Is There A Cure For Spam?

For more than a decade, the fight against spam has focused on stopping the flow of thousands of offers for penis-enhancing drugs to our inboxes. Now computer scientists say they've found the key to crippling spammers: They all use the same three banks.

Computer scientists from UC Berkeley and UC San Diego have been searching for a spam cure for years, according to the New York Times. They finally discovered it by turning off all the filters in their email and buying what the spammers were shilling. For three months they collected as many spam emails as possible. After sifting through nearly a billion, they made about 120 orders for drugs and herbal remedies that were each under $277. Their finding: 95% of the transactions were processed by just three banks. They're located in Azerbaijan, Denmark, and Nevis, in the West Indies. Looks like that Nigerian prince hasn't transferred any money to your account because he hasn't had a chance to go to his bank.

If these institutions simply stopped working with known spammers, the entire operation could collapse. The Times explains:

Merchants must work with a bank that is authorized to handle the transactions, [the researchers] said, but most banks already refuse to work with shady sellers. If the financial companies like those found in the study would follow suit, then spammers would have to find new banks — and the cost of switching would be high. Moreover, it is difficult to mask high-risk transactions, making it relatively easy to maintain blacklists.

Another possibility is to have major credit card companies like Visa simply refuse to process payments to the handful of banks that cater to spammers.

Thanks to this research, authorities will be able to determine the most effective way to shut down email scams. This could put a dent in the amount of spam, which makes up 90 percent of all emails. But don't worry — since the study only focused on online pharmacies, this shouldn't disrupt your correspondence with that lovely young lady who wants you to check out her porn site.

Study Sees Way to Win Spam Fight [NYT]

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