Spam wars heat up

OK, so everyone hates spammers. For me, the only question is whether I hate spammers or hackers more. I go back and forth on that one. Hackers normally cause more direct damage, but spammers are more insidious. Sometimes hackers use spammer techniques too, like we saw with recent government phishing attacks. And GCN reported this week that spam is back on the rise, as spammers who were knocked back on their heels rebuild their networks.

But this week something strange happened, which taught me that spammers hate each other just as much as everyone else hates them.

One of the “advantages” of having a well-established e-mail address protected by a bad spam filter is that I get to see a lot of spam. I actually read a lot of it. Sometimes we will joke in the lab about how poorly written some of the spam e-mails are. But this week took the cake, as dueling spammers tried to discredit each other even as they attempted to gain our trust.

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The first spam came in about 10 a.m. Aug. 16. It started off with the standard spiel. They had been appointed by the United Nations Secretary General to disperse billions in gold found in Nigeria. They just needed my bank account information to transfer it to the United States. I won’t go into how much is wrong with that setup, as I think you all know that gold can’t be wired and that the U.N. probably has the means to fly gold wherever they want, though I doubt they actually do so.

Anyway, other than the fact that this spam was particularly poorly written, it was nothing special. Until I read the last paragraph. There the spammers warned me about another group who was claiming the identical ploy, gave me their names and said the U.N. had not given them any authority. I was advised to delete anything that came from this other group without opening it.

Sure enough, about an hour later, spam came in from the other group. They claimed to be agents of the Nigerian Royal Family, and gave a similar story about gold. At least these new people wrote better, or had a copyeditor in their spamming shack. Anyway they made their play and then tried to discredit the first group, saying they were liars and thieves.

It’s possible that these two groups were working together, or were even the same person. It could be a social-engineering trick to try to get on a reader’s good side, you know, pointing to someone else and saying,“they’re so bad, you need me to protect you from them, and because I’m your friend, I warned you.”

But I don’t know about that. In both cases the warning seemed like an afterthought. The image of spammers sitting around brainstorming and coming up with the U.N. gold angle, and then both trying to claim it first is a funny one I’d like to believe. I can see each spammer rushing to his computer to get the note sent out before the other, and then discrediting their rival just to be spiteful. I’d imagine there are only so many suckers to go around, and the competition for them must be intense. Who knows, perhaps they will start a food fight in the spammer cafeteria if they really begin to hate each other.

Then again, if they can’t hack the pressure, they could always try to get a real job. I hear the U.N. is looking for someone to transfer gold bullion around the world.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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