RealTime IT News

Begging to be Spammed

After three weeks of its month-long experiment in how badly an e-mail address can be spammed, and McAfee and its volunteer bloggers are having quite the adventure, not to mention some laughs.

McAfee's (NYSE: MFE) S.P.A.M. Experiment -- for "Spammed Persistently All Month" -- aims to educate and inform about the dangers of spam. The company picked 50 volunteers around the world, gave them laptops (which they get to keep in payment for their work), fake e-mail addresses -- and in some cases, fake identities to give out -- and challenged them to get spammed as much as possible.

So far, it's worked like a charm.

The experiment's 50 guinea pigs have collected a total of almost 75,000 pieces of spam by doing little more than poking their heads out on the Internet and making no attempt to hide their e-mail address.

It's clear that they are having fun with it, too, judging by the comments they are writing on the experiment's blog:

Karen, NY public school teacher: "I decided that my 1,000+ spam messages is just not nearly enough. So I decided to tackle the world of investments and finance today."

Bill, retired accountant: "Life just gets better and better since I started this spam project. The other day I signed on to discover I had won the China National Lottery to the tune of $1,500,000.00, and I didn't even have to buy a ticket."

Katya, psychology grad student: "...I get the impression that these e-mails are from real people who actually believe that I'm interested in their pyramid scheme."

Tracy, mother of three: "Well, folks, today's mission is to try to get one of those e-mails that says that my cousin in Nigeria left me a million dollars."

McAfee said the experiment's first week brought in a total of 8,500 piece of spam. Week two drew 24,000 and week three is over 40,000 by press time.

David Marcus, security research and communications manager at McAfee's Avert Labs, said at the current rate, he expects it to double again during the fourth and final week.

"It's definitely proving the point," he told InternetNews.com. "We are taking people down the road of 'This is what we are protecting you against,' because we want to show the world the dangers. It's not just a nuisance, it leads to crime. It leads to identity theft."

The one thing that surprised him among all the junk mail was that he was seeing foreign-language spam, such as one letter written in French.

"We would not have seen that in years passed, up until a year ago," he said.

McAfee provided some of the volunteers with credit cards and are beginning to answer the offers they are getting from spammers. That's when the real fun begins.

"When all is said and done... [spam] is not a nuisance, it's a significant threat, and a significant threat to identities," Marcus said. "We will be able to show how identities are stolen through spam [and] how credit cards are stolen through spam."

The experiment ends next week and McAfee expects to have a final assessment by the end of May or early June.