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When I first secured my own domain,, one of the pleasures of that vanity acquisition was catch-all email forwarding. What this meant was that any email sent to—whether, or—would end up in my inbox. In essence, I had an infinite set of email addresses to call my own.*

This was back in those heady days when spam was still a relatively scarce and benign offense, though even then the prudent were being warned not to put "mailto" URLs on their web sites, owing to the many robots out harvesting just such creatures to feed into their nefarious spam machines.

Over the years, as the tide of spam has risen, I've applied an increasing rigorous series of filters to hold back the onslaught. I've watched my daily spam intake increase logarithmically—maybe one a day back in the day, then ten, then a hundred, then a thousand. Yes, a thousand.

Part of this was due, I admit, to having placed many of those pesky links on my site. By the time I realized I seriously needed to scour them, the damage was done. My email address was out there, prominently listed amongst the ingredients for spam. But that was not all of it. Spammers grew more clever by leaps and bounds. They took to running whole dictionaries of common and not-so-common first names through their software, pairing each with domain names that anyone could glean from a handy DNS server. I received spam targeted at everyone from to

I began filtering for spam at the client level, but then the spammers started targeting long lists of last names.,, and all were wooed with offers of low remortgaging, ch34p v14gr4, and penile enhancement. I erected my fortress walls higher, applying filters at the server level as well as at the client level.

Still the floodwaters continued to rise as spammers came up with ever-cleverer techniques for foiling the ever-cleverer filters. But even as good as the filters became, if I didn't leave my email client running all night, it could take upward of half an hour for my software to download and process all the messages that arrived in the course of eight short hours. I finally shut down entirely, shifting the burden of my personal correspondence to a different address that I'm not stupid enough to print here.

Still the levels rose.

I'm not sure quite why I waited so long—perhaps because I was loath to lose any of the increasingly rare real email messages suspended in that rising tide. But today something snapped, as I awoke to the prospect of downloading more than three thousand email messages to find the wheat amidst the chaff. Projected out over a full day, that's ten thousand emails in 24 hours. That's just unsupportable.

My catch-all forwarding is no more. I have set up a bare handful of email addresses where messages can actually get through to me, but everything else at, and indeed at any of the other domains I now own, but everything else will bounce. And the bounces contain a message that wishes the ingestion of shards of fused silicon dioxide and subsequent painful expiration upon the senders of unsolicited commercial email.

So far today, since slamming the fortress gates shut this morning, exactly two spam messages have gotten through. I feel as if, having lain awake at night for months upon months while the neighbors run heavy excavation and construction equipment, they've finally been evicted and I can hear the crickets chirping again. Ah, blissful quiet!

If only I wasn't certain those two messages represent the leading edge of another slow logarithmic assault.

* This, of course, is not literally true. There is an upper limit on the allowable length of an email address, which means the set isn't really infinite. It's just really fucking big.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 8, 2004 3:58 PM.

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