Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Of hoaxes, scams and spam (Part 2)

We've already covered how insidious the plague of mass e-mailings are. The majority of these are basically commercial in nature and are attempts to sell some product or service that we can all do well without. Some are salacious invitations to meet women from exotic locales and those can be especially troubling because they may be nothing more than financial lures to meet your money. I always caution men who receive invitations from women from the Philippines, Russia, Japan, etc. that they are probably not dealing with an exciting svelte beauty weighing 110 pounds, but more likely a hairy obese chain-smoking man who is writing anything he thinks someone on the other end wants to read. The words caveat emptor have never been more appropriate. I also have never wanted the massive doses of Viagra, Cialis or God knows whatever sexually-enhancing drugs that are pushed over the Internet through these kinds of e-mails, but I guess they must think I need them. I am sure that the amounts offered to me alone would be enough to keep the Titanic from sinking (rim shot please). Aside from Canadian drug outlets, video cameras, rental properties, airline specials, there are considerable products ad nauseum that are available and will be available in coming months via e-mail solicitations. Suffice it to say the delete key will be your best friend. So why am I so particularly upset at the influx of spam? It's not just the amount of time it takes for everyone to delete these egregious e-mails, although if one does the math, the amount of dollars lost per year per employee in dealing with them is in the billions of dollars. It is also the amount of time and dollars that must be spent to combat them on a local and global basis. These e-mails bog down networks and diminish bandwidth by the sheer volume passed through servers and the resource-hogging applications that must used to stop them from being passed to the end-user. Believe me, were there no filtering on mail servers, the amount of e-mail spam would be 90 times worse than what is happening at present. Much of the more salacious e-mails dealing with sexual content are screened easily, but others are more devious and are passed through because they appear to be innocent on first look. Beware of embedded links in e-mails. Many of these will take your browser to servers that will attempt to identify you and place a cookie on your computer that will continue to identify you to them. Some of these sites will also "mine" for addresses, names, and other personal data in order to assemble other valid e-mail addresses to send out future spam. It's a never-ending cycle. The best bet is to avoid browsing on sites like this and to delete these e-mails immediately when they enter your inbox. The worst of these kinds of e-mails are attempts to "phish." We will deal with this kind of attack in a future blog.

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