The State of Email

This morning I sent an email in response to a comment somebody posted on this site, using the email address they supplied. Their comment was good and I wanted to persuade them to write an article.

A few minutes later I happened to check the "Trash" folder in my mail client, Thunderbird, and noticed a reply to the message. It was a system-generated response from a spam-blocking system. The idea being that I read this message, click on a link, fill in a form and click a button. The person who the mail was intended for can then verify who I am. Not likely. I've got better things to do than copy wiggly letters from an image in to a box. What's the world coming to? I can't even send a simple e-mail without filling out forms! I appreciate we all hate spam and it might seem reasonable to require people to fill out these forms. But what if everybody requested these forms to be completed before they accepted email?

Ironically the anti-spam message had been marked as spam by Thunderbird and moved to the "trash" before I even had a chance to see it.

For the last few months my jakehowlett.com domain has been hijacked by spammers and is being used as the reply-to address of hundreds of spams every day. Will Bill Gates save the day and rid the world of spam? I hope so. Something has to be done. Email is fast becoming an ineffective medium for communication.


    • avatar
    • Mikkel Heisterberg
    • Tue 23 Mar 2004 07:15

    As always - Wired to the rescue with a funny comment on SPAM and how it's almost alive...


  1. Personally, I think it's time we just kill email. Really, extremes are needed to end Spam, and email is obviously an enabler of the problem.

    While things are in limbo, I suggest we use IM and discussion boards such as this for communications. Instead of email accounts, people can login to web based email systems that use authentication to deliver messages between nodes.

    Somebody start working on that, hey?

  2. Aw, come on. These tools are extremely handy and I use one.

    The fact of the matter is that you don't have to click anything when you send a message with a response like this. The e-mail is simply placed in a "pending" folder and the owner can go through that at their discretion. If you want your e-mail moved automatically from the "pending" folder ot the Inbox, then you can click the URL or fill out the form, but it's only a one time deal. Any further communication will just go directly to the inbox.

    Is it a nuisance. Yep. Does it dramatically cut down on spam. Yep.

    Long story short: If you don't fill out the form or click the URL, then the message is still delivered. Nothing is getting lost.


  3. Like Jerry, I feel that email, while a perfect example of a killer application, was built on to nieve a foundation, and should be replaced. There are however so many things that contribute to allowing spammer to get a foot hold. Unscrupulous companies prepared to sell mailing lists to spammers. Why do I get 2000 spams a month in my BTInternet mail account, when I have NEVER given the address out. Has it been snooped, have BT been hacked, or did they just give it away?

    I put a lot of the blame on ISP's. Their apparent willingness to carry all this traffic without some form of sender verification is just stunning. Surely its not beyond the wit of man!

    • avatar
    • James Jennett
    • Wed 24 Mar 2004 03:21

    I find email is pretty useful - wouldn't like to live without it.

    How about this:

    You declare the email addresses of trusted people to your email app/isp. By default, only messages from these people can mail straight to you.

    If someone else wants to send you unsolicited mail, then they have to go through a process like Jake had to, and give a reason, before the mail being delivered.

    The recipient can check the reason and decide whether to trust the new sender or not.

    It stops spam as spambots will not be able to authenticate or give a valid reason. And to be honest, is it not true that 99% of email comes from and is sent to people we know?


    What would appear in your inbox:

    Request to mail you

    From: A.Person@company.com

    Reason: A question about your use of the $$HereIsAllTheInfoYou'llEverNeed field.

    Spam won't be able to decipher the wiggly characters etc to authenticate. Unless... they pay a load of Indians to do this before sending on the spam with a reason of "Need to tell you about some fantastic herbal viagra" etc...

    No offence to our Indian brethren but the western world perceives you as well-educated and cheap labour.

    • avatar
    • Doug Powell
    • Wed 24 Mar 2004 09:40

    We may consider blocking all attachments, unless the sender's email address is on a white-list. A few weeks ago one of our users deleted a few gigs of data off the main file server. He opened an attachment received from the Internet. It was something new that slipped by our anti-virus checkers.

    The next problem is that SMTP headers can be spoofed. Does that mean we require all emails with attachments to have a digital signature?

    And of course, there's the next problem of "bounced" SMTP mail that you never sent in the first place. It's the new form of spam -- a delivery failure report with an attachment!

    • avatar
    • James Jennett
    • Thu 25 Mar 2004 05:04

    Mobile phone company "Carphone Warehouse" binned email last year. The whole lot. I remember listening to an interview with their MD who told them to use a phone and *speak* to someone rather than spend ages cobbling mails together on a PC.

    Saved them coins!

    • avatar
    • Angry Indian
    • Thu 25 Mar 2004 05:38

    Hey I am Indian, I am offended.

    and am not well edukated and am very very expensive labour.

    • avatar
    • James Jennett
    • Mon 29 Mar 2004 02:16

    Be joining the club, my friend!

  4. Was reading - {Link} - some useful anti-spam tips.

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Written by Jake Howlett on Tue 23 Mar 2004

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