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Spam

Distributed Spam Detection 304

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the interesting-ideas dept.
A reader writes "There's an interesting project at SourceForge, called, "Vipul's Razor", that uses a gnutella like system to let users exchange spam "signatures" to filter spam. I work at an ISP in Ottawa, we have been using it for last two weeks to stop bulk of spam coming to our POP3 accounts. More impressively, it hasn't tagged any valid mail as spam yet. Here's the scoop from its webpage: "Vipul's Razor is a distributed, collaborative, spam detection and filtering network. Razor establishes a distributed and constantly updating catalogue of spam in propagation. This catalogue is used by clients to filter out known spam. On receiving a spam, a Razor Reporting Agent (run by an end-user or a troll box) calculates and submits a 20-character unique identification of the spam (a SHA Digest) to its closest Razor Catalogue Server. The Catalogue Server echos this signature to other trusted servers after storing it in its database. Prior to manual processing or transport-level reception, Razor Filtering Agents (end-users and MTAs) check their incoming mail against a Catalogue Server and filter out or deny transport in case of a signature match."" Cool idea. I'm up around 80% spam a day on my main mail account. Might be worth a try.
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Distributed Spam Detection

Comments Filter:
  • SpamBouncer (Score:5, Informative)

    by joib (70841) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:27PM (#2641281)
    I'm personally using SpamBouncer [spambouncer.org], a procmail-based spam filter. Works fine for me.
  • Great use of p2p (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astrashe (7452) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:29PM (#2641293) Journal
    This is a great use of p2p -- something that doesn't involve piracy. I wish I had heard of it before.

    Are there any other innovative non-piracy p2p apps out there that we should know about?
    • This wont work. All that will happen is that the spammers will just modify their spam programs to slightly modify each message they send out. This will result in each message having a COMPLETELY different SHA signature.
      Cool idea but wont work. Sorry. Maybe some kind of AI algrorithm.
      • by DLG (14172) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:40PM (#2641459)
        >> This wont work. All that will happen is that the spammers will just modify their spam programs to slightly modify each message they send out.

        It will however require them to send each specific message separately rather than sending large cc's or using some sort of relay. That alone is a big step since right now most spammers can get away with sending a single email message and relying on an open relay to retransmit to a larger group.

        Furthermore I have doubts that for the time being this project will concern spammers. Infact I am pretty sure spammers are not really interested in wasting their own time trying to spam people who consider spam a violation. It is more convenient to ignore those people (which is why they don't bother to check if you want spam or not before they send it to you).

        DLG
        • It will however require them to send each specific message separately rather than sending large cc's or using some sort of relay. That alone is a big step since right now most spammers can get away with sending a single email message and relying on an open relay to retransmit to a larger group

          Most spam I get has my real name somewhere in the body of the message, so it doesn't seem like a problem for spammers :(
          • I personally have never seen a single spam that has my real name. If I sign up on some website for something then certainly I can't be really suprised if folks from that website opt me in. Giving them my email and name and such is an invititation to recieving email unless they specifically state they will not send anything.

            Much of the spam I do recieve is of the type where they are sending mail to all the DLG's out there for instance.

            Also much of the spam I get comes through the email addresses that are on webpages... I infact will recieve the same spam several times a day. The only thing that might change is the subject name. (I have never understood why someone thinks that sending me 20 of the same exact advertisement overnight is wise..)

            In any case, I don't know if this process will reduce all spam for all people, but considering that even with blackholes I still get a sizeable amount of spam, anything is worth trying...

            DLG
          • I get a lot of email for Ass Hole, Fuck You, Die Spammer, and other such people I've never heard of.
      • To a degree, this can work. If the signatue was of the text itself. If it was based on long sentences being present within a mail, plus the origin of the mail (based on the connecting IP), this might have a chance.

        Think of it, spammers would have to start hitting multiple mail servers which creates a lot of over head and is just silly, to get around this. That and spammers would have to use very very generic text to get by it. Like "Act now. We sell. Porn!. Natalie Portman!" vs "Come see our barely of age teens do really bad stuff."
      • Well at least it *WILL* filter some of the bad content while leaving the good one clean, right now I receive 20 mails a day of spam in my hotmail inbox and the hotmail filter killed *VALID* messages! they keep junk for 2 weeks, I found that out 3 months later because my girlfriend posts would never reach me for the last few days.. and she's far from being a spammer.

        There's not perfect solution for spam (aside from killing every single individuals that dare spamming people, which unfortunately is still illegal :) ).

