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Spam: A Look at the numbers

by the person known as Windigo The Feral (NYAR!)

Many persons don't realise that spam isn't just an annoyance one can "throw away"--it has a very real impact on one's wallet, and more importantly, on the entire quality and usefulness of Usenet and the Internet in general.

Therefore, I'm going to try to show, in simple numbers, different ways spam can affect the net.

Now, for starters, let's take your average spam. Could be one of those calling programs, could be a spam for spamming software, could be for a multi-level marketing scam in the Seychelles, or a guy out to save your soul--doesn't matter--it's right around 5 to 10 kilobytes or so in disk space.

Now, let's start with a Usenet spam right at the range the folks who run the NoCeM notifiers and the cancelbots (bless them :) will start to Stop It--right around twenty posts of the same thing or so. According to math, the spam is now taking up about 100 K--200 K for the larger messages.

Now, some folks say "aw, that's just twenty..." Well, that's about 95 to 190 K that could be used for other Usenet posts, or to install something nice, or whatever--but it got eaten up by spam. Also, lots of folks overseas, like in the UK and Europe, have to pay local calls by the minute--so that spam costs them lots of money. And, since ISDN and on occasion even PPP time is by-the-hour here even in the States, that's more money your provider--or *you*--have to pay for ninteen extra messages of garbage. And even if you do a dialup on Telix on a 2400 baud modem, it will ultimately be *you* who pays--in higher fees because of disk space, or because your provider's bill was higher because other people saw the guy do it and did it too thinking it was OK, or your provider has to drop groups because he doesn't have the disk space for them anymore.

Let's now take a bigger spam. Let's say some enterprising wiseacre got his hot new spam-bot, he decides that he'll spam all of alt.*. Now, assuming he gets a pretty good feed of alt.*, he's going to be posting this spam to about 9000 or so newsgroups. According to my math, again using your average-sized (message-wise) spam, that's right around 44 to 88 MEGABYTES of extra messages.

Back in 1994, the first "mega-spammers", Canter and Siegel, did a spam of about that size (Usenet was smaller then). The effect of all those messages was much like a power surge; just as how a power surge in your line can fry your modem or computer, this "data surge" quite literally knocked entire *countries* offline. Denmark was off the net for two days, thanks to this spam.

Let's take a bigger spam now. Let's say this spammer gets really adventurous, and he decides to spam the whole dang Usenet at one fell swoop. That's about 26,000 newsgroups anymore if you get a full feed. According to the math, that's about 127 to 254 megabytes of pure processed pork product.

That's also right about the size of a lot of disk drives you have in home computers. It's bigger than the full distribution of Linux, a version of Unix for IBM computers that you can actually run your own ISP with. Spams this big still can knock whole countries--and even littler ISPs here in the good old USA--off the net in that "data spike". It also slows down performance in very well-connected sites; this is called "lag". The net lags because it has to deal with that huge chunk of spam...

Let's deal with something even more frightening, numbers-wise--mail-spam. Let's say our fellow wants to be the next Moneyworld, and he decides to take it to email (since he's sick of all his posts being cancelled). It's been estimated that an average mailspam by someone who knows what they're doing can run to 100,000 people or more... by my math, that's from around 490 MB up to one gigabyte or MORE. FROM ONE SPAM.

One gigabyte of storage is bigger than a lot of disks they sell in brand NEW home computers. It's also bigger than the daily traffic in the heaviest (megabyte-wise) traffic Usenet newsgroup. Worse, you can't cancel mailspam like you can Usenet spam--the most you can do is put in a "filter" program to send all the spam to /dev/null (for you non-Unix folks, that is basically Unix for "black hole"), and you can't even do that till you get a mailspam...and some of the mail-spammers, like Cyberpromo, have caught on to this and forge mail to make it look like it came from somewhere else. They also sometimes get LOTS of domains, to make your job even harder.

And yes, it has the potential to be even worse--people have been known to spam "binary" files, programs that are often hundreds of kilobytes or even several megabytes in size, on Usenet--a big binary spam could well bring down the whole net, especially if it were an email spam.

Spam of all sorts is an ever-increasing problem. Back when I started on the net, in 1991, you didn't hear of spamming. Back when the spam problem really started, 400 posts were considered a megaspam. Now we get a 400-post spam almost *weekly*.

Back in 1994, I had an account at thepoint.net, which carried a full Usenet feed; their news-spool space was 9 GB at first, expanded to 16 GB on a 7-day expire. This was when spam was just starting to be a problem, and about the time I left thepoint.net they were starting to have problems with throttling (that is when the disk drive they store news on fills up).

Today, it's 1996, and I have a news account with Airnews. Their admin tells me they run a 60 GB disk array with 14-day expire, save for some binaries groups, and they thank the net.gods for Chris Lewis and other spam-cancellers--because his spool would fill up in less than a day from the sheer amount of spam on Usenet today.

Email spam is even worse. It became a real problem a year or two ago, and now is to such an extent that people are actually quitting America Online due to the sheer amount of email spam (America Online subscribers are specifically targeted by many email spammers, partly because they can get addresses from member directories). America Online has had to sue to be able to institute spam blocking, and they and four other sites providing Internet email are suing Cyberpromo to make them stop forging addresses.

It's gotten to the point where people are actually lobbying Congress to include email in the laws that prohibit junk faxes. Email spam is much like junk faxing in that *you* pay for the spam, in transport and in storage (if not directly, indirectly by higher user fees or reduced disk quotas).

Every time someone spams, it hurts the net...and it ultimately hurts *you*. Don't support businesses that spam, don't support sites that don't care if their users spam. It's up to all of us. Boycott Internet spam.

-Windigo The Feral (NYAR!)
sometimes known as Follower of the Clawed Albino. afn23950@afn.org
(C) Copyright 1996. Do what thou wilt with this, as long as you note I wrote it and as long as you don't spam it all to sneck and back.

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