A message carved in spam

Spam Mimic: A secret decoder ring for our generation.

I have to admit that the excitement and fury over encryption leaves me baffled.

It's not that I can't grasp the issues and long-term global implications, or that I fail to marvel at the technical complexities involved, but as far as blazing-hot tech topics go, let's just say that I'm not your girl when it comes to encryption.

Until now.

I found a site that combines the subject that I hate to love (encryption) with the product I love to hate (spam) to create the first-ever spam-based encryption engine. Gloriously simple and wonderfully ironic, Spam Mimic lets you send an e-mail message secretly encoded in spam.

Here's how it works: You go to Spammimic.com, choose "encode" from the menu, and type a short message into the text box. I typed in "I Love SPAM," and the message generated came out like this (this is the real message; try decoding it to see for yourself):

Dear Friend , Especially for you - this red-hot intelligence
. If you no longer wish to receive our publications
simply reply with a Subject: of "REMOVE" and you will
immediately be removed from our mailing list . This
mail is being sent in compliance with Senate bill 1623
, Title 9 ; Section 308 ! This is a ligitimate business
proposal ! Why work for somebody else when you can
become rich as few as 62 months ! Have you ever noticed
more people than ever are surfing the web plus people
are much more likely to BUY with a credit card than
cash . Well, now is your chance to capitalize on this
. WE will help YOU use credit cards on your website
& use credit cards on your website . You can begin
at absolutely no cost to you . But don't believe us
! Prof Anderson who resides in Minnesota tried us and
says "Now I'm rich, Rich, RICH" ! We are licensed to
operate in all states ! We beseech you - act now .
Sign up a friend and your friend will be rich too !
Thank-you for your serious consideration of our offer !

To send a secret message, I simply cut the text from the spam generator and paste it into an e-mail. The person on the other end cuts the spam out, goes to Spammimic, and selects "decode" from the mail menu. With the click of a button, the spam is melted away, and my message is revealed.

Now, encryption heads will probably point out that this technique is not new, or that it's an easy scheme to break, but they are missing the point.

Encrypting e-mail makes the average person feel like a paranoiac hulking in a bomb shelter. Spammimic is fun and does the job on that love note you wanted to send or some viewpoint you'd prefer to keep in spam just in case. To be perfectly clear, classified documents that guard our military secrets and private financial data are best left out of this one. The rest of us can delight in the program that made getting spam fun -- a technical marvel no matter how you slice it.

Who knows what is floating in all that spam we receive each day? I consider this the New Age equivalent of playing records backward. Finally!

Alice Hill was the vice president of development and editorial director for CNet and is EVP of Cornerhardware.com. She covers technology every other week for ZDNet News, pondering everything from the wireless Web to why geeks love motor scooters, and the twillight of the LCD display. She welcomes your comments and e-mails.


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