This may seem like a strange question for an anti-spam organization to ask.
CAUCE obviously still cares about email spam, and always will, but does anyone else?
If you talked to your friends or relatives over the holidays and asked them about the amount of spam they get in their inboxes, most of them may tell you that they rarely see it (even basic spam filtering on free email accounts has gotten pretty good).
When you talk to some younger people about email spam, be prepared for them to laugh.
They’ll tell you that when they need to communicate, they’ll usually use some sort of instant messaging, or maybe send text messasges from their Blackberry or their iPhone. Email just isn’t relevant to them any more. (“Sheesh! What will you ask about next? Faxes? Telegrams? Papyrus? Stone tablets? Get with the modern era! Who cares about stupid email?”)
For all those sort of users, email is about as relevant as horse-drawn buggies. Email is archaic. They don’t care about email, much less email spam.
Other users may tell you that they do care about unsolicited email, but if you probe a little, you’ll find that they really only care about certain types of “spam.” Everyone hates spam that might infect their computer with a virus or other malware, and many may find it creepy to get personalized phishing messages, but we empirically know that most spam doesn’t contain malware or phishing-related content.
In fact, we even find ourselves wondering about email spammers themselves.
Do any smart spammers still care about email spamming? When’s the last time you saw anything even relatively creative when it came to spam? I remember being impressed the first time I saw randomized image spam, and fast flux web hosting, but since then I haven’t seen a whole lot in the way of spam-related developments that are very technically impressive. (I think this may be evidence that the smart spammers have already moved on to greener and more lucrative cyber crime fields.)
Sending email spam has acquired an increasingly last-decade (or last-century!) sort of feeling, sort of like being a person from the Eastern Bloc still proudly driving a rattle trap Trabant. The world’s moved on, even if a few Communist-era fossils haven’t.
True, there are some back-of-the-pack guys who are still sending cliché spam for illegal pharmaceuticals and quick-to-break knock-off watches or untrustworthy casinos.
I’m sure it’s partially a matter of intertia. If sending email spam using someone else’s seldom-updated and easily detected spamware is all you really know how to do, well, I suppose that’s what you’re going to keep doing, even if it doesn’t pay nearly as well as it used to. You’re trapped in a dead end job, just like a soon-to-be unemployed factory worker who never got retrained for the the modern era.
In fact, it must be sort of depressing to be a professional email spammer. As a professional email spammer, you really only have two career tracks: mediocrity or infamy.
If you work really hard and end up being one of the rare persons who excels at email spamming, your success virtually guarantees that you’ll be the focus of undesirable attention from law enforcement. They can’t go after everyone, so they understandably like to use what resources they do have to target the rare “spam king” — someone like you.
And then there’s all the waiting. Law enforcement may not work fast, but boy oh boy, some of those guys are pretty dang dogged once they get on your trail. It may take them years and years to get all the paperwork lined up, but these are very patient guys. They will eventually get all the evidence they need, and then they will reach out and arrest you, sometimes just when you’re getting ready to retire somewhere nice and warm.
As a spammer, you do have options. You could intentionally try to “stay small scale” and thus stay off law enforcement’s radar, but if you do, is small scale email spamming even really worth it?
See what I mean when I ask, “Do people really even care about email spam anymore?”
(This article was contributed by a long-time CAUCE supporter who wishes to remain anonymous.)