Monday, December 15, 2008

There's no business like the scam business

Just a few days ago, the FTC has finally decided to act against Innovative Marketing, Inc. and ByteHosting Internet Services . These two companies are responsible for many, if not most, technical support calls received by pretty much every company in the world. Their variation of spyware nicknamed "Scareware" sneak in to computers and internet sites, and notify the user that his computer is infected with viruses, urging him to buy an anti-virus from these companies. The "warning" is false mostly, and it is designed and branded to look like a genuine notification from Microsoft or the operating system.

Why did it take the FTC so much time to do something about this menace is beyond me, but the question is this - can the FTC really combat this sort of threat? Despite charging only 40$ for their software, both companies made millions of dollars, and that kind of incentive isn't going to go idle just because of some FTC barking. These companies, just like spammers and other shady or illegal operations have never cowered away from authority. In similar cases, the operators would usually disappear and re-start their operation somewhere else. Sometimes under a new name, and other times in another country. Innovative Marketing already has offices in Ukraine, pretty far from the FTCs grab. In fact, I suspect that there at least a few hundred people reading about this in the media and thinking "Hmmmmm...maybe I should start a business like that?"

The Spam market is a good analogy. We have been fighting spam for years now, and we've tried everything. We've enacted legislation , successfully sued spammers , developed technology to fight it and even raised awareness in the public , but Spam rates haven't decreased significantly. Why? Because as long as there's somebody who will buy it, there will be someone to sell it.

That sounds bleaker than I intended, but are we really going to have to live with these computer annoyances forever? I was never an optimist about human nature, and I'm afraid I can't be one here either. The human race has been battling crime since the dawn of time, and despite some very effective law enforcement and punishment systems, people are still stealing, hurting, killing and more. Bottom line? We shall always rejoice when spammers or other cyber terrorists are taken down, but the hard truth is that this is a fight that's never going to end. Maybe it's time to think of taking out some insurance...

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