        Legislation is too busy removing our civil rights right now than to make our lives better (as they should do). So right now, I'd say, ANY technology helping us to reduce spam should be welcomed and helped in a productive way instead of bashing on it without even giving it a try. It's an open project and it means that if you can contribute in a POSITIVE way, you should. Else, people, please don't discourage programmers working on something that could eventually come out as being a very good solution.
      • by friscolr (124774) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @02:31PM (#2641557) Homepage
        Maybe some kind of AI algrorithm

        everytime spam gets mentioned on slashdot, someone says this, and everytime i respond with the work i've been doing-
        pattern matching spam [blackant.net]
        uses word counts and phrase counts from known spam and known good mail to match against incoming mail. requires a certain amount of known spam/not spam, but otherwise it has a good rate of matching spam/not spam and doesn't require the incoming mail to at all known beforehand.

        • by kevin@ank.com (87560) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @03:49PM (#2641773) Homepage
          Interesting work, but I notice that you are only examining trigrams, and you are using an even weight factor. To improve selection you probably at least need to use variable weights (a fuzzy logic neural network rather than binary logic) and train the network with more sample spam.

          I've been working on a similar project but using additional factors that help identify spam such as violations of the mail RFC's, and other header indicators, in addition to NLP. I have a prototype that I'm using to score all of my inbox e-mail and am using that to tune the weight factors and add in new factors as I encounter them. It would be interesting to combine your approach with mine I think, since I hadn't thought of analyzing trigrams.

          Anyway, if you are interested send me an e-mail and I'll give you my current perl code.

          • Interesting work, but I notice that you are only examining trigrams, and you are using an even weight factor. To improve selection you probably at least need to use variable weights (a fuzzy logic neural network rather than binary logic) and train the network with more sample spam.

            They aren't trying to answer the question "should this particular piece of e-mail be considered spam," but rather "is this particular piece of mail identical (to within some factor) to one that some human considers spam." So they don't need to train anything, they just store the hash-signatures of the spam that is currently making the rounds.

            Even if someone mistakenly identifies a piece of mail as spam, it won't hurt anything; the odds are very low that it will ever match another piece of mail in the entire history of the cosmos.

            -- MarkusQ

    • Re:Great use of p2p (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fdsa (78632)
      How about Freenet [freenetproject.org]? Can be (ab)used for piracy, of course, but neither is that its purpose, nor does it seem its current main use.
    • Re:Great use of p2p (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sarcasmooo! (267601) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:36PM (#2641456)
      Just because most people on a P2P network use it for piracy, it doesn't become a pirate-app. I can, and have, used programs that are under attack by the RIAA do download speeches, text documents, etc. At the early point of the 2000 Nader campaign, when he couldn't get 30 seconds of time on M$NBC (much less a place in the debates later on), I used Napster and Scour to find speeches he's given. And when the Department of Commerce kicked of it's 'Safe Harbor' privacy program by failing to put the confidential information provided by the companies involved on a secure site, I downloaded the pages in a zip file despite the site being closed for a fix. Using programs like Scour, I found reading material on scientology [chalmers.se], COINTELPRO [icdc.com], and more, all the way up until the day that lawsuits shut them down.
    • Not yet, but there will be relatively soon.

      I anticipate that P2P networks will be good as a Free Software server publishing mechanism.

      For example, you download a game, and it uses some popular publishing mechanism for finding or publishing where a game server is.

      I'd REALLY like to see a game construction kit that allows you to easily share your sprites and sounds with others around the world.

      I mean, just think about anything that you can create and share with others...

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DagSverre (223837) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:29PM (#2641294) Homepage
    ...what stops this from being abused? Say I set up a box that automatically reports all mails on the most popular mailing lists as spam, effictively making the ISPs around the world start to filter out the mailing lists...

    It's a great initiative, I really hope no troll out there takes my word on this and actually do this.
    • for abusers who report bogus signatures is to count the number of times each signature is reported and only consider a report valid after the count exceeds a threshold value. Real spam mailings would be reported many times each from distinct nodes and would be easy to distinguish from bogus signatures, which wouldn't be as widely reported.
    • I don't know how an ISP would accomplish this, but when a user sets it up, it's easy: filter your mailing lists first.

      THEN filter the remaining mail.
      The remaining mail SHOULD NOT contain any mailing lists, or other generic mail, just personal stuff.

      Wait-- here's how an ISP sets it up: don't delete the suspected spam, just add a header. The user's client can filter it, hopefully after it handles mailing-list mail.
  • by GlassUser (190787) <slashdot.glassuser@net> on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:30PM (#2641296) Homepage Journal
    I read some of the documentation, but I can't find details on a couple of questions. Do the servers authenticate with each other? It was implied, but how deep is it? Are the SHA signatures signed to the originating server (or client/trollbox) too? I think this kind of model is great, but if you don't have some nifty authentication/accountability, it can be wide open for abuse. I'm sure anyone reading slashdot can imagine a vengeful spammer flooding the network with bogus or malicious hashes.
    • by morzel (62033) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:57PM (#2641383)
      The beauty of a cryptographic hash function is that it's purely one-way: it is very easy to check if two messages are the same (they calculate to the same hash), but it is nearly impossible (or at least very very very hard) to calculate the message for any given hash.

