10 ways spam is like vuvuzelas

The World Cup horns share some common characteristics with junk e-mail . . . hear us out.

If you've been glued to the World Cup, you'll know that there's more to the matches than soccer (football for our international audience). I'm talking about those incessant horns -- the vuvuzelas. They're really catching people's attention, for all the wrong reasons.

It got me thinking . . . In this week's Security Levity, how is a vuvuzela just like spam?

Vuvuzelas and spam? Have I gone mad? Never fear, dear reader, let me count the ways...

10. It's continuous and unavoidable

The vuvuzela emits a loud, irritating, continuous noise that's impossible to avoid -- ruining many people's World Cup experience.

Spam is eyecatching, irritating, continuous noise that's impossible to avoid -- ruining many people's email experience.

9. It didn't begin this way

The vuvuzela started life ages ago inside dispersed village communities, far away from the mainstream; it only came to worldwide attention within the last 10 to 20 years.

Spam started life ages ago (in internet time) inside dispersed USENET communities, far away from the mainstream; it only came to worldwide attention within the last 10-20 years.

8. The "wisdom" of the crowds

The vuvuzela is blown by hordes of people simultaneously.

Spam appears to be sent by hordes of (fake) people simultaneously.

7. Sociopathic anonymity.

Vuvuzela blowers are basically anonymous and don't care what other people think about their noise.

Spammers are basically anonymous and don't care what other people think about their spam.

6. It's unhealthy

The vuvuzela is a health concern for other people in the crowd, due to its loudness -- a staggering 120 dB(A) at 3 ft.

Spam that advertises fake pills is a health concern for other email users -- the pills can be poisonous, or at least ineffective.

5. "It's my right"

Some Southern African people see blowing the vuvuzela as their cultural right.

Some West African people see scamming westerners via "419" spam as their cultural right (or, at least, as fair retribution for imperialist acts).

4. Infection vectors

Vuvuzelas are said to spread bacterial and viral infection, in a similar way to coughing, but far more effectively.

Spam can spread Trojan and virus infection, in a similar way to USB keys, but far more effectively.

3. Found in other places

The vuvuzela phenomenon has spread outside of soccer, into venues such as YouTube.

The spam phenomenon has spread outside of email into venues such as YouTube.

2. It's illegal, theoretically

Authorities in many countries are trying to ban the use of the vuvuzela, with limited success.

Authorities in many countries are trying to ban spam, with limited success.

1. The only workable plan: filter it

Technologists have tried to filter the noise, initially with poor results -- also filtering the commentary -- but with increasing sophistication and success (including the use of adaptive filters).

Technologists have tried to filter spam, initially with poor results -- also filtering legitimate email -- but with increasing sophistication and success (including the use of adaptive filters).

Yes, I think you'll agree: vuvuzelas are remarkably like spam!

(Many thanks to David Tran, DB&K, Zaian and the hundreds of other Wikipedia contributors for the vuvuzela article that inspired this post.)

When he's not watching the World Cup (which he isn't), Amir Lev is the CTO, President, and co-founder of Commtouch (NASDAQ:CTCH), an e-mail and Web defense technology provider.

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Amir Lev

PC World (US online)
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