The King of Spam
The London-based anti-spam group Spamhaus has identified the world’s most prolific spammer. He is a shadowy figure in Ukraine who calls himself Alex Polyakov, the name of the Soviet spymaster in John le Carré’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Authorities say Polyakov started out in porn spam; he now hawks products ranging from Viagra to too-good-to-be-true mortgage deals. His favored mode of operation is to use “malware” to turn PCs worldwide into zombie bots that churn out millions of his pitches every day. Polyakov has something in common with five other of the world’s worst spammers: They all hail from the former Soviet Union. Experts say the region’s strong technical schools, low incomes, and shoddy legal systems provide the perfect breeding ground for superspammers. Polyakov has surfaced only once. When an anti-spam program written by a programmer named Darren Brothers was interfering last year with Polyakov’s business, he phoned his nemesis. Brothers taped the conversation. “You’re killing my business!” Polyakov said. “How much money do I have to pay you?”
Apparently spam is becoming one of those things people are learning to live with — like death and taxes.
Tougher law enforcement could help. The Federal Trade Commission has filed about 25 lawsuits under the Can-Spam Act, and federal courts have awarded civil penalties totaling more than $10 million. But critics say those numbers barely dent the economics of the spam industry. Some spammers send out more than 200 million messages a day; they turn a profit if less than 1 percent of their recipients respond to their come-ons. Besides, many of the worst spammers live overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. law.
Actually, SpamFighter (there’s both a free and a cost version) works pretty well on Outlook Express to filter out most of my spam. A few do get through, but not in the numbers that used to before I downloaded the software.