|There are many ways in which email is abused on the internet. As I see it, there are four types of email abuse that are particularly annoying:
1. Spam (one category of which is unsolicited commercial e-mail or UCE),
2. Virus hoaxes (and to a far lesser extent viruses)
3. Urban legends
4. Chain mail
Spam is “flagrant” use of electronic media such as email to send excessive and, often, unwanted messages. It’s not just the commercial junk email that comes to your email in-box. Spam can also include everything in the other three categories in the above list as well as jokes, inspirational stories or photos of the vactation, birthday, wedding, or (fill in the blank. In one on-line survey, with over 12,000 responding, 55% said that the onslaught of jokes and non-essential email forwarded by friends was annoying.
Besides the annoyance of unwanted email in your inbox, spam can have adverse consequences. In St. Louis, 25 brokerage house employees were terminated for sending dirty jokes by email. Some internet service providers spend as much as 3% of gross revenues trying to curtail unsolicited email.
Unsolicited commercial email, like all spam, only costs a few seconds to deal with per person. However, each UCE message may be sent to tens or hundreds of thousands of addresses or even millions of addresses. Cumulatively, then, each UCE can waste hundreds or thousands of hours!
Spammers who send unsolicited commercial email can be dealt with through appropriate means. One thing you should not do is answer their email. Instead you can send the complete spam to SpamCop, SpamRecycling Center, or to the Federal Trade Commision at firstname.lastname@example.org . (I use all three!)
Viruses, hoaxes, urban legends, and chain mail:
Over the last few years, I have received quite a few messages about new “e-mail” viruses, warnings about kidney thieves and Nieman Marcus cookies, and chain mail messages with pleas for cards to be sent to a sick little boy or with get-rich-quick schemes. In all but a very few instances, the information was not only wrong, it was documented on the internet as wrong. What I have found is:
|“Pure text” e-mail cannot carry a virus. Most viruses that come with e-mail come as an attachement that has to be activated by the user. Some e-mail programs that can send and receive e-mail in other than “pure text” have been susceptible to prank macros. (A macro is a string of commands that can be manually or automatically initiated by a program, normally used to save keystrokes in repetitive situations.)|
|Most virus warnings are hoaxes, forwarded by the well-intentioned who had no idea.|
|Most warnings on the internet about anything that seems unlikely are probably hoaxes or urban legends.|
|Most chain mail for a good cause quickly overwhelms the intended recipient and their e-mail address is usually terminated soon afterwards.|
|Get-rich-quick chain email schemes do not work (and are probably illegal. You’d have a better chance by buying a ticket in a lottery or entering a magazine subscription.|
"We are spending much more time de-bunking hoaxes than handling real virus incidents." -- a statement from the U.S. Dept. of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC)
(aka UCE -
Urban Legends, etc.