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Thursday, 01 October 2009 05:07

An open letter to spammers

Having received an ample share of Spam in a multitude of mail boxes, I'd like to offer the spammers some advice on how to get my attention.

Dear Spammer,

I'm writing to offer some friendly advice that might assist you in targeting me more effectively.  I do realise the following advice is all in the negative, but allow me to assume you're an intelligent lad and will be able to read between the lines and come up with better methods.

In the mean-time, perhaps my fellow victims might be able to learn a little more about your methods in order to protect themselves.

The following, in no particular order, are some pointers to improving the Spam offering.  Consider them mileposts on the road to success for spammers; defeat all of them and spam becomes a success.

Readers, please note that my main email address is with Gmail, thus the majority of comments reflect that environment.

Oddly, I don't write emails to myself.  It is astonishing how many spam emails use my own address, masqueraded with some bogus name, as the sending address.  All I have to do is hover the mouse over the fake name to see my own address as the 'real' sender.

I actually do know how to spell 'Cialis' and 'Viagra.'  I'm not that stupid!  If you misspell the product name in the subject line, I'm probably going to spot it.  This goes for pretty-well every other medicinal product too.  However, you have a small advantage – if you convince me it works, you at least get to the next stage.

I'm not religious.  If you appeal to some deity in the subject, you're junked.  You'd be amazed (perhaps not) how many money scams appeal to my respect for the same god as the spammer.  Unfortunately, my first reaction is to (mentally) accuse the sender of blasphemy – how dare they invoke that deity in support of their illegal activity.

Just how many widows of African despots are there?  I know they must exist, but why is it that they all seem to have the money in strange places and need my help to retrieve it?

More on the next page…

Let's continue.

Nobody I know has any idea how to insert 'weird' characters into the subject line.  Too often, there are 'strange' characters in subject lines.  Often these cannot even be properly rendered by the browser, instead showing as shaded cells in the text.  This is probably the quickest visual method of detecting spam.

Medical research has proven that nothing will make me any 'larger.'  On any given day, probably 30% of the spam emails I receive promise to inflate my "ego" (I paraphrase to protect the delicate disposition of the reader).  Unfortunately, all research studies, investigating all possible methods, have conclusively shown that nothing works.  Anatomy and modern medicine defeat scam every time - the only thing being inflated is the wallet of the spammer.

If you're trying to sell me a fake watch, don't put "sold out" in the subject line.  I'll believe you.  What is it with watch spam?  They're the only messages that insist on using this catch-phrase.  Makes them very easy to spot.

It is illegal in this country to buy prescription drugs without seeing a doctor.  It's probably also a very silly idea to self-diagnose anyway.  We have also read any number of horror stories of people receiving different or poorly manufactured drugs.  Drugs so bad that you wouldn't give them to your dog (as it were!).

I already have a degree.  I worked very hard for 5 years to get it – I'd love to know how you think I can get one with a day's effort.  More than that, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how it would stand up to the lightest of scrutiny.

I didn't enter any lotteries.  Neither did my email address.  You'd be astonished to see the number of emails that start off "Congratulations, your email address has just won $xxx in the Yyyy lottery."  Gosh, I'll be sure to tell my email address how fortunate it is!

I know how to spell, so if you swap numbers and other characters for various letters, it just irritates me.  No real people I know would think to do that.

Sending me an identical subject line from 20 different addresses is a very good clue!  Why is it that the spammers think that this is a good idea?  I see a flood of identical messages in my inbox, all coming in at the same time; gosh, it must be important – I'll open all of them!

Well, that's about all I have.  If readers can offer other suggestions, I'd love to see them in the comments.

Fire away!

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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