Opinion: Judgements against spammers are a waste of time, try educating users instead

Columns & Opinion, Internet

spam_header.gifMySpace has “won” around £120m from two spammers who used their network to send junk mail to members, but it has little chance of seeing the cash.

It’s no surprise that Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines (who apparently are real people) failed to turn up in court — it’s likely no-one even knows where they live.

By nature, spammers, phishers, and the other assortment of scammers who infest the Internet, hide behind false names, email addresses, and locations. They know what they’re doing is largely illegal, yet they also know it’s notoriously different to track them down.

It’s so easy to set up dodgy web sites and send enticing emails to gullible Internet users that the problem is never going to be eradicated — and certainly not with toothless laws like the United States’ CAN Spam law.

Spamming and phishing works – FACT.

Speaking about the company’s “victory”, Myspace’s chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, confidently proclaimed that, “Anybody who’s been thinking about engaging in spam are [sic] going to say ‘Wow, I better not go there.'” I’m all for the power of positive thinking, but I can’t visualise spammers quaking in their boots, disarming their botnets, and going down to their local Job Centre to get 9-5 employment in retail.

If online criminals aren’t going away (real world ones aren’t, so why should we expect cyberspace to be any different) then it has to be about consumer education instead.

Everyone involved in the PC and Internet supply chain needs to promote safe computing practices.

There are enough messages in the real world about not buying counterfeit goods, not waving your mobile phone around in a public place shouting “please steal this”, not leaving valuables on display in your car, not buying dodgy stuff (or services) on street corners, and so on.

Why are there no prominent messages about not buying from spammers? Come on, some gormless souls are thinking “wow, that medicine sounds great” or “I always wanted a fake //atch” and handing out their credit card details to complete strangers.

gareth_keenan_health_and_safety.jpgCan we also find someone to give common sense tests, too — Gareth from the office perhaps?

Your computer manual probably doesn’t explicitly tell you not to pour a cup of hot coffee down the back of your monitor, but most sensible people (even complete novices) don’t. In any case, the CD tray is for resting your coffee cup on, isn’t it?

I have to marvel at what some people must think is normal online:

Who really knows people called Lobsang Herrick, Buford Frazier, or Jesus Reeves, and why are they trying to sell you stuff?

Is there kudos in seeing how many strangers you can add to your Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo profiles?

Is it really in character for one of your friends to send you a link about male enhancement pills? (If it is, well, lucky you.)

Maybe I’m asking too much, but is it really that difficult to take the basic principles of common sense and personal safety we all (should have) learnt, and use them on the Internet?

There’ll always be those online trying to rip people off, but with better user education and the right software tools, they should be fairly easy to avoid.

Andy Merrett
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