tives and of new technologies, both of
which there is no shortage of, and therefore it is likely to plague our society and
our systems for the foreseeable future.
It is therefore the duty of the computing community to enact policies
and research programs to keep fighting against the proliferation of current
and new forms of spam. I conclude
suggesting three maxims that may
guide future efforts in this endeavor:
1. Design technology with abuse in
mind. Evidence seems to suggest that,
in the computing world, new powerful technologies are oftentimes
abused beyond their original scope.
Most modern-days technologies, like
the Internet, the Web, email, and social media, have not been designed
with built-in protection against attacks or spam. However, we cannot
perpetuate a naive view of the world
that ignores ill-intentioned attackers:
new systems and technologies shall
be designed from their inception with
abuse in mind.
2. Don’t forget the arms race. The
fight against spam is a constant arms
race between attackers and defenders,
and as in most adversarial settings, the
party with the highest stakes will prevail: since with each new technology
comes abuse, researchers shall anticipate the need for countermeasures to
avoid being caught unprepared when
spammers will abuse their newly designed technologies.
3. Blockchain technologies. The abil-
ity to carry out massive spam attacks
in most systems exists predominantly
due to the lack of authentication mea-
sures that reliably guarantee the iden-
tity of entities and the legitimacy of
transactions on the system. The block-
chain as a proof-of-work mechanism
to authenticate digital personas (in-
cluding in virtual realities), AIs, and
others may prevent several forms of
spam and mitigate the scale and im-
pact of others.h
Spam is here to stay: let’s fight it
The author would like to thank current
and former members of the USC Infor-
mation Sciences Institute’s MINDS re-
search group, as well as of the Indiana
University’s CNetS group, for invaluable
research collaborations and discus-
sions on the topics of this work. The au-
thor is grateful to his research sponsors
including the Air Force Office of Scien-
tific Research (AFOSR), award FA9550-
17-1-0327, and the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
mentioned in this article include:
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Hotmail, Cisco IronPort, Email Security Appliance (ESA), AOL Instant Messenger,
Reddit, Twitter, and Google Duplex.
h It is worth noting that proof-of-work has been
proposed to prevent spam email in the past,
however its feasibility remains debated, especially in its original non-blockchain-based
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Emilio Ferrara ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant
research professor and associate director of Applied Data
Science at the University of Southern California
Information Sciences Institute, Marina Del Rey, CA, USA.
Copyright held by author/owner.
Publication rights licensed to ACM.