WHAT do ads for penis enlargements, breast augmentations, Viagra at discount prices, urgent business proposals from Nigeria and a random assortment of computer viruses have in common?
They are among the many unwanted email messages – “spam” – users of monopoly Internet service provider Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. (RACSA) have grown accustomed to receiving every time they check their e-mail accounts.
While the amount of spam each user receives varies, practically everyone who has an e-mail address that ends with RACSA’s domain name (@racsa.co.cr) gets some. Lucky customers complain about receiving only five spams a day. Really unlucky customers have reported receiving as many as 300 in a single day.
“IT’S a reality, we are flooded with spam e-mails,” said Isidro Serrano, General Manager of RACSA. “We don’t know how much we receive, but we know it’s a lot. I myself suffer from this problem. However, I can assure users RACSA has a strong policy against “spammers.” Each day, we take more drastic steps,” he told The Tico Times.
“This is a problem that affects the worldwide network [the Internet] and makes it less efficient,” he explained.
To reduce the growing number of spam messages RACSA users receive on a daily basis, the company is working to installnew software on its computers that will filter out most of the unwanted messages, according to Serrano.
“WE have a new technical tool that catalogues e-mails,” he explained. “We are in the adjustment and installation phase. We hope it will be up and running sometime between this week and next. This tool can block 85% of spam.
The new software will have four functions. First, it will work to block mass email messages that attempt to reach everyone using the RACSA domain name. It also will conduct pattern checks on the text found on the subject and body of e-mails.
Domains and specific senders that relay messages to RACSA will be crossreferenced with national and worldwide lists of proven spammers.
Even if the new software works perfectly, Serrano admitted, some spam will continue to get through to RACSA customers. “There will always be unwanted messages that can’t be blocked, and ways to get around the filters,” he said.
RACSA customers, especially those who say they receive the hundreds of spams each day, are skeptical about the provider’s promises.
“I no longer use RACSA’ s e-mail,” said Andy Gingold, a disgruntled RACSA user. “I stopped using it two months ago. I only use RACSA to log on the Internet.
“When I used RACSA, I changed my e-mail address four times,” he explained. “I used to change it every year or so and the spam stopped for a while. But eventually it increased.”
Each RACSA customer is given a user name with which to access the Internet. That login coincides with their POP3 email account name – the word that goes before @racsa.co.cr on their e-mail address. To change their e-mail address, users must change their login.
THE process of changing a user name and e-mail address is tedious. However, that is nowhere near as tedious for the customer as having to e-mail every person he or she exchanges e-mail messages with to inform them of the address change.
Gingold said he gave up after realizing that no matter how many times he changed his address, spammers would find his RACSA address and begin spamming him.
He says he does not use his new RACSA e-mail account to send or receive messages and has not shared his address with anyone, but is still receiving dozens of e-mails each day. He occasionally checks the address to delete the spams to make sure it does not fill up.
FELLOW RACSA user Elliot Greenspan also reported spam problems.
“I’ve been receiving more than 100 a day. The number has increased during the last months,” he said. “They should give us filters to stop the messages before they reach our mailboxes. We need filters so we don’t have to spend so much time downloading and deleting them.”
Both Greenspan and Gingold pointed to the possibility that RACSA could actually be hosting spammers and even be selling them lists with user addresses.
In the past, RACSA has been “blacklisted” – meaning that e-mail messages sent through its servers were being filtered out – by several foreign Internet service providers for allegedly hosting spammers (TT, Nov. 23, 2001).
SERRANO says is aware of the magnitude of the spam epidemic, and claims most of it is out of his hands.
“This is a problem that affects the entire world network and makes it less efficient,” he said.
He recommends the country pass stricter laws to punish and fine people found to be sending spams and unsolicited commercial e-mails.
Gingold is not convinced RACSA is doing everything it can.
“They’re not doing a very good job,” Gingold said. “They don’t seem to care at all. The reason is they have no competition.”