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Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's All About Meme or How Not to Spam Minds 

I received yet another chain message from someone who is bright enough to know better but, in this case, let their good nature trump their good sense.

=====Begin Message=========

Really sorry to do this to you, but I have hand picked 10 friends in my life who I think I can count on to help a friend of mine's son with a school project.

If you could do this I would appreciate it! It's quick to do and for his science fair project.

DON'T ASK, JUST PLAY!

Copy and paste this letter into a new email (PLEASE do NOT hit Forward), then read the list of names. If your name is on the list, put a star * next to it.

If not, then add your name (in alphabetical order, put no star.) Send it to ten people and send it back to the person who sent it to you.

Put your name in the subject box! You'll see what happens - it's kind of cool!

Please keep this going. Don't MESS it up, please.

Alvin

Abbey*

Alicia

Alison

Anna

Ayron

[PB and (unfortunately) much, much deletia]

====End Message====

A meme is a self-propagating idea, a thought virus if you will. An idea so strong it compels us to pass it on. Some people get a kick out of infecting others with useless memes, wasting their time and clogging the 'net. See:

http://www.google.ca/search?sourceid=mozclient&scoring=d&amp;ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&q=meme

The above chain message is a new version of a phenomena as old as the Internet itself. For some general information on this see:

http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/HBChainLetters.shtml

and specifically:

http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/HBChainLetters.shtml#sciencefair

Don't feel bad if you passed this or others like it on before. I try to educate whoever sends me one of these so I end up writing a few paragraphs on this topic once a month or so (which prompted me to write this blog entry).

You can atone by using a mail client with built-in spam filters (I use Thunderbird) and never, never, NEVER open or forward spam. Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE (AKA spam)) is now over 60% of the traffic processed by the 'net's mail servers. A massive, ongoing theft of services. Imagine if 60% of the people on the roads were joyriding in stolen cars looking for something to steal.

Worse (if you can imagine something worse), spammers generally operate by hiring zombie computer armies cobbled together by hacking the less-well-defended computers of individuals and using them as spam message agents. The trend these days is moving from UCE to phishing attempts causing ignorant users to type their private account numbers and passwords into phony web sites only to have their accounts pillaged.

Spammers and hackers both are getting more sophisticated and more speculative showing they have cash from illegal and/or unethical activities to invest and are less worried about profitability. (It doesn't occur to a lot of people that criminal businesses operate under many of the same fiscal constraints as legimate businesses.) Phishing attempts using phony security certificates (which were supposedly designed to prevent fraud) and Darkmail are both on the rise.

Beyond using a filtering e-mail client there is another technique to lower your profile as a spam target: use one e-mail address for private, trusted communications and another free, web-based mail service for more public mesages. If the level of spam becomes problematic on the webmail address just discard the web-based address making sure to close out the account so it doesn't accumulate messages and waste resources.

As a journalist I have to use my name on my e-mail accounts so I don't get accused of 'gotcha' journalism (i.e. interviewing people without their permission and publishing the result) but it's best to use a handle rather than your name for the user portion of the address. Just be careful what you choose because it'a a telling insight into your nature.

Gmail does an excellent job of catching spam and warning users about possible phishing attempts. Mailing lists and forums are routinely harvested for e-mail addresses making them dangerous places for using your personal e-mail address. Use the free e-mail address when subscribing to them and for any other communications to people or organisations you don't trust yet which, given the nature of the world and the Internet, should be everyone in the beginning.

Given the 2GB.-plus capacity of the accounts, gmail is also useful as a backup for documents and files and as a simple way to transfer files between computers. Just send a message to yourself with the file attached.

PB


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