Q: Dear Ken: Is there any feasible way that a National “do not spam” list could be created? — Bobby
A: In a world where rules are created, they are only effective if the participants abide by the rules. In the case of the National Do Not Call list, the companies that are required to play by the rules are mostly US based and tied to a phone number that can easily track down offenders.
When it comes to spam, the whole industry is predicated on not following the rules and being able to hide from those that would stop them. In a nutshell, creating rules for those that make their living not following the rules would be an exercise in futility.
Because the Internet is worldwide but our laws don’t extend beyond our borders, any attempts made to regulate the “unregulate-able” are doomed to failure.
In fact, the way that the Do Not Call list works would actually help spammers. The telephone DNC list is published to telemarketing firms so that they can compare the numbers on the list to their lists and remove them.
Imagine giving spammers a list of addresses that they are not supposed to send junk mail to and then asking them to please follow our rules. Any database of e-mail addresses would be a treasure trove for spammers regardless of what they were intended for and they would abuse it in a microsecond.
The sad fact is that a small percentage of those that receive spam messages respond and actually make purchases, which is where the real problem lies. If no one ever responded to this junk mail, the perpetrators would have no reason to continue (and the same holds true for snail mail).
Since there is money involved, the spammers have become more sophisticated over the years and will continue to do so, no matter what we place in their paths.
To make things worse, the latest way of sending out messages makes it nearly impossible to stop. In the early days of the spam problem, it was easy to identify the computers that were sending out large volumes of spam and shut them down. Most of the guilty computers were hijacked web servers that were setup by those that didn’t understand how to secure them.
Back then, once a hijacked server was discovered, it was shutdown so the spammers had to find others that were vulnerable.
Today, the use of “botnets” (a network of compromised Internet connected computers under the control of a hacker) allows spammers to spread the job around tens of thousands of computers that each send out a small amount of spam, which makes it harder to track down and easier for them to continue their dirty deeds.
The computer that you use every day to do your surfing, e-mailing and online banking could easily be part of a botnet and you would never know it. The folks that create these botnet networks have found sneaky ways to silently get into your computer and lay in the background until called upon.
Most anti-virus programs can detect the Trojan that infected the computer, but often the botnet agent goes undetected because it is dormant. If you notice that your Internet activity lights flash a lot when you are not using the Internet or your hard drive light seems to grind away when nothing is running on the screen, this may be a sign that your computer has become a zombie on a botnet.
Technically savvy users can check to see what established connections they have with external IP addresses to see if any of them are suspicious. After rebooting your computer, from a command prompt type “netstat -van” and trace the destination of any external IP addresses that are in the ESTABLISHED state.
For those not as tech savvy, if you suspect that something funny is going on with your computer when you aren’t using it, consult a tech savvy friend or a professional to examine your system for signs of this latest threat.
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