Sobig a Problem

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If you haven't at least encountered the Sobig virus in your inbox you must not get much email. Estimates are that 75% of all mail could be Sobig or a Sobig-caused error message. Time to retool the system.

The only possible solution is sender-pays email. Right now we have a classic tragedy of the commons situation where spammers and abusers have the most incentive to turn the email network to their own purposes. Service providers correctly make no warranty about the integrity of email. Look at your terms of service agreement and you may find that email is defined as an "added benefit" quite apart from the connection you buy. If so, then your email could go away forever tomorrow and there is nothing you could do except find another provider.

That wouldn't be the case if email service was the subject of a contract. On the other end, consumers would have more incentive to apply the patches and the security regimes to protect themselves—and their investment—if they wrote a check specifically for email each month.

Such a system wouldn't be bulletproof, but it would much better than either the current mess or whatever is likely to result from having the feds write laws in a futile attempt to stop spam.

NEXT: Krass Realism

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  1. I haven’t taken more of tecnical interest in this precisely because I was heretofore unaffected. Using a mac left me virus free and using Mindspring then Cox, I literally went for 7 years without any spam.

    So we turn off the internet for a few months because we moved and we just weren’t using it enough to bother with it. When I go to get back on the net, I tried MSN DSL on a whim and we instantly received piles of spam, before I had even sent anything but test emails.

    I go back to cox and now we get a few but they are already tapering off.

    Why is this?

  2. i dunno…i use a mac at work (design) and a pc at home (audio editing/production) and i haven’t had a virus on either in, oh…ever.

    then again, i know what i’m doing because i take the time to research something before i get into it, whatever it may be. most of the fuckwits buying computers today are the equivalent of drivers who don’t know anything about a car except how to tune the radio. maybe they’re better off buying overpriced – though extremely stylish once you move away from all those girlie colors – desk lamps.

  3. 1. The fact that you can buy a Mac means windows is not a monopoly. Also, there are loads of mail clients that run on Windows.

    2. Equivalently performing Macs are more expensive than a Dell or Gateway, etc. You really can’t say that they aren’t.

    3. If Macs were more popular than Windows boxes, worms would be written for them.

    If people really wanted it, a secure mail system could be developed that would run alongside the current one, could be a fee based system, would stop spam, and reduce worms and virus transmission. There is no reason that the government needs to get involoved. The fact is that the market doesn’t want that.

  4. JDM: 1. Your understanding of a monopoly is rather narrow. Do you think there are any monopolies in existence today?
    2. Wrong. It’s not possible to buy a Mac that sucks equivalent to a Windows machine. It is worth it to Mac users to pay slightly more for the superior OS and added stability, since Windows machines clearly can’t offer that option.
    3. You are right about worms being possible for Macs. The problem with the Windows monopoly is that one little wriggly worm can gum up the whole internet. I’d like to see a bunch of competing OS’s out there so that no single worm could do the damage of Sobig.

  5. At the upper end of computer performance, macs are a little more expensive but at the lower levels of say the eMac, there is absolutely no match for it in the PC ranks. This is because a stripped down Mac still retains the most valuable Mac attribute; its stability and ease of operation.

    I am a great defender of Microsoft and Gates on the grounds that they are indeed not a monopoly. Their products still stink to high heaven. . .

    Back to my tech question though; with MSN, there is obviously some shenanigans going on in the acquisition of email addresses (see my above post) and with other ISPs I have little to no spam. It?s not a difference of who I?m emailing/receiving from or where I?m surfing, it?s the ISP. In my individual case, I?ve proven this.

    So is it something internal that MSN is doing, surreptitiously selling addresses or something so flawed about their system that people can tap into them?

  6. JDM:

    1) We’re in agreement on this one, but almost no one else understands it.

    2) You’re mistaken. At the bottom of the line, you can find examples where there’s a cheaper Dell alternative, but it’s NOT true at the middle or upper part of the line — if you’re comparing comparable performance (and if you buy your extra RAM from someone other than Apple, which overprices add-ons like that, IMO). And when it comes to servers, the Apple Xserve has a HUGE price/performance over Dell as a departmental server. Even tech writers in major IT publications are starting to acknowledge that Macs are competitively priced compared to similar performance from top Wintel vendors. If we were to concede your point for the sake of discussion, how much is your TIME worth? You’ll consistently spend much less of your time getting a Mac to do what you want it to do. Is it worth an extra $100 or $200 or whatever to be more productive for the next three years? I haven’t seen this study done since Mac OS X came out, but the research I saw in the past comparing the old Mac OS to Windows consistently showed that the Mac did better on total cost of ownership and in the efficiency of the users. (This statistic is old enough now to be getting meaningless, but I remember at one time a study showed that the typical Windows user spent 24 percent of his computing time interacting with the OS, whereas the average Mac user spent 8 percent of his computer time performing those same tasks.)

    3) True, but not relevant. We’re making choices in the existing environment, which is one in which there is almost zero probability of being hit by a virus or worm on a Mac. Whether the reason for that is technical or low market share doesn’t make any difference.

