Email Address Harvesting
Is your in-box clogged with junk email messages from people you don't know? Are you overwhelmed by unsolicited email offering products or services you don't want?
It's no wonder. According to research by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several law enforcement partners, it's harvest time for spammers. But, the consumer protection agency says, the good news for computer users is that they can minimize the amount of spam they receive.
According to the investigators, spammers typically use computer programs that search public areas on the Internet to compile, capture, or otherwise "harvest" lists of email addresses from web pages, newsgroups, chat rooms, and other online destinations.
To find out which fields spammers consider most fertile for harvesting, investigators "seeded" 175 different locations on the Internet with 250 new, undercover email addresses. The locations included web pages, newsgroups, chat rooms, message boards, and online directories for web pages, instant message users, domain names, resumes, and dating services. During the six weeks after the postings, the accounts received 3,349 spam emails. The investigators found that:
86 percent of the addresses posted to web pages received spam. It didn't matter where the addresses were posted on the page: if the address had the "@" sign in it, it drew spam.
86 percent of the addresses posted to newsgroups received spam.
Chat rooms are virtual magnets for harvesting software. One address posted in a chat room received spam nine minutes after it first was used.
Addresses posted in other areas on the Internet received less spam, the investigators found. Half the addresses posted on free personal web page services received spam, as did 27 percent of addresses posted to message boards and nine percent of addresses listed in email service directories. Addresses posted in instant message service user profiles, "Whois" domain name registries, online resume services, and online dating services did not receive any spam during the six weeks of the investigation.
In almost all instances, the investigators found, the spam received was not related to the address used. As a result, consumers who use email are exposed to a variety of spam - including objectionable messages - no matter the source of the address. Some email addresses posted to children's newsgroups received a large amount of spam promoting adult web sites, pitching work-at-home schemes, and even advertising hallucinogenic drugs
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