      Injecting random hashes into the network won't result in valid emails being tagged, but can flood/DOS the catalogue machines.

      It would be possible to create hashes for a number of "probable" emails, but diversity in messages is so big, the chances are quite slim to actually stop a legitimate mail.

  • Fabulous Idea! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by under_score (65824) <mishkin-slashdot@bertei g . com> on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:30PM (#2641298) Homepage
    The people who came up with this idea deserve to be considered heros! This is one of the coolest uses of technology I have seen. (Not to be too gushing: SPAM is a rich mans problem - I hope someone comes up with some cool technological solutions to some of humanities more basic problems.) I run a server which hosts mail for a number of domains. I haven't yet, cause I just heard of it, but this will be used! There might be some interesting extensions based on possible problems: certain kinds of spam interest certain people. Perhaps a categorization system would be useful so that spam can be filtered based on these categories (for example, some people might like receiving 100 MLM spam messages a day :-P ). Also, there is an (extremely) slim chance that a legit mail might be blocked based on match hashes. Although this is extremely unlikely, could it be fixed somehow? Finally, some spam comes with very slight differences but is essentially the same spam instance. Chain letters are in a grey area. It would be good to have some heuristic methods of filtering based on content too. I don't know the characteristics of the hashing algorthm used, but perhaps by doing three hashes: start of message, middle of message, and end of message, it may be possible to identify spam even if a small part has been change. Anyway, just some random thoughts. Kudos again to those who have built this!
    • The people who came up with this idea deserve to be considered heros!
      Wouldn't that be BrightLight?
      I don't know the characteristics of the hashing algorthm used, but perhaps by doing three hashes: start of message, middle of message, and end of message, it may be possible to identify spam even if a small part has been change.
      HTML email provides too many places to hide garbage. Comment tags and unused X- attributes are the obvious ones; finely (or grossly) tweaking COLOR elements, or any number of things done to inlined images, provide an effectively infinite number of variations which will pass any filter based on the usual message digest algorithms.

      Many such tricks can be defeated by only hashing words that appear in some standard dictionary and discarding all else, such that

      <FONT COLOR="#FEFDFA"><BLINK X-515322451412135135>LIVE CO--ED NAKED DRESSED GIRLS, =46REE</BLINK></FONT>
      gets reduced to LIVE NAKED DRESSED GIRLS before hashing. Even then, the smart thing to do is not to block matching mail but to blackhole the sources of matching mail, preferably permanently.
      (Not to be too gushing: SPAM is a rich mans problem - I hope someone comes up with some cool technological solutions to some of humanities more basic problems.)
      Humanity's more basic problems are the inability to cope with the concept of a world without scarcity. Would that technology fix that instead of providing the powerful with more ways to create unnatural scarcity.

      -jhp

    • Re:Fabulous Idea! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mmol_6453 (231450)
      I own and operate an ISP, and I will not install this software on my servers, because I refuse to withold my customers' mail.

      However, I will reccommend this software to my customers, so they can use it at their option. That way, they can do what they want. (And I don't get hit with a lawsuit on the off chance a very vital email gets blocked.)
  • by serial frame (236591) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:32PM (#2641306)
    It would be very neat if this were provided as a free service that acts as a front-end to an existing POP3 account. Simply sign up, provide info like your username, POP3 host (but not password; that can be passed from the service to your POP3 server on log-in for safety reasons). Then, point your favourite mail client at the service's POP3 server, and...voila. Same e-mail, minus the spam.

    Nothing truly insightful here, just speculation from a convenience freak.

    • Or how about an email client program that logs into your POP mailboxes, downloads mail (without removing it from the mailbox), compares spam signatures and then proceeds to remove spam from the mailbox. Very useful for those of us who don't yet run our own mail servers.

      Might be a little slower for those dial-up users, especially if they are being charged for connect time. But for people with a shell account (I'd love to set a cron job for every hour or so) and an ISP that is unwilling to run a filter, or someone with inexpensive connetivity who would like to reduce spam, it would be a beautiful solution.

    • For it to be widely used as a server front end, you would have to convince a lot of network types that its both effective and secure. Because right now they would view it as another piece of software to config and patch, in an area where they had no software before and no presidence to have any software. Also the legal types tend to worry about bogus claims like Email = free speach, and liability over mistakenly blocked Emails ect its easier for them to concider it a user problem.

      About 80% of the spam to our domain get forwarded to user bitbucket anyways. This is because our domain name is poiuyt.com and a lot of people use it as a FAKE Email domain instead of using example.com; qwerty@poiuyt.com get tons of spam. Life would be a lot simpler for me if I got off my duff and learned enough about the pop3 protocal to write a script that just found out how many spam's to delete and delete them w/o downloading. Oh well such is the cost of laziness.

