Surprised by Spam

I attended my first in person meeting of the ISOC Advisory Council this last week — I’m a newly minted co-chair, and already haven’t been participating as much as I should (just like I don’t blog here as much as I should, a situation I’m undertaking to resolve!). We had a long discussion on the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), and the implications of the most recently signed treaty to the Internet as we know it. If you’ve ever wondered about all those news stories about some international organization wanting to “take over the Internet,” and been curious about what the real story behind the story is, cast your eyes on the WCIT treaties.

The primary points in contest here are control of the numbering and naming systems of the Internet — handing out IP addresses and domain names. Well, not so much handing them out as resolving them. The ability to control which addresses are routable and which domain names are resolvable on a global scale are crucial to the ability to “take down” specific web sites and services. As it turns out, “take downs” are a lot of the driving force behind this entire issue. A lot of countries would like the ability to “take down” domains or routable addresses, as it turns out.

The obvious question is: why?

There are copyright issues, of course. And there’s the normal concern over sites that host gambling and other stuff a lot of us wish human nature didn’t tend towards. But what surprised me was the most often mentioned reason for concern.



You mean that junk mail that I filter out through my email client, or anti-virus software, or by just deleting stuff en mass out of my inbox? Yep, that kind of spam.

Why is this such a driver? I suspect the first reason is really that there’s no-one around to make the case for spam (nor can I think of anyone who would want to!). Using pornography as the basis for the drive to push more control over numbering and naming into international bodies, for instance, would put freedom of speech concerns on the table. But spam? Here is one thing that annoys everyone, including me.

But it turns out that spam isn’t just an annoyance to small villages with low speed connections to the internet. Imagine a village of several hundred people with the equivalent of a T1 into the Internet. If every person in that village had an email account, how many spams per person would it take every day to make the Internet virtually unusable — either from a bandwidth perspective, or from a sheer content of email received by people who aren’t as adept at sorting email as we are.

“Okay, great — but I’m a network engineer in a little city in flyover country. What can I do about spam?”

Good question. And I suspect you already realize that I wouldn’t have blogged about this if I didn’t have an answer. :-)

First, the cleaner you keep your machines, the less you’re contributing to the spam problem. The two machines that caught a virus in your organization (or the hundreds that caught a virus in your town last week) might seem like a small thing, but it only takes a few “small things” to cause a big problem. Maybe talk your town into having a “clean your laptop day,” or something, where all the IT folks can get together and do nothing but clear off viruses from the computers in your community.

Second, if you work for a large enough company, you might consider joining MAAWG, a large and influential anti-spam working group. You could also set up company policies around reporting phishing, specifically, to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

Finally, even if you’re not a network security engineer, you can sit and take a few minutes to run through some of MAAWG’s training videos.

I know, Internet governance seems like it’s a long way from setting up that 9k at 2am on Monday morning. But it’s the bigger issues that are going to drive the direction of the Internet into the future as well as the smaller ones.

P.S. In case you’re wondering about my seeming hiatus… I’m taking 9 hours this semester in college, trying to get through this new book manuscript, spending some time working on CCDE content, prepping up for Cisco Live, and as of two weeks ago, looking for a new job. Life is a little busy — but I’m putting Packet Pushers back on my schedule, and looking for other places to talk about technical topics, as well.


    • Russ White says

      Good question. I don’t know. :-) It’s not like I need something else to do between 1 and 2 in the morning, or anything…

  1. Hakim says

    Welcome back Russ! Look forward to more technical discussions with Packetpushers, my #1 blog outside my work’s.

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