  7. Ray: I think spammers sometimes just generate possible email addresses to see what stays sent. I remember seeing spam with hundreds of addresses, all at the same ISP, all starting with the same letter and it looked to me like a computer was just trying possible names: bill, billa, billb, billc etc… all @msn.com or whatever. Maybe that’s how they found you so fast.

  8. JDM:

    If Macs were more popular than Windows boxes, worms would be written for them.

    If that were true, wouldn’t Mac worms be equivalent to their installed base (around 13% of computers)?

    And how come there aren’t any Novell worms or Thunderbird (Mozilla Mail) worms?

    It’s because it is trivially easy to exploit the broken security model of Outlook and its derivatives.

    Further proof that MS’s security is to blame? MS has nowhere near the monopoly on servers that they do on the desktop. Yet most cracks for servers are against MS products, far out of proportion to their market share.

    Once again, it is simply easier to write a worm/crack/virus for a Windows and Outlook-based machine than for any other platform.

    Use Windows if you like, there’s absolutely nobody stopping you. However, admit to yourself that you’re contributing to the worm problem when you do and that’s the tradeoff you make for saving $200 (over a Mac) and getting more games (than Mac or Linux).

  9. MIT puts out a tech magazine that ran an article last year on how flawed the MS software really is.

    Their basic premise was that the underlying code was shoddy but not garbage and then MS simply kept building on barely adequate programming, thus magnifying each underlying problem. They didn’t get into the economic/marketing of it, but MS can do this because the computer consumer public enables them.

    Building on McElroy was posting: if you were a delivery driver who got paid for each piece of mail or merchandise delivered you would of course have incentive to deliver more per day. Would you choose a truck that you had to spend 24% of your time just to get the truck to run or a truck that only required 8%?

  10. Ray: But the Windows truck has more games!

  11. David,

    If you prefer Macs, and think they are a better buy, then buy one. The market doesn’t think so. If I were to grant that a Mac is a superior machine in turns of stability (not true with XP), ease of use, etc, then main reason must be Wintel’s huge, thoroughly documented price performance advantage. Perhaps you’d prefer a command economy. The market sure must be stupid.

    “If that were true, wouldn’t Mac worms be equivalent to their installed base (around 13% of computers)?”

    Not at all. Even if Outlook is the easiest client to write an email worm against, if it disappeared the worms would appear at the next weakest link in the chain. I’ve been writing network code for 10 years, both for the IP networks/Internet, and mobile telephony networks. If the mobile network (which tries to only allow secured known devices to attach to it) isn’t secure, how would something as open as SMTP ever be?

  12. “They didn’t get into the economic/marketing of it, but MS can do this because the computer consumer public enables them.”

    People prefer features to stability. The market made, and continues to make, it’s choice. As the market demands more secure stable software, MS will adapt or be replaced by someone who can.

  13. Command eonomy, . . .monopolies, whatever.

    The computer savvy people who prefer MS only do so, IMO, in the same vein that guys like to tinker and care for tempermental old cars. It feeds the gadgety little engineer within most of us.

    The rest of the consumer public, on more issues than just this, are basically bleating, unthinking sheep.

    I’m a little bit of a misanthrope, did I mention that?

    McElroy. What email/spam software do you use? I don’t have any filters yet as I’ve not really needed it but I ‘m sure I will.

  14. “Command eonomy, . . .monopolies, whatever.”

    Again, Windows is not a monopoly in itself, even if its emoromous market share allows it to sometimes act as one. In spite of economic theory, there is no magic point at which a company suddenly is transformed into a monopoly. It’s a matter of degrees.

    There is no way to reasonably say, however, that MS has a monopoly on email clients.

  15. JDM,

    Don’t mistake me, I’m a capitalist before I’m a conservative, libertarian or whatever monkiker anyone wants to throw out.

    MS is definitely not a monopoly. If it were, we wouldn’t be having this exact conversation.

  16. “There is no way to reasonably say, however, that MS has a monopoly on email clients.”

    Just on incredibly worm-friendly ones. 😉

  17. JDM:

    You are SERIOUSLY reaching when you say that, “perhaps (I would) prefer a command economy.” The most charitable thing I can think of to call that is a red herring. I’ve not said anything even vaguely suggesting that I want such, and it’s intellectually dishonest to imply that I might have.

    Yes, the market CAN make mistakes, if you define a mistake as some product becoming the market leader despite a price/performance advantage for another product. If that weren’t true, we would all be using generic aspirin instead of paying a premium for a brand name such as Bayer. Just because the market chooses a solution doesn’t mean it is the perfect one. (The marketing books by Al Ries and Jack Trout are excellent in explaining why this happens; they say, rightly IMO, that marketing is a battle of perceptions, not facts.) I simply favor the market because a) it TENDS to choose correctly more often than not (and certainly better than the alternative), and b) individuals have the moral right to make their own decisions, even if I think they’re wrong.