  • Fighting spam (Score:5, Informative)

    by Brian Kendig (1959) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:36PM (#2641317) Homepage
    I'll post my usual public service announcements here:

    SpamCop [spamcop.net] is a great service for reporting spam; just paste the spam message into the web form, and it'll automatically figure out where the smap came from and send complaints off to the appropriate people.

    The Spam Bouncer [spambouncer.org] is a procmail-based personal spam screening tool. It's got some interesting features, but I haven't used it in a long while.

    The way I avoid spam is to have my mail client screen out any email which contains any of these phrases:

    to be removed
    to be permanently removed
    to get removed
    to get off the list
    to get off this list
    to be taken off
    to remove yourself
    removal instructions
    remove in subject line
    "remove" in subject line
    remove in the subject
    "remove" in the subject
    'remove' in the subject
    S.1618
    S. 1618


    This list by itself catches about 80% of the spam I get.
    • Re:Fighting spam (Score:2, Informative)

      by sqlrob (173498)
      don't forget:

      one time mailing
    • Re:Fighting spam (Score:2, Informative)

      by invenustus (56481)
      The way I avoid spam is to have my mail client screen out any email which contains any of these phrases:

      Um, are you on any legitimate mailing lists? Don't those get filtered out? I'd imagine half of Slashdot's readership is on one or more of the Linux development lists. I'm Yahoo! Groups mailing list for any number of different interests....
      • Re:Fighting spam (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Thanatopsis (29786)
        Not really, you simply change the order in which your filters get checked and filter out legitimate mailing list traffic from SPAM. For example I am member of various ZDNet lists and development lists. I filter those based on the sender or the from address into my mailbox for them and then I can read them at my leasure.
    • Re:Fighting spam (Score:2, Informative)

      by suwain_2 (260792)
      I think there's a potential problem with this... Not sure if you'll ever have any actual problems with it, but...

      Suppose you send me mail with the exact text in your post. Now, I don't actually get any spam, but it's not a problem. BUt let's say I reply, and leave the original text. SUddenly, my mail meets every single criteria that you're filtering.

    • Also try JunkFilter [zer0.org]
    • Foreign spam removal (Score:5, Informative)

      by wideangle (169366) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @02:23PM (#2641548) Homepage

      For the many /.ers who:

      a. Use Outlook secretly
      b. Receive loads of foreign spam
      c. Don't know any foreign languages
      d. Don't have any foreign friends
      e. Don't have any friends

      This Outlook rule is for you!

      Apply this rule after the message arrives
      with
      Ô or ¾ or Ç or or É or ½ or Í or ò or Ë or ® or Ä or ã or Ï or Ö or Ô in the subject or body
      delete it
      and stop processing more rules.

      This blocks 99% of foreign spam [spamhaus.org]. Sue Mosher wrote about other effective methods [slipstick.com] for killing spam in Outlook. Finally, before you reply saying "You dummy, that filter works in any client!" -- You're right.

    • This ad is produced and sent out by: AdAd Systems, NY, NY 1 1 2 2 2. To be r e m o v e d from our mailing list please email us at
      harold02@musiclover.com.au with r e m o v e in the subject.


      Note the spacing with the word "remove". I wonder if these guys read your post.
    • Ya.. the S.1618 catches a lot. Or just filtering "this is not spam" or "you requested more information" would get a bunch too. :)

      Sad.. I know.

      -Restil
    • I find that setting aside e-mail that's not actually addressed to me catches a lot of spam.
  • by intuition (74209) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:37PM (#2641321) Homepage
    Razor catalogs spam by hashing the entire text of the message. Later potential spam is "detected" by hashing entire texts of messages to see if the hash matches any of the existing hashes in the spam catalog.

    To get around this all a spammer has to do is change/add at least one charachter to each spam. This would make all the hashes unique and no spams would be detected.
    • Technically, it would be possible to create hashes for different pieces of the message, which can be combined in one single "signature" to detect potential matches. It would be more complicated for the catalogue server to execute searches, and the answers won't always be absolute (e.g. partial match).

      • Technically, it would be possible to create hashes for different pieces of the message, which can be combined in one single "signature" to detect potential matches. It would be more complicated for the catalogue server to execute searches, and the answers won't always be absolute (e.g. partial match).

        You would have to define in advance what a "piece" of a message would consist of. Then the spammer simply puts the extra space, unique charachter, etc. in each "piece" of the message. Then, curiously, morzel is still receiving spams despite his/her modified spam blocking approach.

        The central problem is whatever heuristic they use to define what a spam is, it has to be predefined and well known. This would imply the spammer would have knowledge of said heuristic and would be able to form his emails in such configuration as to avoid detection.

        An AC has replied to your post as well suggesting a incomprehensible replacement which at one point says doing preprocessing on both the spam and the mail Ok, buddy and you are going to force the spammers to properly preprocess their mail so that it will get blocked by the mail server filter......right.

