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The Lighter Side of Sysadm | Ranting & Raving | Pete's Back Yard


It's Not Us! Spam's Even Viler Side
by Pete Stokely, October 1, 2003

Do you think you hate spam? Really hate it? Naah. You only think you do.

Sure, spam is so self-evidently annoying, time-consuming, costly and sleazy that even congress-critters deplore it. But let's face it. Most of us are really just irritated, members of a pretty non-exclusive club. So were we, until a few weeks ago. Now we're mad as hell. There's a difference.

About two months ago, we entered a new circle of spam-hell. We've been spoofed. A certain percentage of the spam plague is going out under our name. Not only do we have to receive all this crap, we are now perceived as actually having sent it as well.

It started with a smattering of bounced mail notifications. Most of the rejected messages were things sent under our personal names. They contained virus attachments. We double-checked everything. We were not infected, and were not sending the viruses. None of the recipients had domain names we had even heard of, much less had correspondence with. Our personal names were being spoofed into the From line by somebody else, somewhere else.

Bad enough, but then things got much uglier. Celeste, as Postmaster of, began to get avalanches of undeliverable message notifications. This time, the purported senders were not us, but bogus people. Their names were prepended to the domain. Day after day this has gone on. It still continues, seemingly without end. Celeste gets hundreds of bounces a day; these represent only the dead addresses on the spammers' lists. We, of course, can't tell how much actually gets through. It could easily be in the millions.

So what are "we" supposedly sending to these millions all over the world? About what you'd expect. Pitches for Canadian drugs. Genital enlargement schemes. The good old Nigerian Scam. If you see junk like this supposedly sent by us, know that it wasn't. Just delete it.

Has our reputation suffered? In the large, possibly not much. Old-timers to our site know that we stand for "making the world safer for Unix system administrators," as it says on our splash page. They know we will accept no payment or other consideration for recommending a product, and that to ask for such compensated promotion is to guarantee the product will NEVER get our recommendation. In short, we try to shoot straight.

Perhaps for this reason, there has been actually very little mail to us about this scourge, apart from the mailer bounces. But what about people who are first-timers? How are they to tell that we aren't rank hypocrites, preaching integrity on one side and running spamming scams on the other? How about people who know we try to give straight advice, and consequently open something they wouldn't normally, just because it's "from" us?

That's ugly. But that was yesterday. Today things reached a brand-new level of ugliness.

AOL has blacklisted our domain.

Yes, if we try to send you mail from, and you have an AOL address, it will be presumptively regarded as spam. You won't get it. If this scourge doesn't stop, our domain could be added to more and more blacklists. If this happens with your ISP, or on your server, we won't be able to email you, at all, unless we gin up a new private domain name.

That directly and qualitatively hurts our ability to conduct our business and communicate with our friends. That smudges our reputation. That wounds. That infuriates. As Celeste puts it, it's like somebody has stolen your identity and is torturing little animals in your name.

That's why we are almost certainly madder at the spammers than you could be in your wildest dreams. It's unlikely, but not impossible, that we will ever find out the identities of the pustular creeps doing this to us. But we might. The first and last piece of advice I'd give them is this: "You have just won a free trip, punks. Visualize an Intensive Care Unit."

But that's about getting mad, not getting even. We are talking to some heavy hitters about what we can do to combat this (early consensus: "You're hosed.") We know we are not alone; some other outstanding domains have been sullied by spam-spoofing as well. All ideas are welcome. We'll share what we find out. But if you are on AOL, please understand that we might not be able to thank you personally for awhile.

Next:> As the Worm Turns -- The Spam Forgery Saga Continues


Stokely Consulting,
Email: Celeste Stokely | Peter Stokely
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