Spam, On The Lam

The volume of global spam has fallen precipitously in recent months.  According to the security firm Symantec, the volume of spam has fallen from more than 200 billion spam emails per day in August to “only” 50 billion spam emails per day in December.  Of course, 50 billion bits of spam is still 50 billion bits too many.  Still, it is nice to see the numbers drop.  Spam is a good example of how louts can take advantage of a great idea like email and ruin it for everyone.

Experts are wondering what the cause of the drop in spam volume might be and are speculating about whether the decline is permanent.  They wonder if the big-time spammers have stopped because they’ve been arrested, or if regulations have made spamming too difficult and risky, or if the “botnets” that send a lot of the spam have been disabled somehow, or whether spammers are turning to some new campaign.  The reality is, nobody knows.

I wonder if the answer isn’t simpler:  the market is so saturated that spamming just isn’t economical anymore.  After all, is it possible that any red-blooded male hasn’t heard about Viagra or the various options for lengthening and thickening body parts?  Could any person with a computer not be aware of the many simple, no-pain ways of losing weight or quitting smoking, or the satisfying miracle of electronic cigarettes?

According to the “invisible hand” theory of market economics, when supply vastly outstrips demand economic forces will work to bring supply and demand into some kind of equilibrium.  In this instance, the invisible hand may have stopped using the mouse to click on those intriguing “male enhancement” options, and spammers have been forced to look for other lines of work as a result.

New Frontiers In Crime

The FBI recently announced that it has cracked a major international cybercrime ring that sought to hack into computer networks, infect them with a virus, steal bank account information, and then use that information to loot bank accounts.  The criminals were based in eastern Europe — which seems to be the venue of choice for computer crimes these days.

It is good to see that the FBI is having some success in the fight against cybercrime, although I imagine this particular criminal enterprise is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  In our modern, world-wide financial system, where so much commerce is done electronically, computer networks are going to increasingly be the targets of criminal activities.  Why try to break into a bank vault and figure out how to get away with cash, gold, or other physical objects when you can sit in the safety of your apartment in Ukraine, tap a few keys on your laptop to unload a virus to a faraway computer, and then later download files with crucial information about bank accounts worth millions of dollars while you sip your morning coffee?

Cybercrime is going to be one of those areas of criminal activity where there will be constant back and forth between criminals who develop new hacking tools and schemes and law enforcement agencies that work diligently to catch up with the latest techniques.

Likes, Dislikes, And Phony Facebook Apps

There appears to be no end to the ingenuity of scammers, spammers, and computer tricksters.  After the tales of woe from the likes of Ethiopian bankers and Hong Kong divorcees get long in the tooth, the scammers try something different.  There’s nothing newsworthy about new computer schemes . . . unless they have an implicit social commentary message.

So it is with the news stories about a scam that tries to trick Facebook users into installing a “dislike” button to accompany the “like” button on their Facebook page.  If the hapless users do so, the scam puts some false application on their Facebook page that then sends out spam.

What’s interesting about this is that, in the abstract, virtual, touchy-feely world of Facebook “friends,” users would want to have a Facebook application to affirmatively indicate their “dislike” for something.  What’s next?  A rogue application that offers Facebook users the opportunity to refer to themselves in the first person?  A phony program that claims to allow Facebook users to send targeted, anonymous computer viruses to try to discourage further Facebook use by people, like their Mom or Aunt Sue, whom they really don’t want to “friend” but can’t turn down without experiencing massive pangs of guilt?  Facebook users may well have untapped reservoirs of rage, ready to be exploited by the next generation of creative scammers.