        If you can force people to do preprocessing a much better (and comprehensible) solution is [cypherspace.org]
        Hash cash Wherein you force each client to precompute a special value that is costly-enough in terms of CPU cycles to deter spamming. This value can be instantly verified by your client, mailserver, etc. and the email will be summarily dropped if the value is not of the costly-variety. Even if this value had to be checked by the recievers client itself, if a significant aamount of clients were configured not to display the email until the value was verified incentives for sending spam would drop. (hopefully to the point where the effort to send the spam outweighs the return to the spammer)
    • Spammers already do this. Both to the subject line and in the email you will often find a series of 6-8 random numbers attached. This does not make it impossible for this plan to work however.
  • by 4444444 (444444) <4444444444444444 ... 444444@lenny.com> on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:41PM (#2641331) Homepage
    I love costing spammers real money just got to
    http://goto.com
    and do a search for "bulk email" each link you click will cost the scumbags that sell spam software or spamming services several dollars each
    Also I love this new technology I wish all isp's would use it

    and for more spam fighting ideas please check out
    http://www.lenny.com/spam
    • That goto.com (though it looks like they've changed their name to Overture) link is damn cool... over $8 per click?! Though that only hurts the companies that make the software, not the ones that use it. Still worthwhile though...

      Now I wonder whether they have any limitations for hits from a given IP address? One little perl script could put some of those companies out of business otherwise.... :-)=

      [TMB]
    • I love costing spammers real money just got to http://goto.com and do a search for "bulk email" each link you click will cost the scumbags that sell spam software or spamming services several dollars each

      Here's the link [overture.com] for you lazy people.

      The top few listings are more than $8 each.

  • by cperciva (102828) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:41PM (#2641336) Homepage
    As far as I can tell from a quick glance at this, it looks like the entire message body is being used to compute the signature. This isn't going to work very well -- over half of the spam I receive is "personalized", and that fraction is growing every day.

    This could work very well, but we need some way of computing signatures which will be invariant across different copies of personalized spam for this to be effective.
  • Open for abuse? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by robstah (537647)
    Although, i marvel at the theory and innovative use of peer to peer technology to achieve exemplary aims. I have some concerns about the possibilities of abuse, AFAIK the submission system for spam, is not moderated in any way. In fact only the hash is sent to the server and not a copy of the spam, i am therefore concerned that the system could possibly be abused by someone submitting the hash of a legitimate mail to the system that would then result in this email from being recieved by the other hosts. This could be done to prevent the circulation of bugtaq items, my a malicous user for instance. And as everyone has different personal opinions about SPAM and what constitues it, i think a set of clear guidelines is required and when submissions are made a copy of the mail is associated with it and a human being moderates the hashes being submitted. Although i have my doubts about the system, if these were put to rest i would have no hesistation in implementing a system like this.
  • by blibbleblobble (526872) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:45PM (#2641347)
    It does seem like a remarkably sensible system, just getting email clients to talk to each other about the emails they get.

    You can tell if the same email has been sent to hundreds of people (and if you use hashes, you can do that without revealing the email)

    You can click a "this is spam" button when you read an email, and anyone who trusts you (i.e. has your public key in their "trusted filtering friends" list) can look for similar messages and filter them.

    But, there do seem to be a load of problems:
    - Personalised email, as someone already mentioned
    - Privacy problems with letting others into the secrets of your mailbox
    - If you have the original of a message, you can calculate the hash, then see who else got the message (i.e. works for personal mail as well as spam)
    - Relatively easy for malicious users to wrongly label someone as a spammer

    Well worth investigating, though...
  • by wideangle (169366) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:49PM (#2641360) Homepage
    From http://spamassassin.taint.org/ [taint.org]:

    SpamAssassin is a mail filter to identify spam.

    Using its rule base [taint.org], it uses a wide range of heuristic tests on mail headers and body text to identify "spam", also known as unsolicited commercial email.

    The spam-identification tactics used include:

    • header analysis: spammers use a number of tricks to mask their identities, fool you into thinking they've sent a valid mail, or fool you into thinking you must have subscribed at some stage. SpamAssassin tries to spot these.
    • text analysis: again, spam mails often have a characteristic style (to put it politely), and some characteristic disclaimers and CYA text. SpamAssassin can spot these, too.
    • blacklists: SpamAssassin supports many useful existing blacklists, such as mail-abuse.org [mail-abuse.org], ordb.org [ordb.org] or others.
    • Razor: Vipul's Razor [sf.net] is a collaborative spam-tracking database, which works by taking a signature of spam messages. Since spam typically operates by sending an identical message to hundreds of people, Razor short-circuits this by allowing the first person to receive a spam to add it to the database -- at which point everyone else will automatically block it.

    Once identified, the mail can then be optionally tagged as spam for later filtering using the user's own mail user-agent application.

