An Immune System for Email (brought to you by spammers)

Someone (Cory Doctorow?) has a nice line regarding spam: something to the effect of “Parasites are the sign of a robust ecosystem”. Which is to say that, as annoying as spam is, its also an indicator of the health of email as a socially useful technology.

That makes this a very interesting development:

No longer are the [spammers] happy to settle for a slice of the spam pie, they want it all. And that means control over as many compromised third party computers to create the biggest of mega zombie botnets. To accomplish this, the gangs behind the Bagle, Warezov and Zhelatin worms are turning their attention to ridding those compromised computers of rival gang malware infections in order to install their own and gain that control.

Translation: the an immune system is beginning to develop in the email-ecosystem.

Why is this important? The consumer-facing side of the computer security industry has always been a step behind in its arms-race with malware writers and spammers. Norton develops a new method of virus-protection, and the spammers write a new virus in response. On and on we go. The business model for the computer security industry is predicated on this sort of obsolescence.

But spammer-on-spammer crime? Totally different. Here’s a development environment that’s interests are aligned with actually busting spyware. After all, if Norton developed a The Ultimate Anti Spam Solution, they’d run themselves out of business. If one spammer developed the same, they’d dominate their business sector. So having these folks developing anti-spyware mechanisms and releasing them into the wild may be, in effect, the beginnings an an immune system for the internet. (“Antibotties”?)

Obviously there’s a problem here for the end user: all of the spammers want control over their computer. But if the antiviral payloads could be harvested (by Norton? Or an open source initiative?) the arms-race between spammers and consumers could become an arms race between spammers and spammers.


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