Stamping out Spam.

It seems that for most users of the Internet, spam is something they have resigned themselves to, and take whatever action they can to reduce the meaningless waste of time required to clean out their ‘In-boxes’. This usually involves anti-spam software, either supplied by their email provider with an on-line account, or running directly on their own computer. The proliferation of anti-spam measures is itself an indication of acceptance of the situation.

One company, an Israeli Start-up, apparently had other ideas, and took a more active approach. This was discontinued, however, after the spammers – indignant about the methods employed, and the success it was having – took action against it in a concerted denial-of-service attack.
See the report at Web attacks end anti-spam effort

So the result so far is that we are all tolerating a “diseased Internet”, with all its ramifications; unnecessarily high bandwidth requirement, slower service, the risk of unwanted “guests” in our computers, and a flood of pop-ups which can result from a single unlucky click.

Spam is possible because anyone with only the name of a mail address is allowed to send mail to it at will. It requires a positive action on the part of the recipient to prevent this access, now that blocking and filter mechanisms are available, but blocking mechanisms can be circumvented, and filters are not 100% effective..

This situation has arisen because the original postal system has been copied, without taking into account the worldwide accessibility of the mailbox. In the physical world, where a person has to walk to a letterbox, or mailbox, and put something inside it, the problem is self-limiting, and unlikely to cause undue distress. In fact, it could be a useful source of scrap paper. In the cyberworld, however, it is a different matter altogether.

The solution is to put a lock on the front of the mailbox.

By that, I mean prevent access to any mail address completely by default, and only allow access to those who have the appropriate authority. The owner of the mailbox then issues a key to the lock to those people he wishes to receive mail from.

It would be possible to make a mistake, and issue the key to some unscrupulous person who then sells it on, and the spam problem starts all over again. The solution here is simply to change the lock, and issue the new key only to people you know you can trust.

On a cautionary note, if your computer has access to the Internet, it is not advisable to keep your list of keys on it. Keys could be hacked, just as easily as passwords.

Implementing this system would put the advertising menagerie back in its cage, where it belongs, and not in your face. Advertisers then would still have recourse to the usual range of Internet facilities to advertise their products, portals, etc, but then the onus is then on the user who may be interested in a specific product to go look for it, as it should be.

Those persons who need to enable free access to their mailbox, have the options of making the key public, or setting the key to zero, as they choose. This could be necessary to establish initial contact. Once that has been done, communication could be changed to a different account where a lock is in operation, if desired.

This would entail some software changes. For the user, I would expect to see an extra box on the compose form, requiring the key to be added for the appropriate recipient. Providing an option to automatically add the key, once it has been initially defined, is not recommended.

It may be of interest to provide information when trying to access a locked mailbox, eg. if a key has been entered, but fails, “Lock changed, or faulty key. Contact recipient by other means”

If no key has been entered, another message would be more appropriate:- “Without the correct authorisation (key), you have no access to this mailbox”.

The foregoing solution requires changes to the underlying email protocols, but these are not seen as major, or even difficult. A much bigger problem would be finding jobs for all the out-of-work spammers that would result.