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Catching Spammers in the Act

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Credit: Technology Review

Indiana University researchers have exposed some of the methods spammers use to collect email addresses and send junk mail through multiple computers. In a paper scheduled to be presented at the Conference on E-mail and Anti-Spam, the researchers explain how they studied spammers' methods to obtain email addresses.

The researchers used various techniques to match the programs that collect email addresses from Web pages, including exposing 22,230 unique email addresses on the Web for more than five months and watching for spam sent to those emails. The study found that an email address included in a comment posted to a Web site had a significantly higher probability of receiving spam. Only four of the email addresses submitted to 70 Web sites during a registration received spam, while half of the email addresses posted on popular sites received spam.

The researchers also created a Web site on their own domain and waited for their pages to be crawled. Each visitor to the Web site saw a different email, which the researchers hoped would determine how often programs that crawl sites are actually operated by spammers. The researchers were able to identify characteristics that were unique to spamming crawlers, which could make it easier to detect and fight these programs.

People can protect themselves from email harvesting by using simple obfuscation techniques, such as replacing the @ symbol with the word "at" when posting an email address.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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