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Specialty Spam

Spam distribution is a popular and effective way for Internet criminals to deliver their schemes or scams, however not all spam is made the same. Some custom spam techniques are used to for specific purposes or use distribution technologies outside of email. What follows are some curiosities in the specialty spam world.

Malware and Scam Distribution

Some bad guys use spam engines to send messages with attachments, which are actually viruses. When opened by unsuspecting recipients, the virus's payload turns the system into a zombie. A zombie is an infected computer that can be remotely controlled by a bad guy from the Internet to do bad things like send more spam or attack other computers by blasting nonsense data at them (often called a denial-of-service attack).

Spammers also use spam engines to distribute 419 scams and phishing emails.

Hobbit Spam

In the spring and summer of 2006, some odd spam started to appear in inboxes. The messages contained lines from the JRR Tolkien's novel The Hobbit.

Here's an example:

"the hobbit that was lost. That only makes eleven (plus one mislaid) and not fourteen, unless wizards count differently to other people. But now please get on with the tale. Beorn did not show it more than he could."

Besides the bit of hobbit prose, the messages weren't pitching anything. So where did they come from? The theory is that a teenager (or similar inexperienced mischief maker) got his hands on a spam distribution tool and was taking it for a spin. Another theory is that a spammer was testing well-crafted prose against spam filters to see if he could fool them into letting the message through.

SPIM and Non-email Spam

Spam can also be unwanted, voluminous, and usually commercially motivated messages posted to web discussion forums, newsgroups, and blog comments.

There is also a spam variant that arrives in instant messenger (IM) programs. That kind of spam is sometimes referred to as SPIM.

SPIM looks like a chat message that usually has an embedded link of some sort or a file attachment. When you click on it, your system can be infected with some sort of malware. Sometimes the link takes you to a site that tries to sell you something.

The chatter that sends the SPIM can be someone unknown to you or you might recognize them. If they are a friend, colleague or family member, it could be that their system has been infected by a virus, which is using their identity to send SPIM.

If you receive a suspicious chat message, then message the person back and challenge them. Automated SPIMbots (programs that distribute spim) won't answer back. Friends, of course, will, unless their chat identity has been hijacked and is being used by a SPIMbot.

Good antivirus programs will detect spim, especially spim laden with malware, and alert you to the hazard.

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