Feeds

Spam: it sucks like a tarpit

Trapping the pump'n'dumpers

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Spam sucks. That is the conclusion reached by a roomful of scientists at MIT on Friday after hearing a bunch of new research papers pitched at dealing with the problem.

Before adjourning to the pub, the group voted on the best paper. The award went to Ken Simpson, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Mail Channels.

Simpson's paper was one of two covering tarpit simulators. Tarpit simulators are a way of throttling delivery times - slowing the speed of the bits - of suspected spam. For example, think of a web page loading very slowly. You'll kill the attempt and retry and often it will load quicker. The idea is that spammers are impatient and will give up if it is taking too long for their messages to get through.

Simpson's start-up company has been working on this for two and a half years, during which time the idea has mutated from the original goal of reducing spam into creating a product that would help deal with the volume.

"We had a theory that if spammers get impatient they will just go away," he said in his presentation. He was talking particularly about pump-and-dump spam – for example, the image-based messages that began appearing last November. He cited a New York Times study of a typical spam campaign of this type.

Just before the New York stock market closed on a Friday, a buyer acquired 11 million shares of an obscure penny stock. After a weekend of spam, the stock touted in these messages ticked upwards in the first few minutes of trading on Monday, just enough to net the spammers about $20,000 for their weekend's rampage.

For campaigns like these, speed and timing are of the essence. Therefore, the spammers turned out to be surprisingly impatient. The Request for Comments documents (RFCs) on which good email practice is based recommend that a sender stay connected for 10 minutes to ensure that a message is sent successfully, which gave him an opportunity to observe senders' behaviours.

Simpson's research showed that 80 to 90 per cent of spam traffic drops off after two minutes – with no loss of legitimate traffic. With throttling in place, he says, the load is hugely reduced, dropping the amount of spam landing in junk folders by 90 per cent and the amount that escapes the filters and lands in inboxes by 25 per cent.

The price, however, is a huge rise in the number of concurrent connections, which are far above the number most mail transfer agents can handle. Mail Channels handles this by creating a middle layer, a front end for SMTP that multiplexes these many connections into a small number the MTA is comfortable with.

"I think eventually everybody will have to have throttling," said Simpson. "But others disagree."

Tobias Eggendorfer, author of the second tarpits paper, noted that greylisting has begun to fail. This technique, which many people fighting spam favour, relies on requiring senders to retry.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.