Few things seem to piss off more Internet users and SysAdmins (myself included) than unsolicited commercial E-mail, a.k.a. 'spam.' The ongoing problem of spam and spammers was, in fact, a very prominent reason why I wanted to become self-hosted, 'net-wise. Since I would be running the mail servers, I would have ultimate and final authority on who I would or would not transfer mail with.
So far, so good! It has worked out very well, and I've had very few incidences of legitimate mail getting blocked by my spam filtering processes. Really, it's not far different from running a FidoNet BBS, which I did for many years. It's just gotten a little more complex and expensive, that's all.
Spam is a Bad Thing. It shifts the cost of advertising from the spammer to the recipients and SysAdmins that get hit with it. Spammers have little or nothing in the way of ethics, and will think nothing at all of hijacking someone else's server to get their crap out to people who never wanted it to begin with. They'll forge domain names or mail headers without blinking an eye, all so they can further their own greed by hawking "Miracle" weight-loss pills, penis enlargement, porno sites, pyramid scams, drugs of questionable legality and quality... The list goes on forever. Any scam that can be spread in realtime can be spread twice as fast over the Internet.
In short, spamming is no different from sending junk paper mail postage-due, or getting collect calls from telemarketers. How long would you put up with something like that?
The sad part is that many people fall for such scams. If no one ever bought anything from spammers, the entire "profession" would dry up overnight. Unfortunately, as Phineas T. Barnum once noted, "There's a sucker born every minute."
Not really, no. Contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not now, nor has it ever been (with the exception of non-military government servers paid for by taxpayer dollars) a truly "public" resource. It remains today, as it was throughout its formation, a worldwide collection of privately owned and operated computers, routers, switches, and data circuits. The owners of all this stuff have, for the most part, graciously allowed others to use their facilities in exchange for nominal monthly fees.
Even if the 'net itself was considered 'public,' the vast majority of systems connected to it are not, as noted above. I own all my servers. I paid for the hardware itself, and I continue to pay for the bandwidth that supports them, the electricity that runs them, and the time spent maintaining and monitoring their operation. When equipment fails, I pay the cost of the repair in parts and my labor. If someone spams me, they're stealing my private resources for their own gain.
Spamming constitutes trespass to chattel, and theft by conversion, as the courts have already proved with the trial of AOL vs. Cyber Promotions. It is analogous to urinating in a very large swimming pool which the owners allow others to use as long as they don't do things like take a leak in it.
Furthermore, commercial speech is not protected by the U.S. Constitution in the way that spammers would like you to believe it is. While it may be true that any advertiser has the right to say what they will, that right of speech ends abruptly where private property begins. Would you allow someone to paint a billboard on the outside of your home without your consent, and with no offer whatsoever of any compensation?
Perhaps the simplest way to say it is this: Sending E-mail is a privilege, not a right, just like driving. If you drive like an absolute idiot, with no regard for others on the road, you get your license taken away. Similarly, if you abuse the Internet by sending spam, you get your connectivity taken away (at least you do if the ISP is legitimate).
No system on the 'net is under ANY obligation to accept mail traffic from any other. Any SysAdmin on the 'net has absolute authority to accept or deny ANY traffic to/from the servers they maintain, for ANY reason.
Those are the Internet's 'Rules of the Road.' If you don't like them, you're perfectly welcome to start your own network. ;-)
If, after all that, you're still wondering why spam is a Bad Thing, or what's wrong with the idea of "Just Hit Delete," you may want to read my college research paper that I did on the subject. I'm pleased to say that it earned me a 4.0 (A+) grade, both for the paper itself and for the course, as well as a query from the instructor as to whether he could use it as an example for future students.
How to fight back
You can help fight back against spam whether you're an end user or SysAdmin. There are a number of web sites that can give a far better explanation of how to fight back than I have room for, so here's some of the more popular ones.
How to read E-mail headers - A tutorial that will help you decipher E-mail headers, a critical and required skill for serious spam-fighting.
StopSpam - A terrific resource of spam-fighting info for beginners and pros alike.
SpamCop - The name speaks for itself.
'Why Spam is Bad, and What to Do About It' - An excellent article by Odin Wortman, a marketing consultant, on why spam really sucks.
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(Last update: 21-Sep-09)
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