I find it somewhat ironic that in a week where Bill Gates (soon to be Bill Gates KBE, but not Sir Bill) declared that he was on a personal mission to eliminate spam from inboxes that a virus outbreak would create more spam-like email than I'd normally get in a week. Actually, the thought of Bill Gates on a 'personal mission' creates mental images of the Gatesmeister in a red cape and externalised underwear, and as I'm sure you'd agree, that's not an entirely agreeable image at all.
I was sitting around chewing the fat with my brother the other day, discussing the various quantities of spam that we get on a daily basis, and the way that pitches have changed, especially the way that mis-spellings and deliberately inserted lists of gibberish are the current tricks of the trade to bypass filtering mechanisms. Sometimes the result is merely humorous, and other times it's actively working against the spam marketing ethos; I recently got one pitch with the subject line of "Raw Fetus Belgium", and having read that, whatever enthusiasm I may have had for their "G3neRik V1aGrA" completely evaporated.
As we sat and chatted, Harriet entered the room and jumped up onto my lap. Harriet's one of my three cats, and she's a lovely cat in many ways, but she's not very bright at all. In fact, she's incredibly unintelligent to a level where she could very nearly be classified as a dog.
Combining the relative stupidity of Harriet and the problem of eradicating spam, we hit upon a theory that fits most of what's known about the problem with the feline at hand, and decided that Harriet wasn't in fact unintelligent at all; she was simply an open mail relay flooded with billions upon billions of spam messages. It's not an entirely insane theory, if you think about it; what would your brain do if it had to deal with millions of communications flogging porn, Nigerian scams and dodgy 'enlargement' opportunities? It'd either shut down, which would be rather terminal, or you'd simply go mad.
As theories go, the feline-as-spam-gateway theory has one huge advantage, in that it gives us a single nexus for all the world's Spam, and thus an easy way to turn the tap to the off position. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that amongst Bill's ideas for eliminating Spam, simply plugging some cotton wool into my cat's ears never once crossed his mind. There's an unpleasant downside, though; I don't want to have to deal with all the irate email users descending on my home in order to punch Harriet in the face. Please, be kind, she's only a mildly stupid cat.
Of course, the blame for Spam sits with just a few more people than one single feline. Stopping Spam should be simple, if we can just stop all the open relays, eradicate the viruses that open them up, patch every last bit of software to reject spam, stop anyone buying anything from these con merchants and lastly hunt down the spammers and hit them over the head with old fridges until they promise to stop. Stop sending spam, or stop breathing, I'm not fussy. Well, as long as nobody harms my cats.
What do you think? Are there sensible solutions to the spam problem? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Kidman is ZDNet Australia's Reviews Editor, and he's quite happy with his mortgage, his 'manhood' and everything else a prospective spammer might care to try to flog to him, so don't bother trying. Really, you'd be doing him a big favour if you'd just stop.