    SpamAssassin requires very little configuration; you do not need to continually update it with details of your mail accounts, mailing list memberships, etc. It accomplishes filtering without this knowledge, as much as possible.

    Call your ISP [google.com] and ask if they use it.
  • I came across an ad recently for a commercial system that worked in a similar way; they had a bunch of different pop accounts set up to catch spam, and then created signatures of those messages in real time. You subscribe to their service, and you get an updated list every . Can't remember the name of the company, but I do remember them saying that new spam messages were typically sent out to clients w/in 15 minutes.

    One question about this system that I hope the poster (or someone else using this system) will answer: what's it like on server load? Right now, at the ISP I work at, we're using procmail to filter for spam (check the graphs here: http://selenium.dowco.com/spam/spam.html [dowco.com]). It's a good way of doing things, but there are some shortcomings: basically, since it runs on our mailserver, I can't run all the body searches I want; in fact, we had to cut out body searches recently because the load was getting too high and/or email was taking too long to get through. There's some workarounds that I haven't got around to putting in yet (body scanning only when 3k in size, etc), but you can see my point. Anyone?

  • by mrsam (12205) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:52PM (#2641366) Homepage
    Spam generators have been trying to hash-bust these kinds of filters for years now. A four year spam generator automatically appends random junk at the end of the Subject header or at the tail end of the message, in order to defeat the early hash-based spam filters.


    This is probably a 'fuzzy' hash function that should ignore minute variations. However, it goes without saying that if this hash-based spam filter becomes widespread, then the spammers will simply figure out how to hash-bust their way past it.


    To have any hope of working over the long term, this kind of an approach must include the ability to distribute not just the hashes themselves, but the hash function as well, so that the hash function itself can be adjusted, when needed.

    • I always figured that the major problem with a system like this was randomized messages. I figured a way around it would be try to make a 'conceptual' hash of the contents, that try to analyze the meaning of the text, not just the data.

      The big problem with that, is well, it's not easy :). But redistributing the hash function when spammers figure out the old one is an interesting idea as well. The big problem is with the more technically savvy spammers (yeh, I'm sure they're are some out there, unfortunately) who could reverse engineer the hash to figure out what makes it tick.
    • To have any hope of working over the long term, this kind of an approach must include the ability to distribute not just the hashes themselves, but the hash function as well, so that the hash function itself can be adjusted, when needed.

      Yes! In fact, why not have many fuzzy hash functions floating around at once? That way, their task would be to come up with something that yielded a different hash against all of the hash functions at once, a much harder problem. If some spammer figures out a way to do it, an anti-spammer can devise a function (looking at lots of copies of the spam, which shouldn't be hard to come by) that would catch it, and now that trick won't work any more.

      Distributing the functions with the hash (with a few safe guards, e.g. re: the halting problem) would make this darned near imposible to beat.

      -- MarkusQ

  • by chris_7d0h (216090) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @12:56PM (#2641381) Journal
    To eliminate the situation where one person posts a lot of "incorrect" signatures, a ranking system could be applied.
    The thought goes like this.
    A person submits a signature of "identified" spam mail to a "supernode" for ex. and the submission gets a ranking of 1. Each additional submission (by other users) increases the score by a number.

    This way, there are several classifications which could be used to filter incoming mail. For the mail providers, they could opt for only removing mail matching signatures with a very high score (thus very likely these will be actual spam) or they could filter anything reported.

    The purpose of allowing the use of classifications is that it will take longer time to get higher scores, since more people have to report the specific spam mail. Some people whish to eliminate things the least bit suspected, but mileage may vary.

    Do you see a resemblance with the ./ moderation?
    • Why bother. A hash is only going to affect a very specific mail. How often do you get mails that many other people get the same identical mail if it isn't spam. Listservs might be a problem. But I'm sure you could filter for each of your subscribed servs so that they don't get deleted.
      • It doesn't have to be a MD5/SHA/whatever hash, it can be a signature based on a fuzzy match. The point is, whatever it is, it needs to be submitted by a number of unrelated sites before its accepted as valid data. Each site can set their own threshold for messages, depending on how much they want to filter.
  • Mailwasher (Score:3, Informative)

    by Heem (448667) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:06PM (#2641399) Homepage Journal
    I'm using Mailwasher [mailwasher.net] it works well for me. Allows you to preview your message headers, delete,blacklist and 'bounce' anything you dont want to recieve. Works well on spam as well as email from your ex-girlfriend.

  • X-YahooFilteredBulk (Score:4, Informative)

    by Malc (1751) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:24PM (#2641436)
    I noticed that a lot of spam coming through my Yahoo account had been tagged with the header "X-YahooFilteredBulk". I added this to my Exim system filter and I've gone from 20+ spams a day in my inbox to 2 in a week. Thank you Yahoo!

