SPINMEISTERS CLAIM SPAM IS MORE COSTLY THAN VIRUSES, HACKERS COMBINED
By Jon Christian Ryter
November 12, 2003
Spam is a nuisance. Some of it is down-right filthy. Sometimes we see subject lines on emails that contains words that just aren't part of the traditional family vocabulary At least, not in mixed company or around children. We should not have to tolerate intrusions of that type in the inboxes on our computers or in our lives, especially if they are offensive to us. Junk mail is junk mail whether it is received by us through the U.S. Postal Service, or through our computers. Only, if we receive pornographic literature through the U.S. mail, we can turn the offensive material over to a U.S. Postal Inspector and the person or persons who sent it may face federal pornography charges. Free speech rights end once you affix a postage stamp to an envelop and turn it over to the post office.
The government, through the mainstream media, is now raising the specter that computer-generated spam costs consumers more than the damage caused by hackers and viruses combined. That being the case, the question we should be raising to ourselves is just how costly is junk mail to us as consumers? And that question needs to be framed quickly because once the mainstream media begins to hammer us with political spin about how bad something is, and how much it costs us, we know from experience that Big Brother is planning to provide us with a massive dose of "the cure." And, usually, the cure is worse than the disease.
Like you, when I fire up my computer in the morning and "check my mail," I have to wade through tons of unwanted solicitations from cheap prescriptions, to mortgage loans, vitamin supplements, investment opportunities, new book offers, old book offers, new religion offers, and finally, the usual porn exploiters and sexual enhancement devises. We are deluged with an avalanche of unwanted garbage--much of it personally offensive. And some of it are unique advocacy messages designed to tug at your heartstrings and trap your email address so you can get even more of the above mentioned spam. The spammers who flood your inbox, of course, have no idea of the age of the person at the email address they are spamming since their mail lists are usually constructed from stolen email addresses retrieved from cyberspace or pilfered from your inbox by hackers who earn their living stealing tidbits of data from your computer. Like you, I want the garbage mail to stop. I can tolerate the solicitations for credit cards, mortgage loans, cheap prescriptions and vitamins and even the phony offer from the deposed Sheik of Never-neverland who wants to send you all of his money to get it out of the country before he abdicates. What I want to stop is the risqué mail with the explicit subject lines.
There is a move underfoot at this time to create a national registry to ban spam. And, due to the success of the national hotline that allowed American consumers to "opt out" of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, Big Brother now wants to create a national registry that allows you to "opt out" of spam on your computer.
To soften us up, the media is now flooding us with articles about the high cost of spam. They are preparing us for the "cure." And Congress is feverishly working on that cure right now. Senator Charles Schumer [D-NY], Hillary Clinton's liberal New York partner-in-political-mayhem, is one of the co-sponsors of an anti-spam registry that is theoretically designed to rid your computer of unwanted spam. But Paul Wellborn, an Atlanta, Georgia attorney who specializes in suing spammers, says the Schumer measure being considered at this time is actually a pro-spam bill disguised as an anti-spam bill. California just enacted a spam law that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2004. That law will allow computer users to sue spammers for up to $1 million. In the case of the California law, spam is defined as mail you did not request and do not want.
Does anyone see a problem here?
The California law is potentially so extraordinarily destructive says Dan Jaffe, lobbyist for the Association of National Advertisers, that it has become imperative for Congress to act to control what could very likely become a legal feeding frenzy with cyber-ambulance chasers suing everyone and anyone for intruding on everyone else's cyber-privacy even if the emails sent are not soliciting anything more than the readers' attention to read a position paper on some political or social issue that is currently consuming above-the-fold front page space in your local newspaper.
Mi2G, a London, England based security firm recently issued a report in which they claim that computer outages and lost productivity due to spam cost $10.4 billion in the month of October alone. The report continued by saying that viruses cost $8.4 billion in physical losses, and hackers--the cybergraffeti freaks of the Internet--cost business about $1 billion. The last two statistics I can easily buy. Those numbers are logical. They make sense.
I question the first statistics for a couple of reasons.
First, like you, I get tons of spam. In fact, the first thing I whenever I open the inbox of my personal email accounts (even one I never use), is to throw out the trash. Usually spam is clustered, so its easy to collect it and throw it out. It takes a couple of minutes. It costs nothing. When I go to my company's server and check my mail, it is clean. here is no spam. That's because the company I work for installed a filter that blocks spam. It doesn't get through. Thus, other than the initial cost of the filtration system that was installed at some time in the past, there is no monthly "downtime" due to spam.
The media admits that the volume of spam received worldwide in October was less than in previous months. Mi2G claims that the cost to consumers is not based on the volume of the spam received--even though spam now accounts for 52% of all emails received--up from 7% in April, 2001--but on the amount of money currently being spent by companies to stop spam from reaching their employees, and from efforts of Internet servers to stop FREE spam from reaching their subscribers.
