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Heinz Tschabitscher, email.about.com
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Almost all Internet users hate spammers except for maybe those who use spam themselves but this is just a small part of the Internet-community. Nevertheless spammers exist and it is not so easy to catch them. During the 12 years of spam history they have learned not only how to trick anti-spam programs but also how to remain anonymous.
Being annoyed with junk messages many Internet users, especially beginners, at some point decide to reply to those messages and to express all the anger to the spammer. So, couple of minutes, couple of strong words, "Reply" is pushed and the letter is sent saying that it is not nice to bother a modest teacher with e-mails about exciting tours to Barbados or more often containing something much more offensive. It looks like this is time to feel satisfied but here you get the first proof that you are not dealing with a fool sending stupid letters. The spammer really cares about his anonymity and in the most cases the address from where spam is sent doesn't exist at all or doesn't have any relation with the contents of spam.
Actually, to substitute the sender's address, which is seen by a receiver, is quite easy. Till 2005 you could do this even in such a popular and respected e-mail client as MS Outlook because of a bug in the program. Obviously, in special programs that are used by spammers this option is not a bug but a necessary feature. The substitution of a real sender's address in the header of a message is a harder task because e-mail clients usually do not have this option. However this is also possible in the special spam programs.
In fact, the substitution of the address is not that necessary. Quite often spam is sent from a one-time e-mail address: a spammer creates an e-mail account, sends messages and immediately closes the account. If some receivers decide to reply then they get all their angry letters back because the address no longer exists. Those who are angry enough to go further will meet another problem.
Stubborn spam-fighters can eventually obtain the real e-mail address of the spammer and the IP-address of the server from where spam is sent. It is also possible to obtain the information about the hosting of the server. And here is the problem because spammers usually use so-called "abuse-protected" hostings that do not really care about their clients business. So these hostings do not consider any complaints and it is almost impossible to take them to court because they are, for example, located in a country where spamming is not a crime.
Unfortunately, ordinary Internet users cannot do much to punish a spammer but experienced hackers or special services can achieve better results. That is why professional spammers have to be very inventive to remain anonymous. Luckily for them Internet is just specially designed for anonymous interaction and the main instrument there for preserving anonymity is proxy-servers.
Initially, proxy-servers were introduced to make the connection to Internet faster but in time as the speed of data transfer via Internet has grown this functionality has become useless. Now, another proxy-server functionality is more important - using a proxy-server allows to remain anonymous when reading a web-site or sending e-mail. So if the user is connected to Internet via a proxy-server then using ordinary methods it is possible to obtain only the proxy-server IP-address and not that of the end user. When somebody, here we mean spammers, works in Internet via a series of proxy-servers it becomes almost impossible to locate them even with special programs. Usually spammers use series of anonymous socks-proxies. Such servers use socks protocol, which is not coordinated with higher order protocols (e.g. HTTP), and allow spammers to do their job remaining absolutely anonymous.
The situation with catching spammers looks in a way like decoding encrypted messages. Cryptographers believe they can decode everything and this is just a matter of time and resources. Similarly, any active spammer can be eventually caught although with reasonable efforts it is possible to detect only those who have been inaccurate and haven't cared much about the anonymity.
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About the Author: Mike Grunch, Tech Writer at LuxContinent.
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