    Despite what you clearly think, there is no “huge, thoroughly documented price performance advantage” for Windows. It just doesn’t exist, particularly when you look at total cost of ownership instead of just the cost of hardware. People believe that simply because they’ve heard it often enough. But the truth is slowly STARTING to come out. I can think of two IT-oriented columns I’ve read in the past week which touch on the fact that the Mac CAN be a cost-effective solution in corporate environments. Robert X. Cringely touched on it for a few paragraphs in this column (http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20030814.html), and there was another one in a mainstream IT publication saying that IT people had to get over three myths about Macs in order to make smart buying decisions. (Unfortunately, I can’t recall where it was at the moment.)

    Your opening statement implies that I’m somehow trying to force people to buy Macs. Truthfully, I don’t CARE whether most people have Macs, and I honestly don’t want my competitors to have them — because they’re a competitive advantage for those of us who have removed the MS blinders. The only reason that it’s come up in this context is to show that people DO have choices that can keep them from facing the virus and worm problems that come with Windows.

    You included your response to someone else’s comment about the number of worms and viruses written for various platforms in your response to me. I hope you know I didn’t make that statement. I certainly understand that the market leader is going to be attacked (by malware writers) out of proportion to market share, in general, although that STILL doesn’t explain why insecure MS servers are exploited far MORE frequently than Unix servers, which still have the upper hand among Internet servers in market share.

  18. Ray:

    In answer to your question, I use the spam filtering that’s built into Apple Mail in Mac OS X (10.2.6). Between the built-in rules that “learn” as you mark spam while it’s in “training mode” and the other rules that you can add on your own, there is very little that gets past it. It is VERY customizable. About once a day, I glance over the headers in my junk mail folder before deleting them (just to make sure nothing was mistakenly junked). I typically get somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 pieces of mail every day that go to the junk mail folder, which is why I don’t mind having my e-mail address listed in a place like this, even though I know that spammers harvest addresses on such pages. The system has been incredibly effective for me. Developers who have had access to early builds of Panther (10.3) have told me that the new version of Mail is even better at catching spam, whch I find hard to believe, since it’s already working so well in my case.

  19. “The most charitable thing I can think of to call that is a red herring.”

    I’m not seriously saying that you would, merely highlighting that one ot the beauties of the free market is its ruthless efficiency. It’s hard to fathom how it could have made a mistake that large. We’re talking about businesses and professionals choosing to spend billions upon billions of dollars more than they should have for something with easily measurable performance parameters. Is that logical proof? No but it is certainly compelling evidence.

    It’s certainly possible that Macs could be cost effective now for some offices, if they have an interface that makes people more productive for particular tasks, but still lag behind in performance and way behind in price/performance measures. Most users have no need of a 3 Ghz processor, but that doesn’t mean that there is no advantage to having it (espcially for certain applications), or that a Wintel machine that is essentially equivalent to a high end Mac is not cheaper.

    “Your opening statement implies that I’m somehow trying to force people to buy Macs.”

    I’m just saying you can overspend if you like, but there’s no point in ignoring that a Wintel machine has advantages as well, especially the easily measurable ones, just because you prefer the Mac.

    Also, I’ve done Mac development, and used Macs. Perhaps this isn’t true of OS X, but 6 years ago, the Mac seemed obscenely unstable, even compared to Windows 95. Perhaps their networking just sucked, but to say that Macs have historically been more stable is subjective. Neither of them was anything like as stable as the IRIX and Solaris Servers I was also working on at the time. They were also nothing like the XP or Linux platforms I’ve been working on recently, or I’d imagine (though I haven’t used it) OS X.

  20. That idea is not technically feasible without massively regulating the Internet.

  21. I agree this is a huge problem. However the technical state of the Internet, particularly SMTP (the protocol used to send e-mail), does not lend itself to successful solutions like this.

    1) Spammers, the ones intentionally culpable of sending bulk mail that can overload servers, do not send from their e-mail account. They hijack an unsecured server and either use a very few e-mails or use non-e-mail protocols entirely to trick it into sending their e-mails for them. This would bypass any client-side metering or pass the cost to an innocent party whose account was hijacked.

    2) Arguably, worms like SoBig are not intentional. Despite the fact that I don’t use a system that can be attacked by SoBig, I have received several e-mails claiming that I attempted to send it to people I don’t know. That generally means that the worm is altering the “from” and possibly the “reply-to” address to a random name out of an address book, delaying the victim whose computer is being used to send the worm from finding out by the number of bounced messages they receive. Neither I (with clean systems) nor the person whose computer has been hijacked by the worm are ultimately culpable. Who would you charge?

    The one thing charging in the latter instance would do is to cause people to either patch their systems religiously, or switch altogether away from the real problem: the broken security in MS Outlook and Exchange. It is possible to write viruses and worms for other systems, but it’s the ease of writing them for MS Outlook and the lax security of its model that have made it more popular. The number of successful worms is all out of proportion to Outlook’s marketshare.

    So if your argument is, change to sender-pays to force people away from Outlook and its derivatives (and hopefully force MS to fix it, as it is currently the most useful communications suite out there), I’d agree with you. If you are recommending it as a way to combat all spam, worms, and virii, I think you will be disappointed.

    But if it helps me administer a cluebat to my PHBs, I’m all for it.

