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Wednesday, May 22 2024 @ 11:54 MDT

Will spam be the weapon of the new terrorists?

TechnologyFor those of you out there who live in caves, spam, or unsolicited email or comments of a commercial nature, is a huge problem on the internet. Here at castle evil alone I get an average of ten to twelve thousand spam attempts a month against my and my wife's blogs. Now given that this blog is basically a disused off-ramp on the information super-highway with only about 1800 actual visitors a month, most of which look at my model railroad site, a significant amount of traffic here is spam. Now I have taken steps to prevent most of this spam from showing up. I also suspect that most other web sites out there do the same. I also believe that 99.99% of the spam that is generated out there is generated due to pure unadulterated greed. Just because a spammer is greedy, doesn't make them a terrorist, just an annoying drain on the economy. I say a drain on the economy because of the following calculation. Here at castle evil, my internet connection costs about $80 a month (I have a static IP, which they soak you for). About half of that is the static IP so my bandwidth cost is $40 a month. For my $40 I get about 50GB of up/down traffic. Now I haven't eaten this up yet so I'm not getting my money's worth there, but that's an unrelated issue. So if 50GB costs me $40, that makes my per MB cost about 8 cents. Spam attacks eats up about 3.5MB of bandwidth a month (my anti-spam measures keep this down) this works out to a cost for me of 28 cents per month or about $3.36 a year. Big deal you say. Well there is the principle of the thing, me paying over three dollars a year for something I don't want showing up at my computer. There is an additional cost though, time. I spend on average 30 minutes a week dealing with spam. Under my contract with work, were I to be paid by the hour I would make $54.27 an hour (I don't, I'm salaried). This works out to $1411.02 a year. So as economists would put it, spam is costing me $1411.02 of my time a year. This is not an insignificant amount.

It gets less insignificant if you start to look at the larger picture. If we multiply the $1400 spam costs me per year by the number of websites out there it gets even worse. Netcraft reports about 45 million active websites out there. If only 10% are "spamable" that gives us 4.5 million sites being attacked by spam. Multiplying the $1400 needed for anti-spam measures means that there is a drain on the global economy of at least $6.3 BILLION every year. To put that in perspective, the education budget of the province of Alberta is $7.6 billion dollars for primary, secondary and post secondary education and Canada's foreign aid budget is roughly 2.7 billion dollars. The actual cost is likely much more than I've estimated as larger sites would have to spend even more than I do to combat spam. I also haven't touched email spam which would add even more to the total.

Now this is the damage caused by a relatively small group of uncoordinated people who's sole motivation is greed. No imagine the drain and damage to the economy if someone with an ax to grind were to look at this as a way of getting back at the West. Various attacks could be made of commercial sites costing billions to deal with. If enough spam were to be sent, it could clog up the internet, slowing it down, costing even more money, not just in dealing with the spam, but in transporting it. A terror organization could, by using the same tools that the spammers use, do a significant amount of economic damage to the world. Of course, the spammers would be glad to help them, since the tools would be bought from the spammers.

Even if there were no attempt to damage the economy, spamming could be a great tool for a terror organization to raise money. Through stock pump-and-dumb schemes and internet sex sites, terrorists could raise millions to fund more conventional terror operations, not to mention what could be raised through phishing sites. This money would be hard to trace and for the most part would go unnoticed by governments amid the large amount of non-terror spamming going on.

What can be done about it? Well governments would have to take a hard line against spamming. This isn't likely to happen in the western world as the companies that use it to sell their wares have the ears of government and prevent any real anti-spam legislation from being enacted. So we go along basically ignoring the problem, hoping it will not happen. I would suggest that it's only a matter of time till it does, and that it could be prevented if we start now.
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