Writing Blog

March 3, 2008

SPAM on Usenet

This is one of a series of articles I posted for magiKomputer.
You can view the original version at:
* http://magikomputer.blogspot.com/2008/03/spam-on-usenet.html

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam and junk fax transmissions.

Spamming is economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming is widely reviled, and has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.”

Spam affects about everybody that uses the Internet in one form or another. And in spite of what Bill Gates forecasted in 2004, when he said that “spam will soon be a thing of the past”, it is getting worse by the day. While the European Union’s Internal Market Commission estimated in 2001 that “junk e-mail” cost Internet users €10 billion per year worldwide, the California legislature found that spam cost United States organizations alone more than $13 billion in 2007, including lost productivity and the additional equipment, software, and manpower needed to combat the problem.

Where does all that Spam come from? Experts from SophosLabs (a developer and vendor of security software and hardware) have analyzed spam messages caught by companies involved in the Sophos global spam monitoring network and came out with a list of top 12 countries that spread spam around the globe:

  • USA – 28.4%;
  • South Korea – 5.2%;
  • China (including Hong Kong) – 4.9%;
  • Russia – 4.4%;
  • Brazil – 3.7%;
  • France – 3.6%;
  • Germany – 3.4%;
  • Turkey – 3.%;
  • Poland – 2.7%;
  • Great Britain – 2.4%;
  • Romania – 2.3%;
  • Mexico – 1.9%;
  • Other countries – 33.9%

There are many types of electronic spam, including E-mail spam (unsolicited e-mail), Mobile phone spam (unsolicited text messages, Messaging spam (“SPIM”), use of instant messenger services for advertisement or even extortion, Spam in blogs (“BLAM”), posting random comments or promoting commercial services to blogs, wikis, guestbooks, Forum spam (posting advertisements or useless posts on a forum, Spamdexing, manipulating a search engine to create the illusion of popularity for web pages, Newsgroup spam, advertisement and forgery on newsgroups, etc.

For the purpose of this post we shall focus on Newsgroups spam, the type of spam where the targets are Usenet newsgroups.
Usenet convention defines spamming as excessive multiple posting, that is, the repeated posting of a message (or substantially similar messages). During the early 1990s there was substantial controversy among Usenet system administrators (news admins) over the use of cancel messages to control spam. A cancel message is a directive to news servers to delete a posting, causing it to be inaccessible to those who might read it.
Some regarded this as a bad precedent, leaning towards censorship, while others considered it a proper use of the available tools to control the growing spam problem.
A culture of neutrality towards content precluded defining spam on the basis of advertisement or commercial solicitations. The word “spam” was usually taken to mean excessive multiple posting (EMP), and other neologisms were coined for other abuses — such as “velveeta” (from the processed cheese product) for excessive cross-posting.
A subset of spam was deemed cancellable spam, for which it is considered justified to issue third-party cancel messages.

The Breidbart Index (BI), developed by Seth Breidbart, provides a measure of severity of newsgroup spam by calculating the breadth of any multi-posting, cross-posting, or combination of the two. BI is defined as the sum of the square roots of how many newsgroups each article was posted to. If that number approaches 20, then the posts will probably be canceled by somebody.


The use of the BI and spam-detection software has led to Usenet being policed by anti-spam volunteers, who purge newsgroups of spam by sending cancels and filtering it out on the way into servers.

A related form of Newsgroups spam is forum spam. It usually consists of links, with the dual goals of increasing search engine visibility in highly competitive areas such as sexual invigoration, weight loss, pharmaceuticals, gambling, pornography, real estate or loans, and generating more traffic for these commercial websites.
Spam posts may contain anything from a single link, to dozens of links. Text content is minimal, usually innocuous and unrelated to the forum’s topic. Full banner advertisements have also been reported.
Alternatively, the spam links are posted in the user’s signature,where is more likely to be approved by forum administrators and moderators.
Spam can also be described as posts that have no relevance to the threads topic, or have no purpose in general (e.i, a user typing “CABBAGES!” or other such useless posts in an important news thread).

When Google bought the Usenet archives in 2001, it provided a web interface to text groups (thus turning them into some kind of web forums) through Google Groups, from which more than 800 million messages dating back to 1981 can be accessed.
There are some especially memorable articles and threads in these archives, such as Tim Berners-Lee’s announcement of what became the World Wide Web:
http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=6487%40cernvax.cern.ch
or Linus Torvalds’ post about his “pet project”:
http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1991Oct5.054106.4647%40klaava.Helsinki.FI
You can view a pick of the most relevant posts here:
http://www.google.com/googlegroups/archive_announce_20.html

But Google Groups are responsible for the higher proportion of the spam that floods the Usenet nowadays. Google Groups isn’t the only source, but is the one that makes it easier for spammers to carry out their irritating activities.
It’s so easy to spam Usenet through Google Groups that there are some infamous spammers who have been doing so for years. Perhaps the best known of all is the MI-5 Persecution spammer who gets his way across just about any other newsgroup with rambling postings that often appear as clusters of 20 or more messages all related to Mike Corley’s perceived persecution of himself by MI5, the British intelligence agency. This UK-based spammer readily admits that he suffers from mental illness in several of his postings. He annoys the rest of users in such an exasperating way, that some of them have even offered themselves to the MI-5 to personally finish off the job.

The solution, IMHO, is to implement the Breidbart Index in Google Groups. It would be an easy task for a company that excels at implementing all kinds of algorithms in their search engine, that I just can’t understand what are they waiting for.