  22. i’m mostly down with you guys, but this is plain silly. the biggest problem is the meeting of unskilled broadband users who don’t know how to set up a simple firewall and MS’s terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE TERRIBLE (etc) software suite. paying for email would just result in more money paid per month for the same load of shit.

  23. I’d like to see someone get every nation in the world to agree to fees for email. As it is now, I don’t use the account that came from my ISP, I don’t even know what it is. If the US passed laws requiring a fee for emails, I’d just switch to my to the account that comes with my Canadian web host.

    The real problem is SMTP, the protocol is too trusting and assumes that every message is from who it claims and is legitimate. It’s a relic from the time when the Internet was an academic tool and needs to be replaced.

    I’ve probably gotten 1000+ copies of the virus at my work address, since it’s plastered all over my department’s website, and I’m subscribed to several mailing lists that are getting hit. It’s not really a problem though, if you set filters to catch the subject lines of the email. There are only about 10 variations, and they all get sent to the trash before I see them.

    99% of the problem is cause because people are too stupid to know not to click on suspicous files attached to emails. You’d think people working and attending at the top university in country would be brighter…..

  24. There are three major problems with a “sender-pays” email system, two of which are remidable and the third of which is probably fatal.

    The first flaw is that if the payments are small then small sites (like, for instance, my company) will pay more in transactional costs than in actual email tariffs. There is no way to pay $0.15 efficiently — this is one of the internet’s constant problems.

    The second flaw is that such a system would require massive, international regulation. Email would have to bear some sort of tarriff stamp, which would have to be issued by some sort of commonly trusted authority, which would (whether governmental, multinational, or private) accumulate so much power over the network that it could strangle the network’s libertarian spirit.

    Third, for such a scheme to be widely adopted it would have to be rolled out by regulatory means. The system of progressive, cooperative rollouts that in theory should work has failed for nearly all SMTP enhancements.

    Problems one and two are remediable by coming up with a scheme in whcih the sender has to bear a cost, but that cost is not monetary. HashCash is an example of such a system — it lets receivers impose a _computational_ (rather than monetary or legal) burden on senders, which means that sending huge piles of messages does bear a cost.

    But the third problem — large-scale coordinated rollout — remains intractable.
    –G

  25. Charging the sender won’t work. Most of my thoughts have already been posted in comments above, so I just wanted to add a big BOOOOOOO!

    It is like saying:
    “The damn highways are too crowded these days. Look, the traffic even causes wrecks at times. Ah, that damn tragedy of commons again. I know, let’s start charging people every time they start their car to drive anywhere! That will really make the US an easier place to travel and lessen traffic! We’ll install a credit card swiper in every American-made car which must be used before the car starts.”

    How many people you think would just buy an import?

    How a libertarian thinker can propose such a regulation-heavy idea is beyond me. Go ahead and set up an account like this if you would like and pay all you want. I’ll pick a free account.

  26. Why the sudden call for regulation and tariffs? This is merely a commercial issue: MS, the monopolist, is selling us crap. Let the monopoly fix the probelm or die.

  27. I concur, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol in itself is too leaky to secure effectively. However, there are ways of blocking spammers from using the mail servers on a system using routing rules and firewalls. The big problem, however, is the many systems connected to the internet that don’t have knowledgable administrators. All those home PCs with broadband connections running unpatch versions of one OS or another are just one example.

    With viruses, some of the problems with email viruses are caused by security flaws in Microsoft E-mail programs. These viruses exploit some security hole in a “valuable feature” of the email reader. Going to the ISO OSI model of networking, SMTP is just a transport layer, it is up to the applications to be secure. Of course, these viruses also exploit the weakest part of any secure system, the human operator. If I didn’t know better, I would of course open an attachment in and email from a random stranger with the subject “Naked Pictures of Anna Kornakovia!1!!”

  28. Nothing in a sender-pays system would require one jot of regulation or the least bit of coordination. There already exist anti-spam services which essentially charge you for safe email. No one regulates them. What is needed is industry leaders and maybe a few policy wonks to stand up and say, “Look, it was fun but “free” email is over. If email is important to you, you’re going ot have to pay for it.” The old “free” system would still exist, just as unmoderated, spam-filled newsgroups rattle on. Hopefully that would spur enuf demand for secure email that several competitors would spring up to meet that demand. It would take years for such services to catch on, but I don’t see how implementing a new, more secure protocol from the top-down would be any quicker. And these are the only two options, right? Top-down vetting or bottom-up vetting?

  29. Hmmm…the internet has long been touted as being libertarian but now it’s a commons.

  30. Couple more salvos: Challenge response is the pits for mailing lists. WinWare could dry up and blow away tomorrow and within a month we’d be right back here, the incentive to spoof and spam remains.. Look where we are headed, Merrill Lynch and others have already banned AOL and other outside ISPs from employee desktops. The next step is to ban all “non-secure” mail. Oh, and Mac users do Jobs in their pants. Out.

