Lighten up: spam should be a game

Play nice, now

Treating spam as if it was a game could be the key to the undoing of bulk-mailers everywhere, according to a Greek scientist.

A team of researchers at Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece, led by Ion Androutsopoulos, says that by taking this approach, ISPs and businesses can improve their spam filters - finding the perfect balance between false positives and false negatives in spam identification.

Androutsopoulos approaches the business of filtering spam by modelling it as a game between the spammer and the mail-box owner, with a small sum of cash at stake for each email sent and received, or blocked, New Scientist reports.

The model performs a cost benefit analysis on the spam filter: each legitimate email that is delivered successfully is counted as a benefit, while each real mail eaten by the filter (a false positive) gets marked as a cost. Similarly, each email sent by the bulk-mailer is counted as a cost, with a benefit being recorded each time an unsolicited mail sneaks through (a false negative).

So, to model the costs and benefits of any particular filter, all you need to know are the number of false positives and false negatives. Androutsopoulos' idea is that companies could use the model to tune their filters to either maximise the cost to the spammer, or maximise the benefit to the user.

The paper will be presented at the Conference on Email and Anti-Spam at Stanford University. ®

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