More Info:
Newsgroup Spam

November 7, 2007

Get a Second Life

This is one of a series of articles I posted for magiKomputer.
You can view the original version at:
* http://magikomputer.blogspot.com/2007/11/get-second-life.html
Second Life is a virtual online world with a growing population of subscribers (or “residents”). Currently, the community has well over 10,000,000 residents from all over the World.
By providing the residents with robust building and scripting tools, they can create a vast array of in-world objects, installations and programs in the fields of Animation, Audio, Music, Building, Architecture, Clothing, Fashion, Communications, Maps, Scripting, Textures, Prim, etc.

Although Second Life’s interface and display are similar to most popular massively multi-player online role playing games (or MMORPGs), there are two key differences.
First of all, Second Life provides near unlimited freedom to its Residents. This world really is whatever you make it, and your experience is what you want out of it. If you want to hang out with your friends in a garden or nightclub, you can. If you want to go shopping or fight dragons, you can. If you want to start a business, create a game or build a skyscraper you can. It’s up to you.
And you are the legal proprietor of anything you create. Since its early stages, Linden Lab (the producer of Second Life) has allowed its residents to retain full IP rights over their own creations, thereby insuring that their contributions to the community remain truly their own. As a resident you retain full IP rights over any of your in-world creations.

Second Life is the size of a small city, with thousands of servers (called simulators) and a Resident population of over 10,742,897 (and growing). Residents come to the world from over 100 countries with concentrations in North America and the UK.

Demographically, 60% are men, 40% are women and they span in age from 18 – 85. They are gamers, housewives, artists, musicians, programmers, lawyers, firemen, political activists, college students, business owners, active duty military overseas, architects, and medical doctors, to name just a few.

Even if you don’t know how to do 3D modeling, Second Life makes building an easy task, using the built-in tools. And there are lots of daily Resident-run classes and tutorials to help you learn.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVSzh_QTE00

The Second Life client comes with an updated-daily list of public Events, including games, parties, and contests; the Search window is a veritable traveler’s guide to Second Life—the places to see, the people to meet, and much more.

There are dozens of first-person shooters, strategy games, puzzle and adventure games, even board, and puzzle games.
Several regions of the world have been devoted to role playing, and resemble medieval towns, or futuristic cities. The building and scripting system even enables Residents to create their own version of a MMORPG, including hit points, character stats, and all the other classic elements.
Since gamers are a big part of the Second Life community, friendly games of combat are a regular event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7uS6P6ihGk

You can get your own virtual land at Second Life.
Having land in Second Life lets you have an on-going presence in the world, for your home, your business, or whatever other special place you’ve created. Even when you’re not online, your friends or customers can stop by to leave you a message or shop for your latest creation.
To get land you must sign up for the Premium membership. You’ll be able to purchase a 512 square meter plot of land before any land maintenance fees kick-in.
However, you can have as much land as you choose. Change the amount of land you have and your monthly fee will adjust accordingly.
You can also consider purchasing more land through the Second Life auctions or from other Residents. Alternatively, you can join with others who are interested in the project to form a group and pool your land holdings. Groups can collectively acquire and use land.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jy4QlbbRPY

Another option is to get an island in Second Life.
Special island regions are available as a separate purchase. You can choose from several different topologies, control access from the mainland, or even decide to start your own separate community.

When you join the community you are given a small weekly stipend of L$ (Second Life’s official unit-of-trade) when you sign up for a Premium account. Plus you can earn L$ by making and selling goods and services, holding events, and playing games.

Residents can buy and sell in-world L$ from the Linden Dollar Exchange, or from other third party websites. Some of these operators offer convenient in-world “ATM” machines to facilitate transactions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NOHRJB9uyI

You can even start your own business in Second Life.
Shopping is a big part of the Second Life experience for many Residents. You can buy and sell anything that can be made in-world, from clothes, skins, wigs, jewelry, and custom animations for avatars, to furniture, buildings, weapons, vehicles, games, and more. Once you’re ready to bring your products to the market, it’s simply a matter of buying or sub-renting property, for opening up a shop. There are also Resident-owned malls which charge rental fees, or take a cut of your proceeds. As in the real world, the challenge is to build up a reputation that earns a steady stream of customers.
And as in the real world there’s money to be made if you are a successful business person. Real money, I mean.

My overall impression is that this is quite an awesome stuff. It looks like it is going to become the next big thing in our lives, superseding the Internet itself as we know it.
I love the concept, but I have to say that I have this uneasy feeling that somehow there’s something evil in this invention, something that one day will get out of our hands.
Not sure why but it kind of reminds me of the first Terminator movie.
Because the next logical step would be to physically build many of those 3-D human models in the real world. Combine that with the latest advances in artificial intelligence and with the increasing isolation of human beings in today’s societies and you’ll soon get androids living our lives for us.

I don’t know if it happens to anyone else but I’m able to semi-consciously
“choose” my dreams, I mean, I sort of create my dreams to my taste and
discard what I don’t like.
Not always, but many times I can do it. I can even resume some dreams
that I had left half-way through.
One of my favorites is flying. I don’t actually fly, but rather glide
for long distances, as if I were in a place with very low gravity,
just as you can do in SecondLife.

And I’m now having lots of dreams in which I continue to be in that SL
world, flying around, teleporting to strange places, meeting lots of
people, making friends, dancing, meeting beautiful girls by the dozens
and having sex with a large proportion of them. Virtual Sex, that is.
So far.

I am not addicted yet, but all my virtual friends tell me that I will
soon be.

The other day I came across this questionnaire on how Second Life
users are affected by this virtual world in their real lives.
It’s kind of scary, for example, about 30% of users say that SecondLife is the
only thing they find interesting in their lives, or those 30% who say that “The first thing I think about when I wake up is SecondLife”, or the 20% who say that
“In order to be in SecondLife I eat, sleep and/or bathe less.”
Have a look:
http://slsurvey.wordpress.com/survey-result/section-iv-engagement/

I wonder if I should stop now before it’s too late …

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