Back to the ol’ spam-fighting drawing board

Back to the ol’ spam-fighting drawing board

Pilot fish returns from an extended holiday weekend to find his inbox full of spam -- and for once, dozens of the messages seem to be related."I was c

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Pilot fish returns from an extended holiday weekend to find his inbox full of spam — and for once, dozens of the messages seem to be related.

“I was curious, so I didn’t delete all 50 of them right away,” says fish. “The first one was obviously spam — a ‘Hi, do you remember me, can we talk?’ message with a phishing link.

“But the first reply was from an autoresponder at a legal-services company: Thank you for your email. You have reached the email inbox for… Please let us know if you have any questions.

The next message is from another autoresponder, replying not to the spam but to the first autoresponder: Thank you for contacting us. This is an automated response confirming the receipt of your ticket. Our team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Then the human users arrive: “Hello. Can you please advise what this is regarding.” “Who and what is this?” “I have no idea who anyone involved in this email string is or why I am receiving this.”

Next, the inevitable explanation: “My IT person said this type of email is a spam robot. Don’t click on the links. You may receive more of these odd emails. But disregard and ignore them.”

“Which was good advice,” fish says, “but too late for the next few human responses: ‘Looks like some type of phishing email chain and I do not know anyone involved either.’ ‘Phishing probably.’ ‘No idea what this connection is, but you guys all ROCK!’

“At that point, Stockholm Syndrome kicked in when a software company president replied, ‘It’s to bring us all together — perhaps we shouldn’t ignore?'”

Someone from a blood-donation center replies “I like your answer! You just never know!” — and because her reply-to line is the center’s email address for volunteers to give blood, that’s soon flooded with spam too.

Next come jokes and social chatter, followed by some spam victims offering up their own products and services, from beachfront properties to custom-manufactured plastic products — followed by increasingly irritated demands from users to be removed from the thread, mixed with equally irritated “Stop Replying All!” messages.

Eventually someone suggests that the victims “take the opportunity to learn how to create a rule or filter in your email program.” A few spam victims respond thanking him.

“Finally a game designer pointed out that, according to the message headers, everything was being re-sent through a Google group because of an email address in the original spam,” says fish. “He gave specific instructions for unsubscribing from the group.

“An hour after that, there were no more messages. Presumably someone complained to Google and the list was shut down.”

Sharky gets lots of spam, but not nearly enough stories. How about sending me your true tale of IT life this weekend at sharky@computerworld.com? You can also comment on today’s tale at Sharky’s Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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