  31. Couple more salvos: Challenge response is the pits for mailing lists. WinWare could dry up and blow away tomorrow and within a month we’d be right back here, the incentive to spoof and spam remains.. Look where we are headed, Merrill Lynch and others have already banned AOL and other outside ISPs from employee desktops. The next step is to ban all “non-secure” mail. Oh, and Mac users do Jobs in their pants. Out.

  32. I don’t have any personal insights or ideas to add to the subject but, let us remember, the government screws everything up and once they’re in the door, they’re like the house guest from hell. They’ll eat our food, pee on the back of the toilet and generally ruin our stuff.

    I was with MSN very briefly where we received hundreds of spams a week. I switched back to Cox cable and now we get two or three a week. I don’t know what the connection is but I’m ok with this arrangement for now and if it gets worse, I’ll buy something to fix it.

    The default fix for anything and everything is the market.

  33. I agree with Jeff Taylor’s sensible suggestion, and wonder at the people who think that a sender-pays email system must be mandated or regulated by government. Are we all still using gopher and ntalk, because no authority told us to use HTTP and instant messaging?

  34. Every time a new virus or worm comes down the pike, I read articles saying that there’s nothing a user can do, yet the only way these things ever affect me is through slowing other peoples’ computers, not mine. That’s because I choose to use something OTHER than a Microsoft operating system. I started out in the DOS and Windows world, but (for various reasons) switched to Macintosh. FUD and myths that keep many people from considering Macs are FAR less scary than the reality of life in the MS “ecosystem.”

    I don’t want to pay for sending e-mail, because the current system works very well for me. My software intelligently filters spam (and learns more about what I consider spam as it goes). I don’t have to worry about viruses and worms, because my system is immune to them. And I have a much nicer user experience with my Unix-based Mac operating system than those of my friends who wrestle daily with the bizarre mess that Windows has become.

    Why should I pay for the fact that so many OTHER people choose to live in the MS monoculture? Those of us who use Macs or Linux or BSD or some other Unix variant have made a choice that protects us from the problems you experience. There IS a choice, so speaking of “the commons” in this case is just plain wrong. A big part of the solution is for people to realize that there IS a choice other than choosing Windows just because “everyone else” does.

    As a libertarian, I opposed the anti-trust action against MS, even though I think the company writes really bad software in many cases and some of its business practices come very close to being fraudulent, to put it as charitably as possible. That’s because NO ONE is forced to buy MS products. The same logic applies here. No one is forcing you to buy computer tools which are subject to the problems you’re having. It’s YOUR choice, not mine. I don’t have the problem, because I made a different choice. Please don’t try to force ME to pay for the choices that you and other people make.

  35. I’m getting as much spam from poorly concieved anti-virus stoftware falsely accusing me of sending the virus to people as I am from people who are actually infected.

    I only send digitally signed email – so it is impossible to forge a message from me. People who know me understand that everything from me is signed and they know to be suspcicious of unsigned messages. In fact, if a message is tampered with in any way, it throws big red flags and warns the user of the interference.

    Best of all, S/MIME (the technology I use for digital signatures and encryption) is built into about 90% of the email clients in the world already, so there is nothing to install.

    I’ve been using it for a year. You can start using it for free today by getting a personal email cert from one of these two companies:

    http://www.thawte.com/html/COMMUNITY/personal/index.html

    http://www.instantssl.com/ssl-certificate-products/free-email-certificate.html

    Forging email is incredibly easy (and frequently used by spammers) though amazingly you never hear of it abused to it’s potential.

    For example, you could send an email from your boss to a co-worker asking them to complete some absurd task – then sit back and watch the fun as your boss denies making the request (or your co-worker completes the silly task).

    Keep in mind that most email headers detail which mail server the message came from. Savvy users will check for this – but as long as you are on the same mail server as the spoofed sender, most people won’t be the wiser.

    After sending a few messages to friends from each other, they all decided to start using S/MIME to prevent future spoofing.

  36. Here’s the 2 reasons I stay with Windows:

    1. Since my PC is my primary gaming machine I want to have the larges selection of titles available and not have to wait months for them to be ported.
    2. I love to build my own PC, upgrade, and tweak it without hassle and without spending a lot of money. When the MAC OS is compatable with AMD or Intel chips and all PC accessories I’ll consider switching. Linux is pretty much there, I don’t mind the extra research I’d have to do to make sure everything worked well together.

  37. David,

    The fact that you own a Mac and filter your mail doesn’t mean you don’t pay for spam and Internet worms. These things cost ISPs money, which means it costs you money when you pay them. You might actually *save* money if you switched to a sender-pays email system. If I owned an ISP, I would offer two different services to my customers. For $n/month, you could get sender-pays email plus unlimited SMTP email. For less than that, you could get just sender-pays email.

  38. Good news! The Feds are on the case. I recently got this message in my email!

    —————————————–

    Under proposed legislation, the US Postal
    Service will be attempting to bill E-mail users
    out of alternative postage fees”. Bill 602P
    will permit the Federal Government to charge a
    5-cent surcharge on every E-Mail delivered, by
    billing Internet Service Providers at source.
    The consumer would then be billed in turn by
    the ISP. Washington DC lawyer Richard Stepp is
    working without pay to prevent this legislation
    from becoming law. The US Postal Service is
    claiming lost revenue, due to the proliferation
    of E-mail, is costing nearly $230,000,000 in
    revenue per year. You may have noticed their
    recent ad campaign: “There is nothing like a
    letter.”

