ICIWorld Recommended Solution

Stop Junk Email.  Spam Arrest, your starting point for stopping spam. Unlike other anti-spam solutions, Spam Arrest quickly and easily blocks spam before it ever gets to your inbox no matter how the spam is disguised or where it comes from.

Aug. 4, 2003. 09:45 AM
Famed hacker endorses Spam Arrest

TYLER HAMILTON

You no doubt heard last week that Hormel Foods, which has been making a compressed-meat product named Spam since 1937, has sued a Seattle software company called Spam Arrest for using the trademarked luncheon stuff in its name.

Two-year-old Spam Arrest LLC makes software for blocking junk e-mail. The company has correctly pointed out that in 2003, most people unless you're a WWII veteran think of annoying bulk e-mail messages rather than pink blocks of meat when the word spam is spoken.

What's the diff, anyway? The way I look at it, most humans would rather not find spam in either their e-mail or lunch box. But I digress.

Seriously, the news here shouldn't be about a lawsuit over intellectual property. The news is that spam has become so ubiquitous, so in-your-face, that it has actually taken on a generic meaning in our lexicon. Scary stuff.

That said, there's never been a greater need for companies like Spam Arrest, which, in their pursuit of profit, are also giving spam targets like you and me a way to fight back. Rarely a week goes by when I don't get e-mails from concerned mothers about pornographic spam being sent to their kids, or home-office workers who are overwhelmed by the daily flood of insulting e-trash they receive.

Proposed laws forbidding spam or government-created Do-Not-Spam lists may hold back the tide a bit, but they don't address spam coming from foreign countries or the fact that eliminating a billion spam messages a month isn't that noticeable when the original volume is tens of billions. Seems the fall-back will have to be on technology.

There are plenty of anti-spam software products on the market, but I'm always asked which one is best and find myself hard-pressed to come up with a magic-bullet answer. Lately, however, I've been thinking to myself, "What do hackers use to can spam?"

Surfing the Web last week, I stumbled across an interesting item in The Guardian, a national newspaper in the United Kingdom. It was an interview with Kevin Mitnick, a computer security consultant once known as the world's most notorious hacker.

Before his arrest in 1995, Mitnick was the most wanted computer criminal in the United States. He eventually got taken down for wire fraud and computer fraud and spent five years in prison. His parole just ended in January. Last year, he wrote a book called The Art Of Deception, and he's now using his skills to help companies defend themselves against hackers.

So what does Mitnick, former hacker supremo, use to guard against spam?

"I use Spam Arrest," he told The Guardian. "Any legitimate person who wants to send me a message has to jump through hoops before they can be added to my opt-in list."

Well, if it's good enough for Mitnick ...

Coincidently, a friend at the Star brought to my attention a recent e-mail exchange he'd had with a visitor to his Kayaking Web site. The visitor, named Bob, was using Spam Arrest. When my friend e-mailed Bob, an e-mail message came back saying, "Bob here, I'm protecting myself from receiving junk mail. Just this once, click the link below so I can receive your e-mails."

My friend clicked on the link and was taken to a Web page that, after showing him an oddly shaped word, asked him to type that word into a text box.

This is known as a challenge-response system. Automated systems of the type used to send bulk e-mail can't read these oddly shaped words, only humans can. This means if a person sends a million spam messages to a million people using Spam Arrest, that person would have to take a challenge-response test for each of those e-mails. In other words, impractical, if not impossible.

My friend typed in the test word, his e-mail was deemed not to be spam, and it was swiftly delivered to Bob's in-box. Now every e-mail my friend sends has clearance from Bob, unless Bob wishes to boot him off the clearance list. Bob has the option of pre-authorizing certain e-mail addresses, so messages from friends and wanted mailing lists pass through without question.

Bob also has the option of perusing those e-mails that don't get through. They are kept on Spam Arrest's Web site for seven days, then deleted. The cost of the service is reasonable $34.95 (U.S.) a year, or $2.92 a month.

Not to suggest that Spam Arrest is that elusive magic bullet. The company itself has been accused of spamming its own customers. And no doubt, regular users have noticed a bug or two while using the service.

Also, if you're somebody who regularly buys online, registers for access to Web sites and services, or simply wants to interact with an online business, Spam Arrest might not be your thing. Many online businesses rely on automated e-mail systems to service customers. It's doubtful they'll hire people to do challenge-response tests all day in the course of responding to your first-time customer queries.

But compared to spam-filtering software, which sometimes lets spam through and sometimes keeps legitimate and important e-mails out, Spam Arrest and other challenge-response spam fighters seem most capable of taking the junk out of junk e-mail.

Okay, so it takes some people an extra few seconds to perform a simple test, but if they're so impatient that they can't take the time to answer a quick question, who needs their stinkin' messages anyway.

ICIWorld Recommended Solution

Stop Junk Email.  Spam Arrest, your starting point for stopping spam. Unlike other anti-spam solutions, Spam Arrest quickly and easily blocks spam before it ever gets to your inbox no matter how the spam is disguised or where it comes from.