    Unfortunately, a lot anti-spam measures (including Exim 3's system filters) only take place after a message has been accepted for delivery. For me, this results in a lot of bounce messages frozen in the queue as they cannot be returned (Hotmail mailbox full, etc). I've switched on features like verifying the sender and the headers, but this doesn't catch them all, and in some cases might even stop some legitimate spam (one of my mailing lists uses incorrect syntax for the "RCPT TO:").

    More effective anti-spam systems need to filter before the message has been accepted. If you wait until then, it is already too late and it is on your system. No, refusing accept delivery is much effective IMHO, and forces the MTA's further up the chain to deal with it. They shouldn't have accepted it in the first place! When you get spam, return 550 (or whatever the code is) and let the SMTP client deal with it. In an ideal world, ever provider (ISP, or free service like Yahoo) will implement stricter MTA's. If the spam rejection can be pushed far enough up the chain, life for everyone will easier.

    BTW, according to Philip Hazel (a message I recieved to a question I posed on the Exim mailing list), Exim 4 will offer much more functionality along these lines, including the invocation of C funtions after the DATA phase of the SMTP input. I guess this would be the spot to plug in Vipul's Razor, although I don't know what kind performance hit that would lead to. Mr. Hazel also pointed out that some stupid clients are in contravention of the RFC and will continue to try and delivery a message if they recieved 5xx after the DATA phase... oh well: they'll be using my bandwidth but they won't be putting any crap on my server.
  • a good idea, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by deander2 (26173) <public.kered@org> on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:29PM (#2641444) Homepage


    What stops the spammer from including a unique identifier in each e-mail (such as a count variable), changing the SHA for each e-mail that goes out?

    Just a thought...
    • What stops the spammer from including a unique identifier in each e-mail...

      That's a serious problem with a signature-based spam recognizer. There are spam generators that already make each spam unique. Some just personalize the message. Some add text composed of random phrases to the message. Some append a number to the subject line. Just hashing the text of the message won't work for long.

  • by Rikardon (116190) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:34PM (#2641453)
    I found a clever way to defeat most spam on the webpage of an avid cyclist; unfortunately I can't remember his name or enough information about him to run a Google search and give this method proper attribution. But here goes anyway:

    The key to this method is to realize that most spam has a spoofed "To" address -- RARELY is it addressed directly to you. If you dig in the message headers, you'll usually found it was mailed (or CC'd) to a whole bunch of people at once, for obvious reasons. So you set up your mail filters thusly:

    First, set up a filter allowing any "legal" mailing lists you're on to go to your Inbox.

    Next, a filter to allow any mail sent directly to you (i.e. you@domain.com is in the To or CC lines) to go to your Inbox.

    Finally, a filter that deletes everything else.

    You'd be amazed how effective this is. Since setting this up, I only get maybe one spam message past this system every three or four months.

    Mind you, I also have my email come in via Bigfoot, which has a pretty good spam filter itself. But this has nonetheless proven quite effective.
    • This won't work if somebody has sent you a message by way of BCC (Blind Carbon Copy).
      1. Set a filter that sends "legal" mailing lists to your mailing list folder.
      2. Set another filter that sends friends/family/work/etc to their own folders.
      3. Anything else (spam) gets dumped in the Inbox.

      ------

      If you have O2002, you can do something similar by whitelisting. [win2000mag.com] "Whitelisting is the opposite of blacklisting. Whereas the latter bans messages from certain senders, whitelisting accepts mail from specific senders."

      "The new feature is an additional Rules Wizard condition: "sender is in Address Book," where you choose the address book--I've chosen my Contacts folder. For a message from a sender found in my Contacts folder, the rule applies a "known sender" category and stops processing the message. The "stop processing" action ensures that the message stays in my Inbox. Another rule at the bottom of the list moves everything that previous rules didn't handle into my Junk Mail folder for later review."

      How do you do this with PINE/procmail? I'd like to stop using Outlook.

  • Virus Detection (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doorbot.com (184378) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:42PM (#2641465) Journal
    This seems like it would be a great method for virus detection on a non-Windows machine. For those of you who run *nix mail servers which eventually filters down to Windows clients, having a mail tagged as viral would be nice to have it be immediately denied at the server. So I'm assuming all it would take is a smart admin to tag the email as spam, and then it will propagate around to the other servers (less than 1k would transfer!).
  • by wirefarm (18470) <jim@mm[ ]net ['dc.' in gap]> on Saturday December 01, 2001 @01:51PM (#2641483) Homepage
    I spent the last few days hacking together a bulk mailer in perl. I did so with a lot of sensitivity and a bit of trepidation and a lot of social engineering to my employer who wanted to put together a way to send invitations to a party via email, rather than the very expensive snail mail method that we had been using.

    This was emailed to our real customers - our 'A list'. These are the people who get invited to these parties each time - people who come and enjoy the food and drinks, no strings attached.

