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Feb 4

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Is Tim O'Reilly Out of His Mind?

A number of you have forwarded to me spam email messages with the subject line " Is Tim O'Reilly out of his mind for publishing something everyone can print and even" with some more text scraped from various sites on the net, followed by the spam pitch for some penny stock. Harvesting real text from the net is a common technique used to get past spam filters (and if that is accomplished, to get the reader to open the message) but as Rich Morin wrote: "I suppose this is a kind of fame (:-)."

Michael Fitzgerald had a similar thought: "Somehow, I think having your name appear in the subject line of a spam e-mail is a sign of heightened status." I think it's more a matter of coincidence, and having lots of easily harvested text out there on the net, but the choice of subject line at least indicated a sense of irony on the part of the spammer (if it wasn't totally random.)

Liz Castro did a bit of detective work, and found that:

"This morning I got another Spam message with a Subject line that looked more readily google-able...

'Since Andy started reviewing the Networking Guide'

It turns out to be a line from a page on the Linux Documentation Project site which is also quoted on O'Reilly's site.

She added, "It turns out that the Subject line I sent you yesterday which was 'asked me about publishing my book at O'Reilly and Associates' is on that same page."

And a bit of Googling turned up the fact that the "Is Tim O'Reilly out of his mind" quote was also from the LDP, from the free version of the preface of the Linux Network Administrator's Guide.

Dave Radin added: "While some might find this treatment ego gratifying, I would imagine how it
could hinder your ability to contact new people by email -- as it's somewhat
likely for recipients to put your name in a content-filter to keep from
getting further spam, thereby locking you out of their inboxes along with
the spam." You wouldn't do that, would you? :-)

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Joe Duck   [02.04.07 12:41 PM]

So Maestro Tim, this means you really are _not_ out of your mind?

Go Figure.

Chris Shiflett   [02.05.07 02:58 AM]

Here are a couple of subjects from emails I received today:

"In autumn 1993, Andy Oram, who has been around the LDP mailing list from almost the very beginning,"

"I had never imagined my book being that successful. We finally agreed that O'Reilly would produce an enhanced"

I received a number of them, but those two stood out.

Rob Flickenger   [02.05.07 07:53 AM]

I received an Andy Oram mail today as well. It looks like Tim isn't the only one who is out of his mind... ;)

It might be possible to figure out the source IP of the spider, given the web server logs from and assuming that the spider crawled the pages featuring each quote in a short amount of time... Of course, the spider was likely part of a bot net, so it's probably just a waste of time.

It is a rather unique way to generate plausible subject lines. I wonder if this is coming from one spammer, or if it's a new generalized technique.

Tim O'Reilly   [02.05.07 11:28 AM]

Our spam warrior Bob Amen replied to Dave Radin's concern as follows:

"I wish there was something we could do but there really isn't much. Spammers are grabbing random bits of text found on the Internet (often from random Google searches). They then use the random text for both the subject and body of spam in an attempt to break Bayesian filters. I got a spam message for the same penny stock with the subject "is that it may help Linux being recognized as something to be taken seriously:".

I doubt that enough spam with your name in the subject went out to cause messages from you to be bounced as spam. If that were the case, then the spammer's tactic would fail. Also, most spam tools use a combination of factors to decide if the message is spam or not.

The spam that David passed along to you came from Comcast's network which is as big a source of spam as China...maybe more now. I've send messages to before but have not seen any positive results.

I think we're going through another phase where the spammers are successfully beating the content analysis tools with a combination of lots of random text and obfuscation of their messages. I hope that it will swing the other way soon, but I'm not too hopeful right now."

(That being said, the spam in question didn't get through Bob's filters -- it was forwarded to me by friends who don't have a spam meister as good as Bob watching their back...)

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