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Opinion Which is worst for the Internet: computer viruses, spam that advertises anti-virus products, or clueless anti-spam solutions, asks George Smith, SecurityFocus columnist.

How much electronic annoyance can you take?

If you're like me, a lot.

Take, for example, spam for anti-virus software. In a sublime and almost beautiful upending of the natural state of electronic affairs, a-v spam overtook and then rocketed past the number of actual viruses arriving at my inbox. Norton, McAfee, Panda Amanda and "Beware the Black Hole Worm Virus, Secure Your PC" -- for the love of God, Montresor, stop! What in Sam Hill, anyway, is the Black Hole Worm virus?

I don't buy that anyone, even cabbage, is moved by spam to purchase a-v software, no matter what the deal. Anti-virus advertising penetration reached a practical maximum years ago. Who could be persuaded by such things?

The unreasoning, regular arrival of the stuff convinces me that only people who had turned themselves into loathsome machines for unguessable reasons could be behind it. What could those reasons be? Profound mental illness? Third-stage syphilis? A raging bennies addiction? A soul-selling pact with the Great Cthulhu?

But before you hit the author tag to send an explanation on the motivations of grasping scum laid out in 1,000 words of fine detail for the village idiot, I beg you stay the hand.

I've had enough of that, too. Endless news stories on anti-spam campaigns and the electronic disease's resistance to all forms of treatment -- like a stubborn case of hand eczema -- no longer edify.

My favorite memories are of employees asking to subscribe to the newsletter, and their spam filter's Nazi-like zeal in bouncing my subsequent reply.
I've maintained a small mailing list (please don't subscribe) for close to ten years, and even this simple small pleasure has been undermined by the spam world war, and I no longer believe the whispered promises of saviors.

Bounces occur with greater and greater frequency, my electronic self regularly beaten to death by the shoes of the increasingly tyrannical anti-spam Fedayeen, all in the name of "filtering."

I understood this at first, even making attempts to go along. Some fool concocted a list of e-mail newsletter etiquette rules to keep from falling under suspicion as a nuisance mailer by automaton spam polizei. But it was too complicated, making the newsletter a futile exercise in writing anti-heuristic code in ASCII.

Gamely I traveled to spam cop websites to see how to unsnarl the error code of readers' anti-spam bounces. Confronted by hostile anti-spam boilerplate and the insinuation that everyone in the world is guilty until proven innocent by unreachable third party, I found I was wasting more time trying to get "delisted" than I was actually deleting computer viruses and spam.

My favorite memories, though, are of those employees -- often of tightly screwed down computer security companies -- asking to subscribe to the newsletter, and the firm spam filter's Nazi-like zeal in bouncing my subsequent reply.

I wasn't alone in any of it.

I asked a couple colleagues who maintain well-read mailing lists if they were also experiencing an uptick in collateral damage from the war on spam terror.

Yes, the answer came back (luckily, they don't use spam filters), the climate is rough.

"[A] distinct problem is that some other user on a neighboring address to me really is a habitual spammer," wrote a friend. "And some Internet Service Providers will block the whole cluster of addresses, including me. When I object, [they] tell me to go back to my own provider and get rid of the spammer, and let them know when I have done so. I have done this a couple of times, but have tired of this, too."

In other words, bullying the blameless will do when the true objects of blame are next door but intractable.

While odious, cyber-geopolitically this approach -- perhaps, accidentally -- matches meatspace national policy in which the neighbors of terrorists or rogue nations are made legitimate targets if they do not immediately salute and remove the adjacent evil-doers.

But I said up front my tolerance level is high. There seems to be nothing for spam but to bear it, or maybe ask for even more. Let's see how bad it can get before one supports the sending of bomber command to rubble-ize the telecommunications infrastructure of Nigeria, Missouri or somewhere else that would set an example, and maybe start a domino effect.

© SecurityFocus logo

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