Friday, December 03, 2004

Byte: Make Love Not Spam

A tale from the legal twilight of the internet. Internet Service Provider Lycos has produced an anti-spam screensaver that gives the spammers a taste of their own medicine. Well, not *exactly* a taste of their own medicine, since that'd be Viagra, probably, but a kind of anti-Viagra for webservers.

The screensaver, somewhat less than imaginatively called Make Love Not Spam, is designed to bombard spam websites with data traffic until they either fall over in a big heap with the strain, or end up costing the spammers so much in bandwidth bills that they can't afford to run them anymore. "Stick it to The Man!" or "Fight the Power!" you may cry, but I don't particularly think this is either a good idea, or entirely ethical. Despite what Lycos claims, this is essentially a Denial Of Service Attack, which is the lowest form of internet sabotage, committed by the lowest form of internet scum. (He says, immediately setting himself up for a Denial Of Service Attack...)

You might think that spamming the spammers is beating them at their own game, but it's nothing of the sort - you're just giving the spammers confirmation of details about your computer, like your IP - which they can then use to try more insidious things, like infiltrating trojans or worms onto your PC and creating backdoors with which they essentially take over your computer. The best way to deal with spammers is to let them spend all their money sending off emails, and let them disappear into a black hole by not even acknowledging their existence. If you don't respond to spammers, there's nothing they can do - they just end up wasting their money and going out of business.

There's a maxim on internet forums - "Don't feed the trolls!" - you can say the same about spammers too. If you ignore them, they don't make any money, and you stop getting spam. Simple. Shame that most people are too stupid and/or gullible to figure this out for themselves.

Lycos are walking a legal tightrope here - whilst Denial Of Service Attacks aren't technically illegal in most places, they're universally frowned upon by pretty much everyone - and some countries are in the process of changing their legislation to make it so - potentially leaving them wide open to litigation. It seems like a particularly misguided attempt to deal with spam to me. Why go to all the effort of creating screensaver, when simply ignoring spammers is so much cheaper and more effective. All this screensaver will do is antagonize a group of people who aren't exactly known for their sensitivity in their treatment of other internet users anyway... Not only that, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if this screensaver turned out to be a subtle piece of spyware, designed to monitor your internet usage, so that Lycos can target market you with their own special brand of palatable spam.

If there's anything I've learnt about the internet over the last 10 years, it's that it pays to be paranoid. Everyone really *is* out to get you. But then doesn't that make it cease to be paranoia, and become good, old fashioned caution? Draw your own conclusions...
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