Volunteers For Spam

Who in the world would voluntarily ingest spam for 30 days? People who want to be part of the problem in order to come up with a solution, apparently.

Security vendor McAfee found fifty people to take part in its Global S.P.A.M. (Spammed Persistently All Month) Experiment to find out what a solid, 30-day diet of Spam would do for them.

They will operate on the Internet for the entire month with no anti-spam software, sign up for everything that will get them on mailing lists, respond to spammers, post to Web boards and Usenet groups where address crawlers will get their address, and generally, make themselves totally visible to address harvesters.

Beyond that, they will also make purchases from the spammers, buying their “H3rb4l V1agra” and come-ons, while using prepaid credit cards. They’ll see what they get and don’t get in the mail.

“We’ve talked a lot about spam, but what we wanted to drive home is why people need to protect themselves, what happens when you click the link in the spam, and what happens when you try to buy from an e-pharmacy,” Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager for McAfee’s Avert Labs, told InternetNews.com.

The 50 volunteers are from around the globe, and get a shiny new Dell laptops that they can keep after the experiment is done.

The S.P.A.M. Experiment is a global project because spam is an international problem. For the longest time, it was confined to English language countries but that has slowly changed, said Marcus.

“Two years ago we couldn’t have a discussion on localized spam,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent was English language. It’s still 93 [percent] English, but we’re seeing more localized spam and localized malware really taking shape over the last two years.”

The participants are expected to write about their experiences daily at a blog set up just for them. While they are receiving spam by the ton, they won’t be allowing any malware that comes in to infect their computer.

Marcus said there was considerable debate over whether or not to protect the laptops. On the one hand there was the argument that malware and spam go hand in hand and the full impact was needed in order to be appreciated. But in the end, McAfee decided not to make a bad situation worse.

“We don’t want some person to become part of the bigger problem,” Marcus explained. “We don’t want them to become part of a botnet that ends up sending out more spam. We don’t want to contribute to the problem we are fighting.”

The program runs through to the end of this month.

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