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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

'Beneficial spam' is still spam

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Friday, 23 January 1998

NETWORK ASSOCIATES ISSUED a press release touting an automated "NewsSniffer" agent which "scans all Usenet newsgroup messages to protect the on-line community from virus-infected files." I'd call NewsSniffer a legit public service but it also qualifies as a spectacular advertising vehicle. Think about it:

  • it identifies perfect candidates for antivirus software;
  • it sends an official warning/advertisement direct from Network Associates; and
  • each warning appears in the Usenet newsgroup where everyone can read it.

NewsSniffer will end up creating new controversies about Usenet's biggest problem: spam. The news.admin.net-abuse.usenet newsgroup identified Network Associates as a potential spam abuser in a recent report. "Anti-spam vigilantes" will quickly tire of blatant automated advertisements — and "pro-spam vigilantes" may point to NewsSniffer as a perfect example of beneficial spam.

On a sour note, Net­work Asso­ciates now offers a simple, effec­tive way to in­crease your virus library.

Another sour note: NewsSniffer provides a simple, effective way to increase your virus collection. Each alert identifies the specific virus inside the specific Usenet message attachment. "Nope, already got that one. (mouseclick) Got that one too. (mouseclick) Now here's an interesting one..."

I predict Network Associates will quietly dump NewsSniffer when they smell the gunpowder and feel the pain in their foot. At any rate, this advertising technique doesn't qualify as "new" — Solomon and Symantec promoted similar community services over the years. (Remember those?)