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Spam Kings: Book Review (Part 1)

A few months ago, I purchased the book Spam Kings, but only recently managed to get around to reading and finishing it.

In case you’ve never read it, it chronicles the stories of some spammers and the anti-spammers who fought them. These anti-spammers are not people like myself in industry; rather, they are users who have received spam who hunt down the source of the spam and work to bring them down.

I found it very interesting. I have to admire the dedication of the people who relentlessly chased down the spammers despite receiving no (or limited) financial compensation. I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to stick with it for years without getting paid for it.

To begin with, I’d like to examine the spammers. Most of them started off as normal people. The reason they spam is purely financial. Spamming pays well and that’s that. These guys are making several thousand dollars per day. They don’t care if people find it annoying, they do it for the profits. If the profits weren’t there, they wouldn’t do it. It reminded me of the movie Thank-you For Smoking.

I’m amazed at the resiliency of the spammers in the face of the anti-spammers. The antis would hunt them down and complain to their ISPs to shut them down, but they’d be back on shortly, spamming as much as ever and not caring about the anti-spammers. I am even more amazed at the brazenness of some of the spammers. They would go on antispam discussion boards and verbally jostle with the people who were working hard to drive them out of business. If I were a spammer, I think I would prefer to operate under the radar and work from the tall grass. I certainly wouldn’t want to be out in the open.

One relationship that intrigued me was that of Scott Richter with another antispammer. Apparently the two of them had a working relationship that bordered on congenial. It reminded me of the movie directed by M. Night Shymalan, what’s it called… Unbreakable. In the movie, the good guy and the bad guy are friends, and often times in comic books, the heroes and villains are often times friends (Professor X and Magneto, Superman and Lex Luthor, me and one of my former co-workers, etc). This reminded me of that. The antispammers are, of course, the heroes.

Anyway, Richter and the anti- would often correspond by AOL instant messenger. They would sometimes feed each other inside information in exchange for helping each other out (ie, talking to the rest of the antispam community vs. giving up dirt on other spammers). Still, I just don’t get it - if I had a business and someone were trying to shut me down as mean-spirited as the anti-spam community was doing, I certainly wouldn’t want to associate with them and I definitely wouldn’t reply to AOL instant messages.

Some spammers run huge operations with a full-time staff, others run it out of their home. In any case, spammers run the whole gamut of types of people. Quite a good read into their habits and motives, tricks and techniques.

Read part 2 of Spam Kings book review.

By Terry Zink, Program Manager

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