October 12, 2003
October 12, 2003
I am Jack's Internet Under Attack
It suddenly hit me. I had been wondering why there was an increasing trend of unreturned e-mail. Over the last year, I've found that organizations in particular and some others that I would expect a response from, have been totally ignored. For example, the organization I was trying to order an $800 RAID board from, but their web-site was having issues. Or the business suggestion I made to another organization's contact address listed on their web-site. Or another support request I sent. I realized that this might have something to do with spam and worms a few weeks ago when I was deleting another 700 copies of the latest Microsoft-enabled worm from one of my mailboxes. Surely, you must be thinking, that was a weeks worth of messages. Nope, those came in over less than a day. Between the worms and spam doubling it's rate every 6 to 8 weeks, e-mail is coming to the point where Usenet news was in about 1995. It wasn't long after that that Usenet became unusable for the average person, and not much longer after that that even the die-hards were going away. Usenet (because of it's nature) had the benefit that a spammer could, in under a minute, broadcast their message to tens or hundreds of servers around the world, where millions of users would see it. The drawback was that the administrators, if they tracked down these messages, could just as easily send out "cancel" messages which caused all those servers to delete the message, and users who had not yet read it would never know it even existed. Spammers started moving over to e-mail, which at the time was a relatively untapped market for them. It was much harder to send messages that hundreds of thousands or millions of users saw, but users were much more likely to actually look at them and it was nearly impossible to centrally cancel these messages. The end result is that 80% of e-mail going around the Internet is things that people don't want, can't easily block, and in most cases is just a scam trying to dupe new people. Anyone with a modem and a bright idea can contribute to that problem, and users can't easily block those messages they don't want to see. Spammers do not bear the weight of spam. Mail servers have to be capable of handling 5 times what they otherwise would, in many cases much more because spam tends to hit mail servers in one large burst, bringing marginally-powerful systems to their knees. Spam is, quite simply, a distributed attack against the e-mail system. As soon as we stop looking at it as simply an inconvenience of modern life, and start treating it as an attack, we're going to be moving much faster toward a solution. Hopefully, future communications technologies will be built such that they are not susceptible to these problems. Based on past history, however, that seems unlikely at best.