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Earthquake in Asia, Spam Plummets

An earthquake on Tuesday near Taiwan caused widespread disruption to telephone and Internet networks. The quake affected an area of the sea bottom with a lot of undersea cables that broke, and since there is only a limited number of cable repair ships, it will take at least weeks to fish them up and splice them.

China and Korea were heavily affected, with most of their connectivity to the rest of the world cut off. Not surprisingly, this meant that the rest of the world got a lot less spam, too. Neither country is the haven for overt spammers that it used to be, but both have large broadband networks with vast numbers of virus controlled zombie computers. One large network in North America saw their mail from Korea drop by 90% and from China by 99%. Since the mail sent from those countries to the US is typically 99% spam and 1% legitimate mail, the earthquake’s effect on e-mail was, to a first approximation, to get rid of a lot of spam. Brett Glass, a journalist who runs a small rural ISP in Wyoming, noted that if the affected countries dealt more effectively with their spam, they might not well have needed all of the capacity they’d lost.

China and Korea are not alone in sending 99% spam; I see many countries in Europe, South America, and elsewhere in Asia that are just as bad. It would be nice if this were a wakeup call to networks to deal with parasitic usage, but I’m not holding my breath.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker

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Tom Vest  –  Dec 28, 2006 8:13 PM

Hi John… one assumes that the share of IP traffic associated with email (at the subscriber, ISP, AS, national, and/or continental levels) drops off pretty rapidly in parallel with the appropriately weighted local cost of Internet access—as it is overtaken first by html, and then streaming and other rich media content delivery. Is this a fair generalization? Does it match your own experience? If so, do you have any sense of where the break-even point is, e.g., which economies are wealthy enough or enjoy affordable-enough connectivity for email to be (just) a marginal contribution to overall outbound traffic?

If all of the above is off-base, and email/spam really continues to represent a large share of outbound traffic for many countries (esp. in this region), that might have very interesting implications for Internet traffic exchange in general…

George Kirikos  –  Dec 28, 2006 11:30 PM

I’m seeing 25% less spam the past couple of days (typically more than 1000 spams/day here). However, it’s already creeping back up, as spammers route around the damage.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Dec 29, 2006 4:59 AM

Brett’s figures are way off base from being in a state with less than 2% asian population, and the total population of WY being less than that of just washington, DC .. the population of that one horse burg he lives in is less than half the population of American Samoa.

So even his figure of “95% of the email from asian countries is spam” is yet another conventional piece of wisdom that I keep seeing bandied around, and supported by the “guy I met in a bar told me that, so it must be true” kind of facts [what stats he has are going to be severely affected by the demographics of WY as well ..]

Martin Hannigan  –  Dec 30, 2006 9:42 PM

Hi John:

Brett Glass, a journalist who runs a small rural ISP in Wyoming, noted that if the affected countries dealt more effectively with their spam, they might not well have needed all of the capacity they’d lost.

I’m seeing about a 10% reduction inbound, which is in line with locally normalized periods prior to the quake. I’ll have more granularity at months end, but based on a correlation to DNS queries, I’m not seeing it that specifically large.

I’d like to see Brett justify that statement a little better.

Best Regards,


Ralph Hightower  –  Jan 7, 2007 12:36 AM is one region that should also have their own internet.

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