Fri, Dec
3
2004

Going Over the Edge in the War on Spam?

Fri, Dec 3, 2004

Geek News Central has an interesting article about the extraordinary steps taken by Lycos to combat Spam.

This is not a firewall. This is not a spam filter (I recommend SpamCop that users can download which, during the times it is activated, uses your computer to flood Spamsites with ping traffic.

Think of this as a combination of the SETI@Home screensavers, which use unused cycles of your computer to help find extraterrestrial life, with a Denial of Service attack. Lycos Europe maintains a list of known spam sites and sites that sell goods advertised on Spam e-mails, and your screensaver uploads this list whenever it activates and sends off ping traffic to those sites. If enough computers do it (and, trust me, enough already are), then those websites are kicked offline, swamped by the useless traffic.

Unsurprisingly, Make Love Not Spam appears to be offline; due to a DoS attack, perhaps?

Dave at Geek News Central isn’t sure if this is a good idea, and I share his concerns. Spammers may be deserving of a Denial of Service attack, but we detest DoS attacks when they’re applied to legitimate websites. We have a tendency to send the Feds on any hacker that attempts this. Surely aspects of a DoS attack is illegal, regardless of the target. Doesn’t making use of this attack run the risk of legitimizing it?

And, as Dave points out, it would be quite easy to forge spam for an innocent website in order to get that website targetted by Lycos’ team of screensavers. Also, while nailing the Spammers, it also nails the ISPs the Spammers reside on, and any other innocent user that makes use of that ISP in order to access the Internet.

There has to be better ways to combat Spam which don’t strike me as vigilanteism.


Update: Yup, I knew it! Lycos’ screensaver failed when the folks at one website redirected all incoming traffic to MakeLoveNotSpam.com, effectively turning Lycos’ attack on itself. See the accompanying article:

According to security company F-Secure on Thursday, one of the Web sites Lycos targeted in its zombie army attack — www.mortgage.info — redirected traffic back to www.makelovenotspam.com. This means that Lycos could have targeted its own Web site.

“The fact that the spammers re-routed the page shows they are fed up,” said Mikko Hypponen, director of antivirus research at F-Secure. “But I think Lycos is not going to keep this up for long. It’s certainly a pest, but it’s not the grown-up way. We think this is not the right way to fight back and we advise users not to get involved.”

The security company said that the mortgage.info Web site administrator put a meta refresh tag in its Web site, which redirected traffic back to Lycos.

Lycos’ screensaver thwarted by a Meta tag? Now that’s embarrassing.

You’ve got your heart in the right place, Lycos, but your brains were on a little vacation for a while. Back to the drawing board for you.


Further Update: And just a day after raising questions on Lycos Europe’s anti-spam screen saver, he now reports that Lycos Europe has abandoned the screensaver as a great big misfire.

I think the appropriate thing here to say is: Oops!


Another Bad Tech Idea

Chalk one up to the investigative journalism of Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing Blog. Xeni did some thorough research on which words got censored whenever somebody tried to start a weblog on MSNSpaces, Microsoft’s very-late-to-the-starting-gate attempt at cashing in on the blog craze.

The results will surprise you, and will generate a few immature laughs. Warning: this link contains the seven words you simply must not say on television, or so they say.

Thanks to Mister Anchovy for the link.


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