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