Nobody likes to receive spam because it wastes time and clogs email accounts, yet many companies continue to send it anyway because, unlike direct mail advertising, spamming is essentially free. For the cost of a single Internet account, anyone can reach a potential worldwide audience numbering in the millions. In the eyes of spammers, even if they upset 99 percent of the people on the Internet, having 1 percent buy their product can make spamming worth it.

When sending spam, you don't need to type multiple email messages either. Just as bulk mailers never lick their stamps, many companies use bulk emailing software that automates the addressing process. Click a button and you, too, can scatter unwanted email messages across the Internet.

Many ISPs respond to users' outrage at spam by blocking mail from the accounts of known spammers, though some groups question the legality of doing so, because it amounts to a form of censorship.

Spammers are often stereotyped as scammers and con artists, but that's not necessarily the case. Many are like you or me, just trying to make a buck-but just going about it the wrong way. To learn more about how spammers think and the techniques and software they use, visit the Bulk Email Store (http://www.easybiz.com) and read some testimonials from spammers satisfied with their spamming software.

Retrieving email addresses

Before spammers can start flooding the Internet with their messages, they need a list of email addresses. Although lists of email addresses can be bought, they are not always accurate or up-to-date. Rather than rely on purchased lists that may contain too many obsolete addresses, spammers use programs that extract email addresses to build their own lists. These programs harvest email addresses from three sources: newsgroups, websites, and database directories.

Newsgroup extractors

When you post a message to a CompuServe forum or Usenet newsgroup, your message appears with your email address. Newsgroup extractors download the messages from online services (like America Online) and Usenet newsgroups, strip away the text, and store the return email addresses in a list to produce a free, up-to-date email list.

Even better (from the bulk emailer's point of view), online service forums and Usenet newsgroups focus on specific topics, such as health and fitness, computer programming, or sports. So if, for example, they're selling vitamins, they can simply visit any America Online forum or Usenet newsgroup related to health and fitness, and bingo! They've got a valid list of prospective customers' email addresses.

Website extractors

Website extractors work like newsgroup extractors except that they pull their email addresses from websites. That's because spammers know that if someone puts up a personal or business websites (as shown in Figure 16-1), they're likely to post a contact email address on the web page.

Click To expand Figure 16-1: Bulk email programs can use popular search engines to find websites that list valid email addresses.

Website extracting programs browse the Internet to find websites based on similar topics, such as camping or stock markets. Then they scan these websites until they find one or more email addresses.

Database directory extractors

Database directory extractors pull email addresses from people-finding directory services like Bigfoot. While the list they produce won't be as tightly targeted as those found on websites or in newsgroups, they can produce useful lists targeted toward specific geographical groups or people with particular surnames.

Masking your identity

Spammers often incur the wrath of several hundred (or several million) irate victims. Some respond with angry messages; others launch their own email bombing attacks, sending multiple messages to the spammer's email address, clogging it and rendering it useless.

Unfortunately, crashing or clogging the spammer's ISP can also punish innocent customers who happen to use the spammer's ISP, as well. To avoid such counterattacks, many spammers create temporary Internet accounts (on services such as Hotmail or Juno), send their spam, and then cancel the account before anyone can attack them. Of course, this means constantly creating and canceling multiple Internet accounts, but getting kicked off an ISP and opening new accounts is just part of the game that bulk emailers play. When an interested customer responds, the spammer sends out an actual email address, phone number, or postal address so the prospective customer can learn more.

Of course, for those spammers who can't be bothered opening and closing email accounts, there's an easier way. Many bulk emailing programs, like Email Magnet, simply omit or forge the sender's email address to avoid counterattacks.

Finding a bulk emailing program

You probably won't find a bulk emailing program sold at your local computer store, but you'll find lots of them on the Web. Two sites that sell a variety of bulk emailing programs include Bulk Email Software Superstore (http://www.americaint.com) and Send-Bulk-Email.co.uk (http://www.send-bulk-email.co.uk). (See Figure 16-2.)

Click To expand
Figure 16-2: Anyone can buy a bulk emailing (spamming) program from websites all over the Internet.

Since publishers of bulk emailing programs make tempting targets for spam avengers, they protect their identity by selling their programs through individual distributors who create their own websites and then, in typical pyramid-scheme fashion, sign up others to sell those same programs through their websites too. By using this multilevel marketing approach to sell their software, bulk emailing publishers can remain relatively anonymous while ensuring that their software will be available from multiple locations, no matter how many times anti-spam activists try to attack and shut down a website that offers spamming software.