Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Spam Nation

I’m on a bit of a mission to read some cyber security books, which are always equal parts fascinating and terrifying. But Spam Nation is more of a fun mystery novel as it’s mostly a story about two rival spammers, who probably do as much to undermine their industry (for lack of a better word) as they did to start it.

But it’s also a fascinating insight into the underground world of spam email messages. For example, if you own a giant botnet (usually infected IoT or other internet connected device) you will also be a prolific spammer as it’s that infrastructure that allows this industry to happen.

Or that people *actually buy* the pharmaceutical products advertised through spam. The sad part about that is that it’s a lot of legit medications bought by Americans because of their awful healthcare system.

And that if you have a bad experience with some spam-medicine, you’ll get refunded. This was because they’d rather lose the money for one sale than have their accounts be investigated for fraud. Basically, all of these companies have very tenuous links to the legit banking industry and too many red flags undermine their ability to make money. In the end, this is eventually how the main money makers were undermined.

What I found fascinating though was how hard it was to investigate if the spam medicine was legit or not. It wasn’t for lack of willingness by researchers but more so because big drug companies were afraid that the medications would be legitimate and have enough of the active ingredients in them to be effective nine times out of ten.

My only criticism of the book was the author spending a bit too much time discussing why he left the Washington Post and sometimes making the story all about him. But that was only once in awhile.

It’s actually a very fun read (even though I sometimes got the various spammers mixed up (so many Russians with V names!) So if you’re ever interested in a very brief and accessible introduction to this area, which isn’t as massive as Future Crimes I’d definitely recommend this book.

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