    But, yet, technically, it *is* bulk email and this first time, unsolicited. A very large percentage of the people responded enthusiasticly that they want to remain on the list for this, but a few (8 out of 3500) asked to be removed from the list. One guy seemed annoyed and I typed him a personal apology. (In fact, I doubt that this guy read the email before sending off his remove request.)
    What if that guy had submitted the email as spam to this system?
    In that case, the rest would miss out on coming to a good party.

    I hate spam as much as anyone on slashdot. I was asked to set up a bulk email and found that it could be done in a way that was not offensive in this case. Had it conflicted with my conscience, I would have refused.

    Maybe the system needs some sort of moderation as a filter, too. At least that would allow valid bulk email to survive one trigger-happy end-user.

    Ok, go ahead and tell me that I'm wrong in this...
    Cheers,
    Jim in Tokyo
  • OH NO!! (Score:2, Funny)

    by evilpaul13 (181626)
    I'll never get another "funny email" from my Mom again!
  • By filtering out mails that contain the phrase "this is not spam"
  • by tgeller (10260) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @02:20PM (#2641542) Homepage
    A canonical list of server-based spam filtering systems [spamcon.org] is on the SpamCon Foundation site, along with other sysadmin resources [spamcon.org].

  • by Sarin (112173) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @02:24PM (#2641551) Homepage Journal
    I receive about 40 spam messages in my mail account each day and I run my own mail server (qmail). Someone told me about a very basic spam stopping method. Just remove the mail-account for a couple of weeks and then reconnect it again, you should less or no spam after that period.

    I receive too much real messages in order to try this out and I think most spammers won't bother to actuall remove an email address from their database if it doesn't exist. But has someone else tried this with any luck?

    This p2p spam sounds really nice and I'm going to give it a try asap. I already "lost" an other mail-account in the flood of spam I got on it, so now it forwards all messages to msnbill@microsoft.com (microsoft domain billing address).
  • Similar to DCC (Score:2, Informative)

    by bedessen (411686)
    See also DCC, the distributed checksum clearinghouse [rhyolite.com]. It uses a fuzzy hash so that bulk emails with minor differences are caught. I think the details differ a lot but the idea is more or less the same.
  • The death of SpamCop (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @04:01PM (#2641812) Homepage
    I use SpamCop [spamcop.net] to filter the mail for four domains. SpamCop used to be quite effective, because it used a challenge/response system, sending new mail sources an autoreply E-mail with a URL that had to be visited before the mail was forwarded. While that's a pain for the sender, it's been 100% effective in stopping spam.

    Recently, though, SpamCop switched to a heuristic spam-filter, which is quite leaky. Not only does spam get through, messages from well-known viruses come through. It stops maybe half the spam now.

    So SpamCop is now no more effective than typical procmail filters. So there's no point in paying for SpamCop service any more.

    Anyone know of a good challenge/response alternative to SpamCop?

  • by vipul_ved_prakash (540517) on Saturday December 01, 2001 @04:48PM (#2641930) Homepage
    Hi,

    Some of you point out that Razor's use of SHA-1 signatures can be defeated by introducing randomness in the message. This is true; SHA-1 will eventually be phased out and replaced by a fuzzy hashing mechanism like nilsimsa in future. [http://lexx.shinn.net/cmeclax/nilsimsa.html] [http://www.geocrawler.com/archives/3/2539/2001/7/ 0/6173567/] The protocol is structured to aid change of hashing algorithms seamlessly, without breaking the existing system. Regarding the possibility of poisoning the database, we are working on a reputation system that will assign credit to honest reporters. Once we have a critical mass of users, it would be hard for dishonest reporters to even join the reporting network, much less be able to mount a DOS attack. Some of these issues have been discussed on the razor-users mailing list. The list archives are located at [http://www.geocrawler.com/archives/3/2539/2001/] best, vipul.

  • The comment made in the submission states that Razor is gnutella-like. That is BS too; if anything, it's Napster-like. Razor is a centralized, collaborative filtering system. One could argue that Razor's master servers are distributed and that the entire system is therefore not fully centralized, but this will change shortly to a master/slave model, which will allow the introduction of a reputation management system.

    Keep your eyes peeled.

    --jordan
  • I had a thought about this a little while ago. What if you only accepted mail from people that included their PGP fingerprint, and then only the particular people that you want to accept mail from?

    This turns your mailbox into a Opt-In situation. I realize that this would be hard to do, and that you would have to swap fingerprints off-line, but wouldn't you have to do that anyway? This would also require mail clients to allow you to set up a new X-Header (most will, won't they?) like PGP-Fingerprint or something.

    It certainly would keep unwanted mail out of your mailbox. And if you decided that you didn't want any more mail from a particular person, just remove their fingerprint. This also gets around the problem of someone sending email from different addresses. I personally have 4 or 5 different email addresses that I use for various purposes.

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