This morning we had a common help ticket request. A customer had received an email telling him to pay up or his secrets would be revealed. The secrets concerned his sexual behavior. He was disgusted and wanted to never get such an email again. I don’t blame him.
The email was almost certainly a shot in the dark, hoping to hit someone unwary. This is what they do. Since few of us have the resources of Jeff Bezos to deal with extortion attempts, we will have to find a more practical way to deal with them than counter-attack.
Following is my response to this customer:
Other than throwing the email away, what did you want to do about it? If you have no reason to believe that the email is anything other than spam, there is nothing more to be done about it.
What the criminals do is send thousands of emails like the one you quoted. Perhaps 1 in 5,000 believe it and send them money. That keeps them sending more.
Email was not designed to run on the Internet. It was designed to be used in a single hospital. There was no thought given to potential abuse because everyone knew everyone else. Bad behavior would result in a person being regarded as a misfit and might even get the person fired. From there, email spread to universities. It was found to be a very useful collaboration tool. It was a collegial environment where misuse would result in ostracism, just as in hospitals.
Universities would sync with each other over phone lines nightly using a protocol called UUCP. With some modification, that evolved into the US defense department network called ARPA net. Eventually, that evolved into the Internet. In 1994 – 1995 the Internet became widely available and was flooded by people who had no concept of how things work and no concept of acceptable use. What it had been until then was lost.
Email is a holdover from those early days.
Many attempts have been made to replace it with systems which include control over who can use what email address, who can contact who, validity verification and more. All have failed. The way email works is too entrenched to be altered in any meaningful way. People dislike change and disruption.
We throw away or refuse more than 95% of the email coming to our mail servers. We can’t get that number to 100% without accidentally discarding wanted emails.
The only remedy is to understand that email is flawed. Don’t waste time hoping for it to be something else. Throw the spam away and forget it. It doesn’t deserve more than one second of your time.