Have Researchers Found a Cure for Spam?

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Tackling Outbound Spam

Far too many Internet service providers are relying on anti-spam software that was primarily designed to fight inbound, rather than outbound, spam.

The things people do in the name of science.


A team of computer scientists in the University of California system decided to look into the nature of spam and for three months they gathered all of the spam in their inboxes as they could. (I would have gladly contributed the spam I get to their cause, but I didn't need to; they looked at nearly 1 billion messages.) They then made purchases from the spam advertisements. They called the research "spamalytics."


According to an article in The New York Times, the the scientists hoped to find a "choke point" that could lead to a reduction of spam, and they presented their findings in a paper, "Click Trajectories: End-to-End Analysis of the Spam Value Chain." The Times said:

It turned out that 95 percent of the credit card transactions for the spam-advertised drugs and herbal remedies they bought were handled by just three financial companies - one based in Azerbaijan, one in Denmark and one in Nevis, in the West Indies.

So what do the researchers think will decrease the bulk of spam we receive? Credit card companies, according to the Times article:

If a handful of companies like these refused to authorize online credit card payments to the merchants, "you'd cut off the money that supports the entire spam enterprise," said one of the scientists, Stefan Savage of the University of California, San Diego, who worked with colleagues at San Diego and Berkeley and at the International Computer Science Institute.
"In the end, spam is an advertising business," Dr. Savage said in an interview. "However, it only makes sense if you can find a way to take people's money."
"This means credit cards. Credit cards are the only payment platform that is ubiquitously available to Western consumers and can be used for Internet commerce."

Unless the credit card companies decide to follow the researchers' advice, we probably will have no way of knowing whether the research's conclusion is correct. But at least it appears somebody has finally found a potential cure to common spam in our email.


Now, will the next step in spamalytics be to study text messages?

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 23, 2011 4:44 AM MCK Coastal MCK Coastal  says:

Dr. Savage brings up a good point "In the end, spam is an advertising business" while I think this is one way of putting it, I tend to believe that spam actually perpetuates some email marketing issues facing small businesses.

Perhaps this explains the popularity growth of web 2.0 sites, where virtual interaction is as easy as a status update and spam is moderated by the site owners and the site community.


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