[AI] Happy birthday spam, but no returns please

renuka warriar erenuka at gmail.com
Wed May 7 22:32:34 EDT 2008

Date:08/05/2008 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/seta/2008/05/08/stories/2008050850071600.htm 

Sci Tech 

Happy birthday spam, but no returns please 

There is no sign of abatement as Net baddies use sophisticated 'botnets' 

- Photo: Bijoy Ghosh 
Cracked: Spammers have succeeded in cracking CAPTCHA that was designed to keep automated spam out. 

Not all anniversaries are the occasion for celebration: One birthday in particular, has been attracting hostile notice on the Web. "You are 30 years old,
and while most of us hope that you get a heart attack and die before you are 31, chances are you will outlive us all," was one savage comment at the Australian
portal, IT Wire. Another went: "Happy 30th birthday - but hopefully, no unhappy returns of the day!" 

It is 30 years since the first 'spam' message - unsolicited e-mail - was sent over the Internet. 

The precursor 

On May 3, 1978, Gary Thuerka, salesperson for the Digital Equipment Corporation, sent a mail to 393 users of what was then Arpanet, the precursor to Internet,
inviting them to a demonstration of DEC's latest computer "Digital will be giving a product presentation of the newest members of the decsystem-20 family..we
invite you to come see the 2020 and hear about the decsystem-20 family at the two product presentations we will be giving in California this month."Arpnet's
military administrator sent a strongly worded message to all the addressees of the original mail: ".this was a flagrant violation of the use of arpanet
as the network is to be used for official U.S. Government business only. 

Appropriate action is being taken to preclude its occurrence again. Major Raymond Czahor"


And that was that. For a decade after Internet as we know it today, was born, junk mail was unknown. Today, spam seems unstoppable: While leading Net security
providers like Symantec, TrendMicro or McAfee, as well as all the main e-mail providers, try and filter out as much spam, as they can recognize, it is
still an uphill task:100 billion spasm are sent off everyday. 

Last week, Web security services provider, MessageLabs, released its Intelligence Report for 2008, where it finds that spammers increasingly use sophisticated
new tools like botnets - robot programmes that aim to 'capture' your PC. 

Bots lurk in the background of the captured computer, without destroying files or disrupting the computer's operation. You may be ignorant of the 'dirty
work' afoot, and might only notice slightly sluggish performance of your PC.

New technique 

The report says a new spamming technique is being currently used to get past Yahoo Mail's servers. It has already reached Indian users of Yahoo mail: Kiran
Thakur, former head of Pune University's Journalism Department, has forwarded to The Hindu, a mail he received last week, purportedly from Yahoo 'Customer
Care,' which asks the email account holders to provide confidential details. 

It is clearly not from Yahoo. Dr Thakur has a yahoo.com email ID; so he seems to have been a victim of the attack on Yahoo mail's U.S.-based services. It
is not known to have hit users of yahoo.co.in mail services. 

The semi-annual Symantec Internet Threat Security Report, just released, says, there has been an increasing use of Gmail, Yahoo! and Hotmail, and other
webmail services by spammers. 

They have even succeeded in cracking CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) the technique used by web e-mail
services to prevent wholesale automated account signups by spammers. 

Typically, CAPTCHA requires humans to decipher a string of letters that are distorted to prevent automated reading.


According to 'The Spam Report,' Another spam technique is Backscatter: "The sender simply places the target recipient in the 'from:' header, and then a
random email address in the 'to:' header, so the spam fails to reach its target and bounces straight back to the sender. 

If you want to keep spam-laden 'bots' away from your PC, there is a useful list of hints posted by the IT department of the University of Wisconsinat Madison
( for details, go to 
http://www.doit.wisc.edu/news/story.asp?filename=778 ). 


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