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Spamming The Spammers

March 22, 2005

If you're a "South Park" fan, you'll remember in the film version, the character Eric Cartman has a "V-chip" implanted in his brain in an attempt to clean up his language. Every time he utters a naughty word, he gets zapped, resulting in a (luckily, brief) period during which he can't utter his charming and rather anatomically impossible colloquialisms.

While South Park fans everywhere were glad the ploy was a very temporary plot device, computer users will take heart that IBM is about to begin offering a service which will essentially return spam to spammers. Not to the fake e-mail addresses they use, but to their computers. The more spam they send, the more overwhelming the deluge they receive; in effect, a blast from the spam v-chip.

If you find spam as blood-pressure-elevating as I do, take heart that soon, for every penis enlargement e-mail you receive, the perpertrator might be flapping his arms in distress as they all come tumbling back. Now, if we could only arrange the electric shock part, we'd be all set.


NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - IBM is set to unveil a service Tuesday that will send unwanted e-mail back to the spammers who send them, according to a published report Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the new IBM service, to be known as FairUCE, uses a giant database to identify computers that are sending spam.

The paper reports that, using that database, e-mails coming from a computer on the spam list are sent directly back to the computer, not just the e-mail account, that sent them.

"We're doing it to shut this guy down," Stuart McIrvine, IBM's director of corporate security strategy, told the paper. "Every time he tries to send, he gets slammed again."

While this approach of a spam counter-attack has been available for some time, corporate technology departments have been reluctant to use it, partly because of fears of exposing companies to liabilities if a target is actually innocent of spamming.

This anti-spam offering is IBM's first major foray into the anti-spam market. Its executives argue that trying to capture spam with filters or discard it as quickly as possible isn't enough.

IBM says in a new report that, in February, 76 percent of all e-mails were spam. While its report says that is down from a summer 2004 peak of nearly 95 percent, it is well above levels in February 2004.

IBM will have to be careful not to violate anti-hacking laws, which prohibit gaining unauthorized entry to a remote computer system, even in order to stop it from harming yours, according to the paper. But IBM executives said their service will not violate that law, nor other prohibitions on increasing network traffic under "denial of service" rules.

"Yes, we are adding more traffic to the network, but it is in an effort to cut down the longer-term traffic," said McIrvine.

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