Brightmail, a Los Altos, California developer of spam filters said it scanned about 70 billion email messages in October and that 52% were identified as spam. In September, it scanned the same number of emails and 54% of spam. Brightmail's "innocent" admission is troubling not because of the volume of spam they detected, but the fact that Brightmail was able to intrude on the privacy of 140 billion pieces of email that was not addressed to them over a two month period.
I don't know about you, but this is much, much more troubling to me than the ton of spam that I am forced to delete from my mailbox each time I go online. If a private commercial company can access our mail at a whim to see what percentage of it is junk mail, how much better access does Uncle Sam have to the same mail--and how much time is Big Brother spending reading our mail? Much of the cost, Brightmail says, comes from equipment breakdown from companies that offer spam protection when they are "attacked" by massive amounts of spam that flood servers and crash computer systems. These attacks, Brightmail claims, have forced many blockspam servers to shut down and have caused many of them to purchase extra bandwidth and other protection devises to keep spammers from circumventing their systems.
So, is what the media telling us that startup or existing spam filter companies spent $10.4 billion in October to perfect their products, advertise their services, and maintain or expand their equipment? Or are they telling us that Internet service providers like AOL, Yahoo, Juno, Earthlink and others are complaining that spammers are sending advertisements to their subscribers and are not paying "postage" for an estimated $10.4 billion in mail in October? Or, is what they are not telling us a combination of all of the above?In any event, it's hype. If you decide to go into the business of creating a spam filter and offer it for sale to the cyberconsumers at a price, you have to expect certain maintenance costs are going to occur. The nature of hackers and spammers being what they are, you have to expect that the computer geeks are going to find a way around any wall you build. That's the cost you pay for going into that business--you have to stay one step ahead of the hackers and spammers, and you have to be able to anticipate what they are going to do next. Hopefully you have planned for that when you priced your product, and your product is good enough that increased sales offset the anticipated maintenance costs.
Mi2G summed it up best when they said, "The financial gain which motivates spam is too lucrative given the low cost of procuring the addresses and dispatching hundreds of millions of email spam messages." It's a lucrative profit center that the Internet servers have not been able to harness. That, of course, is the only reason they are spending billions on creating spam blockers. If the spammers can't reach your inbox, they will have to pay the Internet servers for franking privileges. But, second on the list of reasons I question the statistics offered by the media is that Uncle Sam realizes that the time has come when it is imperative to harness the Internet. It is a global communications medium that is closely monitored by every government in the world but controlled by no one. The United States and England monitors every email transmission in the world through Echelon, but it reads them selectively based on key "buzzwords" that trigger an alert. Because I mentioned "Echelon," this article was scanned and a digital pdf.file image was taken of it for human eyes to read.
When the Bush Administration put together the Bill of Rights-busting USA Patriot Act, they realized they left a security hole large enough to drive a convoy of Abram tanks through--the Internet. The Internet, like the printed newspaper, is generally viewed as the "print media" (even though it is cyberprint). For that reason, it is deemed to be off limits. While the political pundits all know that in a court battle the Internet would be construed as an electronic media rather than a print media. They also know that the Internet has become a primary vehicle of commerce with many Americans. A good many of us now purchase large amounts of goods on the Internet. We even pay our bills and bank on the Internet. If the government decided to regulate the Internet, 60% of that consumer traffic would dry up overnight as those who distrust government disconnect their modems. And, since the cybercash of the New World Order requires that every consumer have access to a terminal, it is not in Big Brother's best interest to see that happen.
That leaves government in something of a quandary. How can they institute the "controls" they need to more closely scrutinize who is using the Internet and for what reasons, without unduly alarming the consumers that business needs to continue using their home computers as shopping portals? Easy. Convince the public that spammers are costing someone billions of dollars a month that ultimately will be paid for by them, and the consumer (you and me) will grudgingly welcome efforts by the government to regulate the spammers out of existence. We'd all like that...right?
But, at what point are you, with a politically activist mail list of, say, 500 names, or 400, or 100, or 50, classified as a spammer because of the content of your mail and not the volume of that mail, and arrested and jailed for spamming, or sued for a million dollars because your pro-life message was offensive to pro-abortion mail recipient?
Think about that when, as you are
throwing out the trash, you wonder when the government is going to
do something to keep the spam from reaching your computer. And, also
keep in mind that the spam that is deleted under an Anti-spam registry
will be selectively deleted spam. The balance--for which a fee has
been paid to your email server--will continue to fill your inbox.
But at that time, government controls will be in place that will allow
Big Brother to classify anyone they want as a spammer. That person
could be you...or worse yet, it could be me.
© 2003 Jon Christian Ryter - All Rights Reserved
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with
the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com
has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders
who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his
books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.
"The government, through the mainstream media, is now raising the specter that computer-generated spam costs consumers more than the damage caused by hackers and viruses combined."