    Since the average person received about 10
    pieces of E-mail per day in 1998, the cost of
    the typical individual would be an additional
    50 cents a day – or over $180 per year – above
    and beyond their regular Internet costs. Note
    that this would be money paid directly to the
    US Postal Service for a service they do not
    even provide. The whole point of the Internet
    is democracy and noninterference. You are
    already paying an exorbitant price for snail
    mail because of bureaucratic efficiency. It
    currently takes up to 6 days for a letter to be
    delivered from coast to coast. If the US Postal
    Service is allowed to tinker with E-mail, it
    will mark the end of the “free” Internet in the
    United States. Our congressional
    representative, Tony Schnell (R) has even
    suggested a 20-$40 per month surcharge on all
    Internet service” above and beyond the
    governments proposed E-mail charges.

    Note that most of the major newspapers have
    ignored the story – the only exception being
    the Washingtonian – which called the idea of
    E-mail surcharge “a useful concept who’s time
    has come” March 6th, 1999 Editorial). Do not
    sit by and watch your freedom erode away! Send
    this to E-mail to EVERYONE on your list, and
    tell all your friends and relatives write their
    congressional representative and say “NO” to
    Bill 602P. It will only take a few moments of
    your time and could very well be instrumental
    in killing a bill we do not want.
    Please forward.

    —————————————

    And my Canadian friend got this one!

    Bill 602P will permit the Federal Govt to charge a 5 cent surcharge on every email delivered, by billing Internet Service Providers at source. The consumer would then be billed in turn by the ISP. Toronto lawyer Richard Stepp QC is working without pay to prevent this legislation from becoming law.

    The Canada Post Corporation is claiming that lost revenue due to the proliferation of email is costing nearly $23,000,000 in revenue per year. You may have noticed Canada Post’s recent ad campaign “There is nothing like a letter”. Since the average citizen received about 10 pieces of email per day in 1998, the cost to the typical individual would be an additional 50 cents per day, or over $180 dollars per year, above and beyond their regular Internet costs. Note that this would be money paid directly to Canada Post for a service they do not even provide. The whole point of the Internet is democracy and non-interference. If the Canadian Government is permitted to tamper with our liberties by adding a surcharge to email, who knows where it will end. You are already paying an exhorbitant price for snail mail because of beaurocratic inefficiency. It currently takes up to 6 days for a letter to be delivered from Mississauga to Scarborough.

  39. David: well put. All these cries for action are from people who have forgotten the choices that are out there. It’s one company’s product which is at the center of this mess today. Of course, if Mac marketshare increased, virus writers would turn their attention to that OS – but it is the current unquestioning acceptance of crap from one company that has created this massive problem. It’s not a commons, it’s a monopoly, and it provides typical crappy monopolistic service.

  40. McElroy,

    I am daily befuddled at the amount of whining, moaning and groaning that MS users go through, only to scoff at utilizing anything besides the flawed junk that they’re currently using.

    Virus? What virus? I haven’t had any virus problems.

  41. Madog,

    I don’t fault you for your choice of computer, use whatever floats your boat. But I love to remind my friends with PC tendencies similar to yours, that your stated reasons for staying PC are akin to the guy with the tempermental little foreign car in the driveway. The car requires constant tweaking or investigation and loads more maintenance than it really should.

    Maybe you should try an alternate system and go pick yourself up an old Ducati to tinker with. Reliable computing and the wind in your hair.

  42. Mac users are the free marketers. Windows users (victims, slaves?) are all crying for intervention. (I hafta use windows at work but at home, it’s the virus free and peaceful world of the Mac)

  43. A flock of pigs just flew by my office window; xray and I agree on something.

  44. Ray: I just got a call from satan – the temperature in hell has dropped below freezing.

  45. So Jeff,

    What you’re basicly proposing is an additional pay email system to exist on top of the old SMTP system were I pay to send emails and in return I don’t get emails from anyone who isn’t part of the pay system? I can see where that might be forced on home users if ISPs decide thats what they want to do.

    How would that work for business though? Waht businesses are going to cut themselves off from customers who use the old SMTP system? I know most univeristies wouldn’t unless every country in the world adopted a similar system. And if it’s only ISPs that are charging and pocketing the fee what about large companies that are their own ISPs and run their own mail servers? I can’t see Yale charging itself for emails, it would be a sort of pointless circular loop. They’d just mark their own emails as paid. So what happens when these large business or even ISPs themselves have the accounts of their staff comprimised? The worst bursts of SoBig we’ve gotten at Yale are when students have actived the virus on their pcs from their yale accounts and then it’s proceded to send copies of itself to dozens of other students, professors, and people like me who have our emails listed on webpages.

  46. Madog wrote,

    “Waht businesses are going to cut themselves off from customers who use the old SMTP system?”

