Monday, May 16, 2005

Der Grossenspammerspiel

The Faithful Correspondent asked me about all the German spam she was getting. I’ve noticed it too, showing up in my Qurb file. Here’s Robert MacMillan’s explanation from the Washington Post.

Spamwurst rides again.

Almost a year after they first appeared, hundreds of German-language junk e-mails are once more sprouting up in many people’s inboxes. The first messages arrived Saturday with subject lines such as “Armenian Genocide Plagues Ankara 90 Years On,” “Multi-Kulturell=Multi-Kriminell” and “Dresden Bombing Is to Be Regretted Enormously,” the latter being a classic example of the passive-voice sentence that sounds as mellifluous in German as it sounds ridiculous in English.

The technological details come courtesy of Australian IT reporter Chris Jenkins: “A spokeswoman for e-mail filtering group Message Labs said the e-mails had been propagated by the ‘Sober.q’ variant of the Sober worm, the first generation of which appeared in 2003.” Jenkins reported that the people who mounted the campaign used computers hijacked with the worm to double as the senders. This explains why the spam comes from all sorts of different address, including people whom you might know.

The content might not be as easy to determine for baffled recipients who don’t speak German. For the most part, it constitutes a mixed bag of racist epithets, tirades about Germans being made to feel like strangers in their own land and arguments against allowing Turkey to join the European Union.

The timing seems to fit well with two notable anniversaries. The first came on April 24th, the date on which Armenians and others mark the Ottoman Empire’s forced deportation of millions of Armenians, which began in 1915 and led to the deaths of 600,000 to 1.5 million people . The e-mails note modern Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the action as genocide and use it to argue against Turkey’s bid to join the EU. (See this excellent writeup by Carl Bialik about the scholarly disagreements over the number of people who died between 1915 and the early 1920s.) Other e-mails point to an article in Der Spiegel describing how a Turkish woman living in Germany died after her brothers shot her on the street because she dressed and behaved in a “Western” manner.


I still don’t know how many of these messages are floating around on the Internet, or who has received them. Some of you might have been hit hard, others left unscathed. I have received about 150 messages since Saturday, and they continue to trickle in at the rate of approximately two every 15 minutes. The problem with blocking them by conventional filtering methods is that many filters use English words to raise red flags.

These messages are spam, which makes them annoying. Their content is xenophobic, racist and far from politically correct, but if you don’t speak German they look like gibberish. The best thing to do is to delete the messages without opening them. As for keeping them out of your inbox, you might be out of luck. Last year’s barrage lasted two weeks before petering out. That is probably what will happen this time.

My advice, passed on from my certified computer wizard brother, is to install a spam-blocking program like Qurb; unless, of course, you’re cramming for your German history finals.