email actually gets their millions of target users.

Emails are just strings of letters and numbers being sent through electronic communication channels... there's no physical way that forwarding, replying, or doing anything to the messages will result in any 'cool' thing happening.

So, as a general rule of thumb - only ever forward emails if you actually want or need to forward them. For example, if it's information that you want somebody else to see - that is to say, the intended use of the forwarding feature.

I am sorry if this sounds passive aggressive or preachy, but... well... it's a bit annoying, see. Because now if any of the other 6 people to whom you also forwarded this message (that is, [names removed because it wasn't their fault]) then forward it on to a bunch of other people, it'll be my email address added to the spam list. And then, if any of those people then forward it on to another bunch of people, my address will be propagated again and again and again, etc., etc., ad nauseam. In effect, by forwarding these kinds of emails to your friends, you are actively increasing the amount of spam they get.

So. If you ever get an email and are encouraged to forward it to a certain amount of people - whether it promises something cool, or promises that it will save the life of an African child with every person you forward it to, or promises that it will increase the chance of finding your one true love... the best thing to do is delete it, or just move it to your spam folder. Because that's what it is. Spam. Nothing else. You could always forward it to a bunch of people who you don't really like, and laugh at the fact that they're going to get a lot more spam, but again, your email address is still going to be propagated on that list just by engaging in any kind of forwarding activity.

Sadly, because the vast majority of people are completely unaware of the underhand tactics that spammers use to build up these lists of verified, active email addresses, spam now accounts for over 90% of all email traffic online. Check out this section of the Wikipedia article on spam, if you like (with cited sources):

All the best, and hope you're well.

Dave [name retained to acknowledge the awesome]

2009/9/7 [name removed to reduce global warming]

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: [name removed to save the whales]
Date: Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 4:49 PM
Subject: Fw: FUNNY
To: [names removed for the sake of my conscience]

----- Original Message -----
From: [name removed to protect the innocent]
To: [name removed for an ideal future]
Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 10:04 AM
Subject: Fw: FUNNY

----- Original Message -----
From: [name removed for the sake of the children]
To: [names removed for world peace]
Sent: Sunday, September 06, 2009 10:55 AM
Subject: FW: FUNNY

I don’t normally forward these but will give this a try.



Forward this to at least 7 people and see what happens on your screen . you will laugh your head off!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the coolest thing I have ever received. All you have to do is send it to 7 people and watch your screen, it is the funniest clip. I can't tell you what it is but I was laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair!!! So, send it to those 7 people and watch.

If you forward it to 7 people a video comes on your screen..
This works. I don't know how...but it works.

[It does not work.  No matter how much you want something hilarious to happen to these bouncing bikini-ed beach bunnies.]

Original post sent via email to Wendebulous

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