At 3:15 PM +1000 12/21/04, Laird Breyer wrote:
On Dec 21 2004, John Levine wrote:
>Would it be accurate to say that ASRG is interested in Z-mail
>prevention solutions where Z-mail is a label for some set of
>messages, and Z-mail can be taken to be spam?
Not really. That still implies that there's a fixed set of mail
that ASRG is trying to stamp out. I presume you have looked at
the charter at http://www.irtf.org/charters/asrg.html.
The charter does emphasise that the ASRG is looking for well
specified problems, and makes it clear that a multitude of
techniques to tackle them is desirable. As such, doesn't that
encourage attempts to define spam?
Probably, which is why it needs to be expressly excluded.
This is a relatively young forum for discussions about spam. One
lesson from other places is that there is no point in defining what
is or is not spam because even if there were to be an agreement of
some sort to settle on some useful definition, there will be some
people who want to shun other sorts of mail or some people who think
some subset of spam should not be shunned or both. If one defines
'spam' in some way that is technically discernable with any sort of
useful reliability, so much unsolicited bulk email will be excluded
that practically no one will take that definition seriously. In the
end, debates over what is or is not spam always devolve into
scholastic hair-splitting over things like the nature of permission
and the meaning of 'bulk' or 'broadcast' and so on.
It seems less hopeless to approach the issue of controlling spam in
the same sort of ways that have already proven effective in the
field, and attack subsets of spam that lend themselves to
programmatic detection, in order to narrow the ranges of behavior
that are useful for spammers. A great example is intentional
selective slowing of mail, either by extended response delays in SMTP
or explicit 4xx errors for a 'first try' of a particular piece of
mail. Such tactics do not impede things like the Verisign spam I got
last week, because Verisign hires a class of spammer that tries to
operate above-ground and with some attention to the norms of SMTP and
have their own facilities for sending mail. It DOES impede the
Goodyear and Kraft spam, because those fine upstanding companies
contract with spammers who act as if SMTP runs on a one-way channel.
Simply requiring all SMTP clients to implement certain bits of SMTP
sanely stops a lot of spam, but it doesn't stop all spam and once in
a while it stops mail which no one would call spam. It is absurd to
define spam as mail which is identified by some set of technical
tricks, but existing practice makes it pretty clear that one can do a
fairly effective and precise job of controlling spam by selecting the
right set of technical tricks.
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