Spam: back from CEAS. The schedule with links to full papers is up, so anyone can go along and check ’em out, if you’re curious.

Overall, it was pretty good — not as good as last year’s, but still pretty worthwhile. I didn’t find any of the talks to be quite up to the standards of last year’s TCP damping or Chung-Kwei papers; but the ‘hallway track’ was unbeatable ;)

Here’s my notes:

AOL’s introductory talk had some good figures; a Pew study reported that 41% of people check email first thing in morning, 40% have checked in the middle of the night, and 26% don’t go more than 2-3 days without checking mail. It also noted that URLs spimmed (spammed via IM) are not the same as URLs spammed — but the obfuscation techniques are the same; and they’re using 2 learning databases, per-user and global, and the ‘Report as Spam’ button feeds both.

Experiences with Greylisting: John Levine’s talk had some useful data — there are still senders that treat a 4xx SMTP response (temp fail) as 5xx (permanent fail), particularly after end of the DATA phase of the transaction, such as an ‘old version of Lotus Notes’; and there are some legit senders, such as Kodak’s mail-out systems, which regenerate the body in full on each send, even after a temp fail, so the body will look different. He found that less than 4% of real mail from real MTAs is delayed, and overall, 17% of his mail traffic was temp-failed. The 4% of nonspam that was delayed was delayed with peaks at 400 and 900 seconds between first tempfail and eventual delivery.

As usual, there were a variety of ‘antispam via social networks’ talks — there always are. Richard Clayton had a great point about all that: paraphrasing, I trust my friends and relatives on some things, and they are in my social networks — but I don’t trust their judgement of what is and is not spam. (If you’ve ever talked to your mother about how she always considers mails from Amazon to be spam, you’ll know what he means.)

Combating Spam through Legislation: A Comparative Analysis of US and European Approaches:
the EU ‘opt-in’ directive is now transposed everywhere in the EU; EU citizens who are spammed by a citizen from another EU country, the reports should be sent to the antispam authority in the sender’s country; and there’s something called ‘ECNSA’, an EU contact network of spam authorities, which sounds interesting (although ungoogleable).

Searching For John Doe: Finding Spammers and Phishers: MS’ antispam attorney, Aaron Kornblum, had a good talk discussing their recent court cases. Notably, he found one cases where an Austrian domain owner had set up a redirector site which sounded like it was expressly set up for spam use — news to me (and worrying).

A Game Theoretic Model of Spam E-Mailing: Ion Androutsopoulos gave a very interesting talk on a game theoretic approach to anti-spam — it was a little too complex for the time allotted, but I’d say the paper is worth a read.

Understanding How Spammers Steal Your E-Mail Address: An Analysis of the First Six Months of Data from Project Honey Pot: Matthew Prince of Project Honeypot had some excellent data in this talk; recommended. He’s found that there’s an exponential relationship between google Page Rank and spam received at scraped addresses, which matches with my theory of how scrapers work; and that only 3.2% of address-harvesting IPs are in proxy/zombie lists compared to 14% of spam SMTP delivery IPs. (BTW, my theory is that address scraping generally uses Google search results as a seed, which explains the former.)

Computers beat Humans at Single Character Recognition in Reading based Human Interaction Proofs (HIPs): this presented some great demonstrations of how a neural network can be used to solve HIPs (aka CAPTCHAs) automatically. However, I’m unsure how useful this data is, given that the NN required 90000 training characters to achieve the accuracy levels noted in the paper; unless the attacker has access to their own copy of the HIP implementation they can run themselves, they’d have to spend months performing HIPs to train it, before an attack is viable.

Throttling Outgoing SPAM for Webmail Services: cites Goodman in ACM E-Commerce 2004 as saying that ESP webmail services are a ‘substantial source of spam’, which was news to me! (less than 1% of spam corpora, I’d guess). It then discusses requiring the submitter of email via an ESP webmail system to perform a hashcash-style proof-of-work before their message is delivered. By using a Bayesian spam filter to classify submitted messages, the ESP can cause spammers to perform more work than non-spammers, thereby reducing their throughput. Didn’t strike me as particularly useful — Yahoo!’s Miles Libbey got right to the heart of the matter, asking if they’d considered a situation where spammers have access to more than one computer; they had not. A better paper for this situation would be Alan Judge’s USENIX LISA 2003 one which discusses more industry-standard rate-limiting techniques.

SMTP Path Analysis: IBM Research’s anti-spam team discuss something very similar to several techniques used in SpamAssassin; our versions have been around for a while, such as the auto-whitelist (which tracks the submitter’s IP address rounded to the nearest /16 boundary), since 2001 or 2002, and the Bayes tweaks we added from bug 2384, back in 2003.

Naive Bayes Spam Filtering Using Word-Position-Based Attributes: an interesting tweak to Bayesian classification using a ‘distance from start’ metric for the tokens in a message. Worth trying out for Bayesian-style filters, I think.

Good Word Attacks on Statistical Spam Filters: not so exciting. A bit of a rehash of several other papers — jgc’s talk at the MIT conference on attacking a Bayesian-style spam filter, the previous year’s CEAS paper on using a selection of good words from the SpamBayes guys, and it entirely missed something we found in our own tech report — that effective attacks will result in poisoned training data, with a significant bias towards false positives. In my opinion, the latter is a big issue that needs more investigation.

Stopping Outgoing Spam by Examining Incoming Server Logs: Richard Clayton’s talk. Well worth a read. It’s an interesting technique for ISPs — detecting outgoing spam by monitoring hits to your MX from your own dialup pools which uses known ratware patterns.

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