Thursday, March 7, 2013


Before I was Cured
There has been a pretty impressive uptick in reports of “backscatter” spam recently that result in “bounce” messages. You may receive backscatter when an infected computer, out there on the internet somewhere, sends spam email to tens of thousands of people with your email listed as the “sender.” Because you are the “sender,” when that fraudulent email reaches a mailbox that does not exist, the real you receives the notifications (called a “bounce”) that the mail was not delivered or was blocked for some reason. The subject lines are often a bit embarrassing and often read, “CHEAP Cyails, Vygara and Levytar.” The drug names are intentionally misspelled in an attempt to get around spam filters. They often contain pornographic images that appear to have come from you.
A computer that is infected with this kind of virus is called zombie. Most zombies are a part of a “robot network” (aka “botnet”) of infected computers that do the will of criminals who are paid by the number of spam emails they send. To the end user, the computer appears to be working just fine but, unbeknownst to the user, it has been commandeered to do evil things by people who live far away. Computer security experts estimate that as much as 40% of all spam originates from zombie computers. If your computer is actually infected, local internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T have equipment that can detect a high level of mail activity and halt your ability to send email until you have the computer serviced. Updated antivirus software will usually prevent or remove these kinds of infections. The problem is that many people don’t bother with installing antivirus software, much less keeping it updated.

I can’t do anything about the emotional distress of you being accused of sending offensive email to 

millions of people but rest assured knowing that the offensive mail did not actually come from you. Your computer is probably not infected. Authors of spam and viruses wish to make their messages appear to originate from a legitimate source to fool recipients into opening the message so they often use web-crawling software to scan message boards and web pages for legitimate email addresses. Then use those addresses as the “senders.” They can also originate from a zombie computer that coincidentally has your email address and perhaps a few of your mutual friends in their “contacts.” The virus randomly attaches a name to the “sender” part of the email and that “sender” just happens to be you. Short of starting a real zombie apocalypse, there is not a darn thing you can do about it.

For those of you who use web-based email where you visit a website, such as AT&T or Comcast, there is a chance that your email account has been hacked and spammers are using your account to send spam. This is not very likely, but if you start getting backscatter spam, change your password just to be on the safe side.

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