    I guess it depends on how valuable those customers are. If their value is greater than the cost of SMTP service, the business will keep paying for SMTP.

    “And if it’s only ISPs that are charging and pocketing the fee what about large companies that are their own ISPs and run their own mail servers?”

    Even large companies have to pay someone for IP and SMTP connectivity. Otherwise, how is their network part of the Internet? What they do about their intranet is their own problem.

  47. Apple’s big problem is that they use so much proprietary equipment and thus drive their costs up. If businesses can spend $1000 for a Dell workstation but $1999 for a G5 PowerMac which are they going to choose? If Apple want’s thier PCs to use their own CPU, no problem. But why not let the public and 3rd Party manufacturers buy their Motherboard & CPU then build custom systmes using standard PCI, AGP, and other components? Market share would increase, a wider range of software would be available, etc.

    Of course, then their reliablity would go down if they had to support so much hardware, hackers would target them, and they’d turn into another Microsoft.

    Mac users are like the folks who drive hybrid or electric cars. They like to feel superior and tell everyone they should switch without thinking about all the problems that would cause that would eliminate the value of their niche.

  48. Madog: You are showing the typical Windows user bias. I understand, you’ve made a bad choice and now you feel the need to defend it by deriding those who chose better. And you can go on and on about reasons not to use a Mac, but the fact is, this thread is about a massive and costly Windows problem – a problem some people think the market can’t solve.

  49. mad-

    I’m not so much concerned about anyone else buying a mac as I am perplexed as to why people stay with such a flawed product as an MS based PC.

    When I or a business spend a little more for a mac, that increase in cost more than pays for itself in reliability and ease of use.

    Think of how much money the business community has to spend on maintaining the extremely flawed MS design. This is an added, and unnecessary, business expenditure that drives up the cost of everything else.

    Ironically though, Steve Jobs and the whole of the mac community are a bunch of liberal birkenstockers. And here we are touting them as free marketeers. (Rush L.’s computer of choice is also a mac – another pig flying event – Jobs and Limbaugh on the same side of the fence on something.)

  50. I don’t understand any of the negative comments above. The comment by Jeff (“JAT”) is correct. A sender-pays system requires no changes to existing protocols.

    There are already systems where, the first time you send an email to a subscriber, you are sent a brief message saying “please go to this page and perform a test, and your email will be delivered afterward.” I’ll bet everyone here has seen those “look at this picture and tell me what word appears” tests.

    After you perform the test, you get access to that person’s email. The person can configure you to get in free forever, or take you back off the list and force you to jump through that hoop again.

    This is a form of payment in time and effort. All we’d need is to attach a micro-payment system to it. It might make sense to have the ISP receive the payment, or it might make sense to have the recipient receive it. Depending on who receives the payment, you could even refund the payment for “friends” whom you did not want to restrict.

    As far as corporate solutions, they could set up accounts analagous to today’s “bulk mail” accounts.

    So the question is: Who receives the payment? Me? My ISP? My town-state-federal government? Or “The Internet”? (whatever that is)

  51. Challenge-response systems are a much much better option than attempting to transform the whole architecture of the Internet with “sender pays”.

  52. Has anyone considered the idea of using private lawsuits for limiting spam?

    I believe it could be done by treating the internet as subject to public easements – deeming the web essentially private or closely held property (which the physical backbone often is), of which a portion is open to fair and reasonable public use. People who go nuts, misusing it or hogging resources (see, e.g. SoBig) would be subject to big damages lawsuits. I discuss the idea in a bit more depth here.

  53. I’m not going to take the time to address the full range of issues that exist in the Mac vs. Windows debate, because this isn’t the place for it and the root issue isn’t relevant to the discussion. However, I wanted to correct a couple of the persistent myths about Macs which seems to lost on one poster.

    A poster compares a $2,000 Mac to a $1,000 Dell. That’s as irrational as saying that Chevrolets are more expensive than Acuras because you can find a Chevy that costs twice as much as some particular Chevrolet model. The truth is that Macs are reasonably priced if you’re comparing the prices to other Tier 1 vendors such as Dell, HP and IBM, especially if you’re comparing prices in the mid to upper end of the lines. Apple doesn’t cater to the price-conscious people who want to build their own boxes, any more than BMW caters to the people who want the pay for the cost of a Ford Escort. (If you’d like a $799 Mac, get the entry-level eMac. I don’t want it, because I want more and better features. But it’s there if you want it.)

    I don’t WANT Apple to start letting Mac OS X run on other companies’ hardware (or hardware that the customer can cobble together for himself). What people don’t understand that is that you’re not really buying hardware when you buy a computer. You’re buying an entire user experience. Because Apple makes “the whole widget,” the company can control the user experience in a way that’s not possible when the OS comes from one company and the hardware from another company.

    As for your contention that Apple uses a lot of proprietary equipment, well, that’s just plain wrong. Apple is one of the most standards-based companies now, contrary to the way it was 10 years ago. Exactly what is all this proprietary equipment you are imagining? ATA hard drives? RAM? PCI cards? AGP card? USB ports? The truth is that if you want to replace most anything on your Mac, there are choices out there for you and using those standard components allows Apple to be more price-competitive than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I could be more specific, but this is already getting too long for the context.

