Friday, April 18, 2008

Regular Janes & Joes Learn About Spam

Now this seems like quite an interesting experiment. Is spam really so bad after all? Well, let's think about it. Spam is mostly an attempt to sell us things we don't need or want, and to the extent that those pesky, excited little messages clog our email boxes and force us to cower behind firewalls, deflecting message from people we actually do want to hear from, it seems that yes, spam is pretty bad. Is it "bad" in some other way? Some spam is scam-mail, and that seems bad. Other spam sells penile enlargement devices, faux vitamins and growth hormones, questionable weight-loss therapies, and "hot, wet girls," and those things just seem more stupid than bad. And then the phishing sort of spam, which is actually criminal in addition to being pathetic.

I hope McAffee tells us what it finds out. One thing its testers better have is credit cards. They're going to need them.


"For the month of April, participants of McAfee's Global S.P.A.M. (Spammed Persistently All Month) Experiment will be intentionally clicking on spam messages to surf these sites, to make purchases and to register for promotions in order to see what the consequence of their actions will lead to.

"We invest a lot of time and money in fighting spam and the message has always been that spam is bad and don't click on it. We really wanted to show what happens if they clicked on it and do it in a reality TV kind of format," said Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee's Avert Labs.

The Global S.P.A.M. Experiment has 50 participants around 10 geographical locations with five in each global region in countries like Germany, Australia, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom. "[Participants] are a cross section of regular Joes and Janes just like you and me," said Marcus. "You got retired teachers, accounts, musicians and writers that will cruise the Internet."

Each participant has been provided with a clean laptop without spam protection and a new e-mail address that shields their identity. After the experiment is over, participants get to keep the laptop once McAfee has cleaned them again.

"We wanted people to see what happens to other people who actually digest the spam and use the spam and follow through what the spam is actually asking them to do. We want them to order the watches, order the e-pharmacy stuff. We want to graphically show what actually happens when you live on diet of spam," Marcus said.

He added that one person per geography has been tasked to buy from spam sites using a pre-paid card so their identity and personal information will not be compromised.

The experiences of each participant are being blogged at the experiment's website.

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