After SPIM (Spam over Instant Messaging), what?

After SPIM (Spam over Instant Messaging), what?

Why SPIT of course — Spam over Internet Telephony. As VoIP spreads, spammers are seeing it as an opportunity to send unsolicited voicemail ads to your computer. Eric Hellweg has an interesting piece about it in the MIT Technology Review. Here’s an excerpt:

“Most of the industry leaders and observers I speak with acknowledge the threat of spam over VoIP, but knew of no wide-based industry effort to address it. That’s disconcerting. […] Jeff Pulver, CEO of Free World Dialup (FWD), says someone tried this summer to send spit to his company’s subscribers. He was able to thwart the effort, however, by blocking the IP address of the sender — similar to how e-mail spam is often stopped today. As a result of this attempt to send unsolicited advertising at FWD, Pulver created a new tool called the Pulver Communicator, which will be unveiled in about two weeks. The tool allows FWD users to select people who can call them from a buddy list of sorts. ‘Users can set rules as to who can call them,’ says Pulver. It’s a very smart approach, combining elements from social networking programs such as Friendster and instant message buddy lists. It’s the kind of endeavor that others in the industry would do well to replicate. But no one else seems to be talking about the issue much — and this is the time when such efforts should be underway.”

Hallweg does have some good news though — for example that certain VoIP services, such as Skype, AT&T’s Callvantage, Vonage, and Comcast, would be largely immune to such attacks because portions of those networks operate over a closed system that the SPITters would have to hack.

However, he concludes,

“FWD and others have only a brief window of time in which to create ways to block voice-spam. The laws of economics are on their side — for now. Simply put, there aren’t enough people using open VoIP right now to justify voice spammers’ efforts to pitch them. Until that critical mass is reached, voice spam likely won’t become a serious problem. But VoIP is marching toward widespread adoption; research firm IDC predicts that by 2008, the U.S. consumer market for VoIP will reach $5.6 billion, up from $320 million this year. And as VoIP becomes more commonly used, the window of opportunity for stopping spit will slam shut.”