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Reach out and spam someone

Occasionally I get my tech news from webcomics, and here’s an example: take a look at today’s Penny Arcade comic. In the news item that goes with the comic, they explain the joke behind their cartoon: on November 4, AT&T were granted U.S. patent 6,643,686: “System and method for counteracting message filtering”. A quick summary:

“A system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam.) An address on a list is assigned to one of m sublists, where m is an integer that is greater than one. A set of m different messages are created. A different message from the set of m different messages is sent to the addresses on each sublist. In this way, spam countermeasures based upon duplicate detection schemes are foiled.”

Simply put, it’s a way to defeat anti-spam filters.

In the world of the Internet, this is the moral equivalent of patenting a method of kitten-drowning.

The Register has a short article on the matter, in which they name the guy who filed the patent, one Robert J. Hall:

Photo: Robert J. Hall's photo from his AT&T employee page.

Robert J. Hall, the New Dark Prince of Spam. Feel free to print out this photo and put it on urinal pucks.

SiliconValley.com’s Dan Gillmour (who at Bloggercon told me that he’s a fan of mine by proxy) writes:

Is it possible that AT&T wants to use the patent to stop spammers — i.e. suing them for violating the patent if they use the anti-anti-spam technique? This seems improbable on several grounds, not least that many spammers are already breaking laws with impunity. A mere lawsuit isn’t going to deter them.

Here’s a new security paper title for you, Mr. Robert J. Hall: System and method for hiding from millions of angry people with inboxes full of unsolicited emails.

13 replies on “Reach out and spam someone”

You can find his contact information here.

Note how he’s protected his address from web email address harvesters by inserting “SpamIsBad” into it.

Oh, the irony!

Note the projects he is/was working on. A couple “anti-spam” projects. Could Gilmore’s guess be right? I’m not holding my breath, by why spend a bunch of time trying to kill spam, only to patent a way around it?

The obvious answers would be to either limit the effect of the one hole he’s seen in his design, by setting the ground for legal action. Or, a plan to make AT&T the kings of spam. (“want to get around our filters? You’ve got to deal with us”)

Or may be his work is just being highjaked by his overlords and twisted to serve the evil dark side.

How about we don’t harass this guy and become the ones we hate? “He’s done something we don’t like, so lets send him obsene porn and deaththreats.” Ok, fascists. Why don’t you do something positive with your time. Boo to Joey for this one.

The worst thing I suggested was to print out his picture and put it on urinal pucks. That’s it. Nothing more.

Hum, You seem to have taken liberties with my comedic quip (and masterful use of the strike out feature that blogware provides)

“so lets send him obsene porn and deaththreats.”

Before jumping to conclustions and labeling people “Fascists” you may want to consider Doing something positive with your time. (Anonymously of course;)

Don’t worry. No anti-spam system worth its toothpaste makes use of anything remotely like “duplicate detection” or whatever crap this is about.

Unless the messages they’re sending are jam-packed with prime numbers. And everybody wants to buy those! Yeah, baby!

Your duplicate-foiling technique will yield under the mighty power of my viagra-detecting bayesian filter.

Gillmor is almost certainly right. As a large ISP, AT&T is undoubtedly a major source of spam. That is, some spammers use AT&T to send the spam. The important thing is that AT&T knows who its own customers are, so it can easily sue them. The result is that spammers will use some other ISP. The patent will be used as a disincentive for spammers to use AT&T Worldnet.

Now imagine if AT&T licensed the patent to other major ISPs and offered to sue any customer caught violating it — all the ISP would have to do is provide the identity of the spammer. Pretty soon spammers would be 1) sending only easily-filtered spam (win!) or 2) driven to spammer-friendly ISPs where they can easily be blacklisted without adversely impacting the utility of mail (win!).

We’ll have to see how this plays out but I can’t imagine AT&T obtained this patent so they could send spam. They can already do that! Having a patent for it won’t make it any more popular.

everyone should just relax. spammers have their role and they give you “decent” people jobs. if it wasn’t for us, there would be a whole lot less work to do.

I live in Bangkok and haven’t paid more than $1 for any software in the past 6 years. We have great hackers and serial breakers here. It is an information race and war. It spurs job and industry.

Take it all with a grain of salt.

As for me, I am not willing to pay big bukcs for software from US corporations. Most software is junk anyway. There are actually very few good programs out there.

I am a former spammer and hacker.

I am not evil. I just like bending the rules.

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