    If you’re a heavy gamer, I can understand why you might want to use Windows, because so many games come late to the Mac, if at all. But this once again emphasizes that the choice is a matter of trade-offs. If it’s worth it for you to put up with the headaches of Windows to play some games that you couldn’t otherwise play, more power to you. It’s your choice. For me, my computer is a tool to get work done, not a hobby. I used to be a serious DOS/Windows user, and I found that my productivity soared when I switched. Your experiences may be entirely different, but that’s the point. You DO have a choice, and choosing something OTHER than Windows IS a valid and reasonable option that most people never consider — out of ignorance and prejudice.

    There’s been one other benefit in getting away from Windows. I used to be the unpaid tech support person for all of my friends. I can now honestly tell them that I don’t know enough about the latest version of Windows to help them with their continual problems. 🙂

    As for the poster who said that I’m already paying something for the fact that other people have trouble caused by viruses on the Windows platform, there is obviously some truth to that. If other companies would make smarter technical decisions, that wouldn’t be the case. However, I could say the same thing about driving a car. My insurance rates are higher because other people are lousy drivers, thus making the roads relatively unsafe. The benefit I get from driving outweighs the risk of their behavior, to me. At this point, I feel the same way about any small amount I might be paying to support the virus-ridden Internet infrastructure. It’s certainly nowhere near the level that would make me support paying to send e-mail, at least in PART because I know that such levies ALWAYS grow. What started out as an incentive not to spam would soon become a cash flow for companies and government. I don’t want to open that floodgate.

  54. Correction: Anyone reading my Acura/Chevrolet analogy probably would figure this out, but the second sentence of my second paragraph should have read:

    “That’s as irrational as saying that Chevrolets are more expensive than Acuras because you can find a Chevy that costs twice as much as some particular Acura model.”

  55. Digamma – Great link. My bet is that the Challenge-Response idea can be adapted to use micro-payments instead of number-typing.

    The challenge of implementation would be to resolve who receives the payment, and to make sure everyone gets “in the system,” so payment accounting can go forward. The first time a person sends or receives a paid email, they might need to exchange registration information. Or credit companies might need to set up special “email postage accounts” for this purpose. Or maybe PayPal and similar systems are good enough. I’m not familiar enough with them.

  56. As someone working for a company that creates ant-spam software, I can tell you that there is no current workable proposal available today that will “stop” spam.

    Users need to make a choice – if they want to accept mail from unknown senders, they will get spam.

    If not – then they should only accept mail from users that they specifically allow. This would cover 99.9% of all home users, and a decent proportion of corporate users.

    The Sobig virus is a different problem, unrelated to spam or SMTP. Viruses used to be transmitted by diskette when that was the main transfer medium. They then moved to FTP, and then to SMTP. Changing to another protocol won’t prevent viruses being transmitted.

  57. BTW: Hey, Mobile!

    http://www.snopes.com/snopes.asp

    (And get a life, will ya?)

  58. “Do you think there are any monopolies in existence today?” — xray

    Umm, let’s see …

    1) NEA
    2) USPO
    3) FIAT MONEY
    4) TAX LOOTING
    5) TRANSPORTATION ARTERIES

    (What, did they wave kryptonite on your vision or something?)

  59. Come on, xray. While This Latest Worm may be “Microsoft’s Fault”, the problem of mass-spam isn’t, and won’t go away if everyone buys a Mac or runs Windows. (And before anyone starts in on a Jihad, I’d like to say I run all three systems at home. So don’t even START, okay, guys?)

    The idea that eventually came up somewhere in this mess of a parallel email system that is pay-to-send (or perhaps “pay a flat fee, but if we catch you spamming, you’re blacklisted forever.” – it doesn’t really matter, as long as the cost of spam is increased to the point where it’s not viable) is probably the best one.

    Certainly you can’t just modify the existing SMTP system to work that way. The technical obstacles are well covered above – plus, there are plenty of devices (WebTV is more popular that many of us geeky types realise…) and legacy systems that can’t just implement this kind of thing easily.

    Additionally, there’s the fact that plenty of us just don’t want to pay per-message, evne if it’s 10 cents. I suspect (for example) that plenty of people on mailing lists would be a lot less prolix with their advice if they had to pay for each post.

    A parallel system allows, I suppose, the best of both worlds to users. The “pay to play” system would greatly reduce spam (if not eliminate it, but there’s always the issue of simply fraudulent payments or hacking the system…) for its users, but nobody has to pay for their email specifically. (As others have noted, you pay for it now, but only as an aggregate charge bundled in with all the bandwidth and other stuff your ISP charges for as a block.)

    If, as some people imagined (and others have probably proposed), you want to ONLY have paid-email, internet-wide, that WOULD require massive government intervention, and would doubtless be a ghastly failure.

  60. What is actually even more of a ghastly idea, Sigivald, is the spectre of massive government TAXATION of every aspect of the internet — once we show them how email tariffs would work — by thus handing over the very tools by which they’d pick our pockets clean.

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