Plan For No Spam

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The problem of unwanted and irrelevant mass mailings, commonly known as spam is starting to seriously degrade the usefulness of email. In this paper we provide a survey of the principal approaches currently being applied to spam control and propose a strategy by which these mechanisms may be combined to provide a comprehensive solution to the spam menace.

Unwanted and irrelevant mass mailings, commonly known as spam are becoming a serious nuisance that if left unchecked may soon be regarded as a Denial of Service Attack against the email infrastructure of the Internet itself.
The term spam is derived from a Monty Python sketch set in a cafeteria in which the principal protagonists have difficulty making them heard above a group of Vikings singing, ?SPAM? in honor of the meat product manufactured by Hormel [Hormel]. Although there has been a move, due in part to trademark concerns to use terms such as ?Unsolicited Commercial Email? we prefer the colloquial term as being both more familiar and more appropriate.

The defining quality of spam is that it is sent indiscriminately in the knowledge that it will be unwanted by the vast majority of recipients. Unsolicited email is frequently desirable, and in f act it is the problem of distinguishing wanted unsolicited messages from unwanted unsolicited messages that makes the problem of mitigating or eliminating spam so hard. Certain types of commercial email are also desirable, in particular communications regarding invoices and account balances, newsletters and in many cases certain types of advertisements relevant to the recipient. Calls for Papers and Calls for Participation at academic conferences circulated on computer networks for many years without complaint and in most cases still do.

An ideal spam control system would have the following properties:

  • Eliminate all unwanted emails
  • Eliminate no wanted emails
  • Require no user input on the part of either the sender or receiver
  • Be compatible with all uses of email
  • Be compatible with all email infrastructure configurations
  • Be scalable, that is remain effective if 90% of Internet users adopt it
  • Resist attempts to evade it.
  • Create no new problems

No perfect spam control solution has been found so far. Filtering approaches are compatible with a broad range of email uses and infrastructure but no filter perfectly identifies even a fraction of unwanted emails without eliminating at least some wanted emails. Furthermore the more widely a filter is used the greater the incentive becomes for the spam senders to test against it to ensure that their spam gets through.

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